Spain gradually approaches e-voting

elecciones_24M-Although Spain has been debating the implementation of e-voting for years, and has held numerous test runs (the first one in 1995, and the latest one in 2011 in the cities of Castellón, Ceuta, Huesca, and Mérida), no autonomous community has yet been able to set forth an automated election.

Although there seems to be a negative balance for the European nation in terms of electoral technology, last May 24, during its municipal elections, it took a step that brought it closer to a more modern voting: the Electronically Managed Polling Stations (MAE), which were used in 3,200 stations in 22 municipalities.

Minister of Home Affairs Jorge Fernández Díaz pointed out that the MAE “are not an e-voting system, but a system for speeding up the management of the electoral process, using technology to improve it without compromising its integrity.”

MAEs do not intervene in the voting process itself (vote collection, tallying, and result aggregation), but enable streamlining voter identity verification and the transmission of results to the data center.

The dynamics involved having polling stations deploy a laptop computer, a GPRS modem, an electronic ID card reader, a printer, and an SD card with the electoral roll of each constituency. Thus, the identity of voters was verified automatically by processing the ID in technological devices and not on a printed list. Besides, the confirmation of the polling station’s formation, advances in turnout and tallying were transmitted to the Information Collection Center through these technological tools.

The process was deemed positive in spite of some problems arising in some of the MAE. These were mainly due to damaged ID cards, which prevented the reader from verifying the cardholder’s identity, therefore having to turn to a manual method.

After the event, MAEs are seen as the first step toward transitioning from manual voting to electronic voting. However, they also spark the debate over the viability of stepping up the pace in the adoption of electoral technology, so that Spain can get up to level with its European peers (i.e., Switzerland) or even match the path so speedily and successfully traversed by Latin American countries (i.e., Venezuela and Brazil) in terms of electoral automation.

E-voting in Brazil, step by step


At least 23 million Brazilians will use voting machines with fingerprint authentication.

Brazil will be holding general elections this October 5th. During the event, the country will deploy one of the world’s most complex electoral platforms, as 141.8 million voters will choose between 26,131 candidates aspiring to 1,709 posts including president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, and federal, state, and district senators.

Brazil’s electoral process is 100% automated—except for the identification phase, which will be applied to only 16.4% of the registry, that is, 23.3 million voters. Voting, tallying and transmission of the results will be done through electronic means developed by the High Electoral Court. Since 1996, when the first automated experience took place, the country has made considerable progress, and now it has one of the world’s most successful e-voting models.

Since each voter must perform five or six selections, the electoral body activated simulators for voters living in Brazil and abroad, so that everybody is prepared for the elections.

This Sunday, each voter will carry out two steps to exert his or her right to suffrage and complete the voting cycle. The process is completed with two technical stages at the end of the event.

1.- Authentication

Each voter must present his or her ID at the polling station. In case of voting in one of the 25 cities that will provide biometric identification (fingerprint scanning), instead of checking his or her data in an electoral registry, each voter will use a machine with the device that will enable verification of his or her identity.

2.- Voting

The Brazilian machines have a small screen and a number keyboard where each voter must press the number assigned to their preferred candidate. Once selected, the candidate’s picture, name, and his or her political party’s initials will appear onscreen. This enables verifying the vote. If correct, the voter must press the “confirm” key to execute the vote or the correction button to make changes. If the voter wishes to vote for none of the candidates, he or she can press the “blank” key. There is also an option to make a void vote by pushing random numbers and pressing the “confirm” key. This process must be repeated for each post in contest. After all the votes have been registered, the ballot box will beep and the word END will appear onscreen.

3.- Tallying

Votes emitted by the electors are encrypted with a digital signature and stored in two memory flash cards and a magnetic disk. At the end of the process, selections are tallied and results are printed on several minutes. The magnetic disk is promptly delivered to the High Electoral Court.

4.- Transmission

After the tallying process is finished and the precinct count minutes are printed, the information on the magnetic disk is transmitted through an exclusive secure network to perform totaling of all the votes in the computers of the regional offices and of the High Electoral Court. Brazilian legislation allows the electoral body to release results in real-time on its website.

Ecuador looks to the future, hand in hand with electoral technology


Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas used machines provided by Smartmatic. Photo: La República

Ecuador is committed to automating its electoral system by 2017. The goal looks attainable more than two years away from the deadline, as the country has been preparing to migrate from manual to electronic voting, keeping in mind all the steps that guarantee the successful adoption of electoral technology.

Last February, the country experienced a binding pilot test that cleared all doubts about the efficacy of vote automation. The provinces of Azuay and Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas tested two kinds of electoral technology, which not only enabled nearly one million Ecuadorians to vote securely—according to the electoral body— but also helped to determine the financial and logistic requirements of extending the use of technology throughout the nation.

For example, in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, the National Electoral Council (CNE) certified the ease of use of the devices provided by Smartmatic, in which voters’ interaction with the touchscreen machines was simple and quick. The electoral body highlighted the optimal performance in the capture, counting, totaling, and transmission of votes, which made it possible to publish results with 99% of the tally just one hour after the polling stations closed. Besides, audits were performed after the election, which matched the automated results with manual counts of vote receipts emitted by the machines.

In Azuay, where machines provided by Magic Software Argentina (MSA) were used, the process was also positive in spite of the suspension of elections at the Ponce Enríquez district. Rather than e-voting, this system is based on electronic tallying, since the machines do not register votes but a chip on each ballot stores each vote in order to be counted later. The obstacles faced by this mode were eventually overcome and the process continued normally, which led the authorities to highlight the strength of the technology to solve contingencies.

After this experience, the National Electoral Council announced that it would follow the recommendations from the Electoral Mission of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Inter-American Union of Electoral Bodies (UNIORE), inviting the country to carry out a compared evaluation of the automated practices employed and define the technological solution to be applied, considering the recommended criteria regarding blank votes, single screens, voting booth upgrades, among others.

Trust in every electoral system is based on it being capable of registering votes faithfully, preserving their secrecy—both in terms of selected options and voter identity—, arrive at tally results that respect the voters’ selections, guarantee that results cannot be altered, enable the auditability of the processes, and make the voting method easy for everyone. Compliance with these demands makes an electoral process efficient and reliable, and that is Ecuador’s bet for the future.