Costa Rica and Panama debate the use of voting technology


Costa Rica and Panama have begun debates about their upcoming elections. Costa Ricans will hold presidential elections in 2018, while Panamanians will have general elections in 2019.  The proximity of both events keeps fanning the debate about their voting systems, which includes the prospect of e-voting.

In Costa Rica, the subject of e-voting has gained momentum, and recently the president for Gallup in Latin America, Carlos Dentón, revealed that “a third of Costa Ricans are dissatisfied with the capabilities of the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE)”, according to the latest CID/Gallup poll.

Dentón warns that the rising mistrust should be a reason for automating the country’s elections, and revisiting the outdated Costa Rican voting model, even more so after the nation has had successful e-voting tests.

It is important to mention that Costa Rica delayed their voting automation  scheduled for 2018 due to budgetary constraints. The Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) subscribed to a report by the Electoral Registry Directorate, which concludes “there is no economic feasibility for this project, at least in the short and medium term”, and that resources should be oriented to other priority areas.

This viewpoint stems from the considerable sum of money that must be paid for the acquisition of software and hardware, training human resources and educating citizens, but the Court failed to acknowledge that expenses go down considerably after adopting the technology; this because the money required for subsequent elections is only for needed for maintenance.

On their part, Panamanian authorities touched on the same subject during a forum held in the Electoral Court about the reform scheduled for their 2019 elections.

Panama tested in 2014 an e-voting model designed by the TSE, which reproduces characteristics of systems that have been tried in other countries, so the experiment was successful.

In this process, voters, who previously validate their identities, receive a card that unlocks a touch-screen voting machine. Options are then displayed on its screen.  In case of mistakes, there is a “clear screen” key. Once the choices have been correctly marked, the device will print a voting voucher that counts as a paper audit trail.

In the forum, participants were critical of the fact that, although there is a Panamanian-developed machine, the decisions to develop it further or put it in operation have not been made.

There was also talk of the conclusions on voting technology that emerged from this year’s meeting between Central American electoral organisms. There were recommendations to enforce high standards during vendor bids, keep the nation informed about the technology adoption process, reach for consensus, and guarantee a proper educational campaign for the voting model.

Given these discussions, Costa Rica and Panama already know that electoral technology is the best tool to get trustworthy voting results, and that its efficient use is vital to make elections secure and win the citizens’ trust.  Now it is up to them to choose to change, and improve.

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Colombia surprises by announcing design of an e-voting pilot


In recent years, Colombia has been full of surprises when it comes to electoral matters, but these have not always of the good kind.  Delayed results, accusations of irregularities, and setbacks in the modernization of the voting system have tarnished several events and, although the authorities have started many projects to solve these issues, none has come to fruition yet.

For instance, the creation in 2013 of the Associate Commission for the Implementation of Electoral Technology.  After scandalous regional elections, where the system was flooded by dozens of accusations of fraud and voting vices, the National Civil Registry Office began a process of consultation and analysis to modernize the voting mechanisms. This even included an international bidding process with the participation of 16 companies, with the hopes of designing the pilot test of an automated voting model.

Despite these advances, the Commission did not implement any actions, so the Colombian government chose to install in 2017 an Special Electoral Mission, conceived to provide council and turn the ship around, by revisiting the nation’s old and questioned voting model.

Then, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos formalized the start of operations for this Mission as part of fulfilling point number two of the peace agreement signed last November between the government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). This agreement contemplates the “expansion” of democracy through “greater transparency in the voting process”.

Until then, the steps taken by Colombia to transform its voting system had been duly informed to the public, meeting the standard required whenever changes in human right matters are made -political participation in this case.

However, National Civil Registrer Juan Carlos Galindo has done away with the practice, by announcing that the organism he represents “has already designed a pilot plan for e-voting that will be implemented”.

His statements took the country by surprise. Although the Electoral Mission is still active, and it delivered a series of proposal regarding voting modernization last April, the use of electoral technology is still subordinated to the 2004 Act which governs voting automation. The document presented by the Mission does not allude to changes in technology, only to aspects related to the organization and funding of electoral events.

Galindo stated that the pilot has not been carried out due to lack of funds, but gave no details as to the model devised to test e-voting in Colombia.

The last time the country had a conversation about testing electoral technology was in 2013, when the Associate Commission proposed to automate voting in 93 circuits, so a sizable number of voters could experience both the models being proposed back then: optical scanners, based on a ballot with a scanner that identifies and processes ballots for an automatic count; and Direct Electronic Register (DRE), touch-screen enabled machines where the voter makes their choices, which the machine stores, counts and transmits to a tallying centre.  These devices also have the capability of printing voting vouchers that reflect the options chosen by the user.

Galindo’s statements set off alarms: it is not known whether the pilot designed meets the characteristics agreed upon in 2013, or if this is a new test, whose reach and conditions are only known to the authorities.

It is understood that any analysis, pilot test or implementation of electoral technology requires a broad consultation. and informing political actors and the general population. This because transparency in the adoption of the automated model chosen is just as vital as its compliance with the nation’s requirements.  Colombia must advance in electoral matters, but the Civil Registry Office must show their hand, unreservedly, if they are to be credible.

Mexico advances in two electoral technology processes


Mexico decide to postpone until 2018 what would have been its first binding federal e-voting experience: online voting for nationals abroad. Although this cancellation generated critics among Mexicans abroad, national and state authorities have not stopped the development of the system and they are getting ready to present technology-based improvements.

Speaking of these matters, the National Electoral Institute (INE) announced that the electronic enrolment of Mexicans abroad will be modernized shortly.

According to the latest reports by the INE, out of the millions of Mexicans residing abroad (10 million estimated in the US alone), barely 300 thousand have requested their voter ID; therefore the INE is aiming to make enrolment easier through technology, to the point where 500 thousand Mexicans register to vote.

The Institute believes that technology will encourage participation, as it has in other sectors.  For instance, the United Kingdom proved in 2015 that voters preferred automated voter registration instead of using the postal service.

The Mexican Electoral Registry project only needs the approval of the General Council to be set in motion. This way, Mexicans residing abroad will be able to choose between enrolment via the technological platform or the postal service. The requirements by the INE to enrol are: a birth certificate, proof of address and a photograph.

Also in Mexico, the burough of Cuauhtémoc in Mexico City is planning an automated voted event for June 25th, where it will be decided whether borough president Ricardo Monreal will stay in his position or be asked to leave.

The Electoral Institute (IEDF) considers the use of electronic voting will reduce costs to the minimum and improve turnout. IEDF Chairman Mario Velázquez explained that the voting system is already set.

It is an Internet voting model which was already used in the participative budget process of 2017. The organism explains that users must request a password in advance to log into the voting platform, or go to designated polling stations with voting machines.

This way, while the financial viability of e-voting for Mexicans abroad is being considered, Mexico continues working in the automation of some phases of the voting process (e.g. voter registration), also allowing for the use of technology in different regions. Each one of these actions is important for the full automation of their electoral system.