Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mastering the Art of Fair, Transparent, and Trustful Elections

The month of March 2012 became a live testimony of how holding fair, transparent, and trustful elections is an art to be mastered. Different election processes at very distinct locations experienced some of the many irregularities often encountered by electoral authorities.

Puerto Rico made it clear, once again, that electronic voting is preferable over manual voting. Palm Beach County (Florida, USA) and Jalisco (Mexico) proved that guaranteeing fair, transparent, and trustful elections is more than simply buying new machines. 

On March 18th, 2012 Puerto Rico held primary elections for the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), New Progressive Party (PNP), and the US Republican Party. The process showed the typical problems manual voting often presents. Extremely slow counting, defects with the paper ballots, discrepancies in ballot counting, and mishandling of the material, are among the many irregularities the State Elections Commission of Puerto Rico will have to sort out in order to give the process a minimum level of credibility.

These unfortunate incidents gave solid arguments to electronic voting proponents in the island. Although last year Puerto Rico made important moves towards modernizing its electoral system by choosing a provider of technology, the bidding process was plagued with irregularities and is now being challenged in Puerto Rican courts. Unisyn Voting Solutions, with ample experience in horse racing bets, made the most expensive offer of all participating companies and showed little experience in elections. Puerto Rico lost an invaluable opportunity to improve the credibility and effectiveness of future electoral processes.

Last year in Jalisco (Mexico), the electoral authorities choose a company with poor experience handling automated elections. Results speak for themselves. Pounce Consulting has failed to timely provide the 1200 electronic ballots for which it was hired. The expected date of delivery, March 2nd, has been delayed compromising the electoral calendar and dampening the credibility of Mexico’s Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute.

On March 19th 2012, Florida’s Palm Beach County incorrectly certified two candidates as winners in the Wellington Village Council elections. Due to inconsistencies between the list of candidates created by electoral authorities using Dominion Voting Service’s software and the candidates' names on the ballot, the announced and certified result gave the victory to the wrong candidates. Authorities and Dominion are blaming each other for the embarrassing scandal. Regardless of where the blame falls, it is imperative to better train poll workers and election officials; and to perform sufficient testing and auditing prior, during and after each process. Proper testing could have avoided many of the problems faced. An irreparable damage has already been done to the county’s citizens and electronic voting in general.

March 2012 proved that mastering the art of fair, transparent, and trustful elections requires a delicate combination of a clean bidding processes, capable and respected electoral authorities, and a sound and experienced service provider. A good balance among these factors is imperative in order for voting to serve as an effective tool for democracy to be expressed. Hopefully Puerto Rico, Jalisco and Palm Beach County will soon follow the example of other locations such as Venezuela, Brazil, the Philippines or India, where a proper balance of ingredients has granted success in elections for years.