Monday, June 4, 2012

Tolerance of Fraud, A Fatal Consequence of Manual Voting

The OAS mission sent to Santo Domingo to oversee the democratic process held on May 20 declared that the Dominican Republic Presidential Elections were fair. The ruling Dominican Liberation Party, represented by Danilo Medina, got 51% of the votes, while Hipólito Mejía got 46%. Mejía accused Medina of fraud and called for the rejection of the results “as they do not represent the will of the people.” However, Tabaré Vásquez, former president of Uruguay and chief of the OAS mission, congratulated Dominican Republic for its “great civil maturity.” However, the organization also pointed out in its report that the election registered the biggest amount of shooting, arrests and raids from the past twenty years.

In spite of the apparent smoothness and transparency of the electoral journey, Vásquez pointed out that there actually were some cases of vote buying by both parties, but that these did not have a significant impact on the final results. Which raises the question: why is an organism like OAS tolerating an issue that could endanger democracy? Is there such thing as ‘just enough’ fraud?

Manual voting is a traditional system that has accepted little change throughout its history. People have grown habituated to its processes and shortcomings, including the ever-present possibility of someone rigging the elections. Consequently, both civilians and supervising authorities tend to expect a certain degree of dishonesty every time elections take place. In this scenario, the will of the people never gets to be fully represented, and in some cases, they just actually accept this.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. An accusation like Hipólito Mejía’s would not hold any validity in a completely automated system (including biometric validation) where human error is suppressed and the voter’s identification process guarantees the principle one elector = one vote.

With a biometric identification system implemented on Election Day, many of the vulnerabilities exhibited by manual voting would be completely eliminated: There wouldn’t be any illegal voting, voter impersonation, multiple voting and manipulation of voter’s lists.

Integrating this technology with an auditable voting system, it would not matter if thousands of ID’s were bought at the doors of a polling station, because it wouldn’t be just the ID the only requisite to cast a vote. Your fingerprint would be the other, and a fingerprint can’t just be bought.

Democracy is not supposed to be something that works in spite of obstacles set by those with their own private agendas. While some defend stagnant tradition, people’s interests are at stake. This is why a change of mentality is imperative and inevitable if we want to preserve the sanity of our political system. Automation is the key to democratic processes in which people don’t have to settle for the next best thing, for ‘just enough’ fraud to be tolerated.

When a fully automated and auditable electoral system is implemented, election results are secure and accurate, because the guarantees and mechanisms of verification provided by the system precisely represent the will of the electors. Let’s hope Dominicans can learn this lesson and a zero tolerance to fraud politic is adapted for their next elections.