Friday, March 30, 2018

El Salvador: An open path to election modernization

During the recent Legislative and Municipal elections held on March 4, El Salvador’s elections tribunal implemented a software solution to consolidate, aggregate and publish results, which allowed them to offer reliable and timely preliminary counts. 

Back in 2015, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE in Spanish) took three weeks to come up with an official tally. With this fresh memory in mind, and given the recent events in neighbouring Honduras (where they had to wait 21 days for results, amid protests and unrest that left 33 dead), the TSE decided to take no risks. In addition to the software solution used to announce winners only a few hours after voting ended, the TSE also utilized another technology solution to audit its own preliminary results. 

Mission accomplished. The preliminary count was published in real-time as the tallying reports were being processed. Although these results were not official, public opinion knew in less than 24 hours what the voting trends per party were, with 79% of the voting records processed. A hundred percent of the records were made available online 36 hours later. Quite a feat considering previous elections.

Although some politicians tried to belittle the work of the TSE and the companies that processed the data (especially after an incident was reported with the preferred votes in San Salvador and La Libertad), these results are auditable. And most importantly, the official results shown a month after the vote fully matched the preliminary count.

One additional benefit of the incorporation of technology to process preliminary count, was that once the unofficial results were made public, the TSE was able to begin their official count without much political pressure. Knowing what the voting trends were calmed the waters and allowed authorities to finish aggregating tallying reports.  

Unlike what transpired in 2015, authorities, political parties, the media and citizens were able to follow the preliminary count on a public website. It was precisely this level of transparency and auditability what allowed people to detect the inconsistencies found in the departments of San Salvador and La Libertad. Parties and citizens were able to compare the digitized voting records against the results being published.

Although the election observation missions from the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States (OAS) acknowledged the complexity of El Salvador’s voting system, they praised the efforts made by TSE with the addition of technology. The modernization of all the processes to generate preliminary results, helped the country to overcome the issues of 2015.

These 2018 elections, held in the most densely populated country in the Americas, are a clear demonstration that implementing technology in the vote count -one of the most crucial phases of any election-, makes the overall process faster and more transparent. Results were available on Election Night and were audited in real time.