Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Argentina eyes election automation for 2017

The Argentine government is looking to overhaul the country's electoral system ahead of the 2017 elections.

Topping the proposed electoral reform agenda is poll automation, which many Argentines believe has become an imperative after manual voting failed in 2015. The proposed reforms, which have yet to reach Congress, also includes a wide array of issues such as campaign financing and a revamp of election calendars. 

This move by Mauricio Macri's government is seen by observers as an encouraging response to the problems encountered during the first round of the 2015 presidential elections when the manual system collapsed. The issues with the paper-based system were so widespread and serious that a comprehensive reform became a campaign platform for Macri. 

The lack of an efficient system to process votes has long beset Argentina leading provinces such as Salta and Cordoba to adopt their own technology solutions.

In 2015, the Province of Buenos Aires used a sort of ballot printing and scanning technology that had been used in Salta since 2009. Although the technology helped count the votes, many technology experts were wary of the system's security features.

An article published in La Nacion-a leading Argentine outlet-, provides detailed information on the different problems found in this particular system. Although authorities have downplayed the effects of the incidents, the technology continued to be under the scrutiny of IT experts.

During the recent ekoparty Security Conference, the system used in Salta also came under heavy fire from IT practitioners  Barrera Oro and Javier Smaldone who worried about the system's lack of transparency and insufficient security. 

According to the Buenos Aires Herald, the system that is being proposed in the draft bill resembles the system in question, which has led some stakeholders to call for more consultation.

The reform proposal faces months of intense debates in the Congress before it can be passed into a law. The proponents would also need to work closely with the academe and election technology experts to craft a solution tailored to the country's complex requirements. Yet many are optimistic that the proposal is a step in the right direction in achieving the country's long-time goal of having credible elections.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Estonia: More young people studying e-governance every day

Estonia is today a world reference when talking about digital democracy. The government offers a vast array of online services, which its citizens access through a digital ID card. It is also worth noting that the online voting technology they have developed has been used in several processes in different countries.   

To keep developing these platforms that have improved the quality of life of millions, several of the country’s public and private universities are offering top-of-the-line courses to young people interested in innovation and e-governance.  

One of these institutions is the Tallinn University of Technology  (TUT), which offers a MSc in technology and e-governance services to native and foreign students. This degree, driven by the public and private sectors, is a priority for the country, and the subject is openly promoted by president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a confessed lover of innovative technology. 
At TUT, students with ideas for first-level startups want to be ambassadors for Estonia’s electoral technology and make it known worldwide. One of them is Crystal LaGrone from Oklahoma, USA, who is halfway through the masters program and wants to bring e-voting technology back home.   

LaGrone came to Estonia as a visitor and quickly became interested in innovation. “I’ve discovered great advances in IT, particularly Internet voting”. 

This student, who had no previous IT experience, thinks that Internet voting could strengthen democracy and increase turnout in the United States. In her opinion, the masters program offers extensive knowledge on how to found a modern statethe transition to e-government, its development and management. 

Her objective is clear: returning to the United States to improve e-voting systems, a tool designed to strengthen democracy by preventing paper-based fraud.  “If we managed to take a man to the moon and bring him back, Internet voting couldn’t possibly be as hard”. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

At least 43 states in the USA will use obsolete technology in the 2016 elections

It is estimated that during the 2016 elections at least 43 states in the USA will use voting machines that are already obsolete. In a world where technology is used almost daily, one must wonder why Americans must choose a President using devices running software from the year 2000.  

According to a study published by the Brennan Center most these machines are nearing the end of their useful life, placing the elections at risk by being prone to failures that could generate long lineups, or the loss of votes.   

Lawrence Norden,  Deputy Director of the centre and co-author of the study, wonders how one can think there are no risks  in running elections with technology designed in the 90’s. “No one expects a computer to work optimally for over 10 years”. 

The warnings in the report come at a moment when voter turnout in the US has decreased, given the long lines at the polls and the limited access certain sectors of society have to the vote.  

Before the 2016 primaries, Smartmatic – the leading elections company with experience in five continents – published a research paper that highlights the shortcomings of the American electoral system. 

The general opinion of those consulted shows that the current voting system is inefficient and discourages voters. On their part, Hispanics showed their concern about language barriers, considering that implementing new systems could increase turnout.  

These studies are just the tip of the iceberg of a subject that is gaining traction with American citizens, who see that an obsolete voting system could affect the vision their country projects worldwide about the strength of its democracy. For them, this situation could be reverted easily with the introduction of new and better technology.