Publish in Special Reports - Tuesday, December 18, 2012
BY PC OR PHONE NEXT TIME? A voter at a recent Mexico City election. (Photo: Tribunal Electoral)
Spanish company pioneers Internet voting in Latin America.
BY JOACHIM BAMRUD
While an increasing number of countries in Latin America are using electronic voting systems, a new trend is also taking place which may revolutionize voting participation in the region: Internet voting.
Voting through the Internet allows citizens to use any Internet-enabled computer or mobile phone to cast their votes.
This is particularly important in rural areas, where voters often have to travel large distances to get to the nearest voting booths.
Meanwhile, governments can not only boost voter participation but also save a considerable amount of money by reducing paper ballots, says Edgardo Torres-Caballero, general manager for Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain, and Portugal for Scytl.
Spain-based Scytl provides a wide array of technologies used for voting, both online and traditional polls. In fact, it provided solutions used by 45 percent of counties during the US presidential elections in November.
However, the company sees strong potential for Internet voting in areas like Latin America, Torres-Caballero says.
“At the moment I am working on a project in Bolivia [where] they have low [voting] participation,” he says. “One of the reasons is that people live in remote areas.”
Yet, he points out, they have access to the Internet, many through mobile phones.
Scytl doesn’t only provide solutions to governments, but also to organizations, unions and companies that hold internal votes.
Scytl provided the technology used in Latin America’s first ever case of Internet voting for a political election – the July mayoral elections in Mexico City – Latin America’s largest city. The Scytl solution enabled voters outside of Mexico – in as many as 800 different cities abroad – to cast their ballot through the Internet. By the closing of the Election Day polls, over 20 percent of the votes cast in this election by overseas voters were cast online, according to Scytl.
The Spanish company was again used when Mexico City last month held its referendum on how to use 3 percent of its annual budget. This year it also allowed citizens to vote online for the first time.
Now, officials in Bogota and Cali in Colombia, Minas Gerais state in Brazil and other states in Mexico such as Nuevo Leon are also looking at the possibility of Internet voting, Torres-Caballero says.
Scytl was also involved in what it says is the first ever Internet vote in Latin America, which took place in 2005 in Argentina when members of the Mendoza Medical Federation could elect their board through online voting. In that case, more than 15, 000 doctors elected the medical board for 14 medical specialties from 35 polling stations with PCs connected to the Internet using technologies provided by Scytl and its computer partner HP.
Scytl has also provided different technology solutions linked to traditional voting in Latin America. In Peru, for example, the company was awarded a contract by the Organization of American States to audit the electronic voting software developed by the National Office of Electoral Processes. As part of the audit, Scytl also evaluated the risks associated with the use of electronic voting and solutions aimed at improving the software used.
And it recently won a bid in Costa Rica. “They keep the traditional system of voting, [but] use Scytl to reconfigure their internal systems [by] adding new components [related to] productivity and software tools,” Torres-Caballero says.
Scytl also provided a solution that enables members of the state assembly in Nuevo Leon state in Mexico to cast votes and speak from their seats by electronic means in a convenient and secure manner.
Apart from further growth in Mexico and other markets in Latin America, Torres-Caballero sees particularly strong potential in Brazil, the largest country in the region and the sixth-largest economy in the world. “Brazil is definitely [an] important market for us,” he says. “They have a rich technological electoral experience [going back to] the 1990s.”
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