Sunday, December 17, 2017

Reliable Elections at all Costs

By on October 18, 2016

editorial-philipe-schoeneEvolving through the exponential changes of technological overhaul often comes with a period of anxious adaptation—first, there is pain, and then comes growth. Puerto Rico’s State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials)—is experiencing those growing pains as it moves to an electronic scrutiny system after years of resisting the transformation of its archaic but reliable elections system.

The first issues surfaced during the June 5 primaries when the new electronic polls were put to the test. In that dry run, machines located in areas with poor telecom signal strength were unable to transmit the results to CEE headquarters, thereby thwarting CEE President Liza García Veléz’s goal of having early returns from all colegios. Rather than meeting the early deadline set at 6 p.m. for final results, it would be another midnight wait for the final tally on a mere 650,000 votes. With more than three times the ballots expected for the general elections on Nov. 8, García Veléz can ill afford to have further “can you hear me now” moments.

Dominion Voting System, the company contracted to implement the electronic infrastructure to the tune of $38.5 million, insists that it has ironed out the kinks. That is essential and it can be done. Hundreds of jurisdictions across the United States successfully use electronic scrutiny in general and local elections. In Rhode Island, Secretary of State Nelly Gorbea, who is Puerto Rican, helped engineer the transformation of that state’s voting apparatus earlier this year. Today, Rhode Island’s electoral scaffold, one of the most reliable in the United States, is about to hit warp speed with a massive cache of handheld scanners that promises to further enhance the delivery of results.

In stark contrast, Puerto Rico faces a new set of challenges tracing to the possibility of inadequate printing that would set back all of the progress made by García Veléz and her elections brigades. In this edition’s cover story on the challenges confronted by the CEE, New Progressive Party Electoral Commissioner Aníbal Vega Borges raised concerns that Printech, a printing company in Cayey hired to print 8.5 million ballots, alleges not to have enough ink to complete the job.

Printech’s insufficiency points to several scenarios, none of which are good. The most pressing concern is that the ballots will not be printed on time, which would affect the early balloting that takes place two weeks prior to the elections. The problem is made worse because the early vote, which used to extend to inmates, public safety employees and election officials, has now grown to cover everyone and their abuela. Therefore, a decision must be made to either print the ballots now and run the risk of producing poorly printed ballots, or farming the ballots out to a printer in the United States.

The question that begs asking is: Why did Dominion sign off on the printing of ballots at Printech in the first place? Allegedly, Popular Democratic Party Rep. José “Connie” Varela pushed for the choice to print locally because it would save money. The lawmaker based his claim on the cost of Dominion printing ballots in the mainland U.S. for the primaries. So, we may have saved some dollars at the expense of reliability in the exercise of democracy—if so, that is too high a cost.

The CEE’s García Veléz believes the strategy to print the ballots with less ink will not affect the machine’s ability to properly scan outcomes. That is a penny wise, dollar foolish policy. What good is it to revamp the electoral machine only to put molasses in the tank? Get the ballots printed properly and on time—Puerto Rico’s democracy has suffered enough in the past year.

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