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Civil Rights Commission worried over electronic voting machines

By on September 27, 2016

(CB / Cindy Burgos)

(CB / Cindy Burgos)

SAN JUAN – The Civil Rights Commission (CRC) visited the State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) to examine the process voters must pass go through Nov. 8 when using electronic voting machines. In addition to the problem that the machines can’t read marks outside the ballots’ provided checkboxes, concern was raised regarding people’s interaction with the technology.

Specifically, CRC Vice President Esther Vicente noted that when a voter places the ballot on the electronic voting machine, there are certain instances in which it displays instructions that she considered too extensive. This would mean that voters must know how to read and be ready to–in case they have visual or concentration problems–to interact with the machine, as there is no mechanism by which instructions can be heard, she said.

Vicente questioned why there wasn’t a tactile distinction between the machine’s two buttons–one that says “vote” and another that says “correct”–beyond their shape (one is oval and the other rectangular) and color (one is yellow and the other grey).

“The yellow one [which reads “vote”] stands out more and since you want to vote, if you press it [too quickly], it counts as a blank ballot,” explained Vicente, referring to what could happen if the voter doesn’t read the instructions and only presses one button.

The commissioners carried out a voting exercise after a CEE official explained the electronic voting process.

(CB / Cindy Burgos)

(CB / Cindy Burgos)

Just as what happened last elections, the electoral officials verify the voter’s finger upon arrival to the polling station. Then they ask for the voter’s ID and search the registry to hand them three ballots: state, municipal and legislative.

The change with electronic counting comes at the time of voting. Although voters can do it by using the classic ‘x,’ they must use a marker instead of a pencil, and ensure the marks are in the provided check boxes. Failure to do so would result in the machine not registering these properly.

After voting, the three ballots must be placed in the only counting machine available at each station. When placing them one by one, the voter must read the screen because if he or she placed the marks outside the boxes (such as a mark over a party emblem, candidate photo or name), the machine will ask if the person wants to “correct” the ballot or “vote” to register the mark.

If the voter presses “correct”or doesn’t press any button, the ballot is sent back. If the “vote” button is pressed, the machine will register the vote in blank or minus the marks.

It was confirmed in the process that if the voter marks an x on a rectangle under an emblem and then tries to vote for a candidate in another column, a mixed vote, but places the x on a different rectangle, the machine will register it as a full vote under the party symbol.

Due to this “flaw,” electoral commissioners from the four running parties amended the ruling for electronic counting Sept. 1 so this type of mixed vote is counted by hand in the event of a recount. Previously, the recount was performed by introducing the ballots again in the counting machines.

Politicians defend the process

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) electoral Commissioner Guillermo San Antonio Acha defended the counting process, as with the June primaries, when the technology was used for the first time.

He said that on that occasion only 0.3% of ballots had votes outside a box, arguing that “more than 0.5% of voters must vote that way for it to have an effect.  Past experience shows this is not a typical vote. He added that the claims of former PDP Vice President Héctor Luis Acevedo, who filed a complaint with the CDC, were previously dismissed in court.

Both the PDP electoral commissioner and his counterpart from the Working People’s Party (PPT by its Spanish initials), José Córdoba, considered voters may assert their intentions by interacting with the machine, which for the first time will allow to correct the vote or vote blank, without fear of that vote not being registered.

“We aren’t defending the machine. We are defending a process where electoral law has been harmonized, which has traces of a manual procedure,” said CEE President Lisa García, who reminded that when the ruling was approved there wasn’t opposition.

The CDC will meet once again to draft a report that presents suggestions from the CEE so the electronic counting process is clearer and more democratic. The report will be presented next week and will also be given to the governor, the Legislative Assembly and the Supreme Court.

However, the CEE can choose whether to abide by the recommendations because the CRC doesn’t have the legal power to force compliance, unless a government branch makes the claim.

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