After 3 electoral processes (Congress, first and second round), these were campaigns marked by constant alerts of possible fraud. From the end of 2021 there was talk about hiring a counting software, and to strengthen the electoral system with technological tools that guarantee the transparency of the elections. 

Despite the rumors of fraud -which in the end did not happen- this electoral period ended on June 19. However, some lessons and questions remained, such as: which mechanisms worked and which did not? What role does technology play? And how aware are Colombians of how the electoral system works? 

To discuss these issues, in the hangout: 'Analysis of the electoral system and its technology', organized by Impacto TIC, Carolina Botero and Pilar Sáenz from the Karisma Foundation, Luis Carlos Donado, senior developer who has worked on electoral issues, and Alfonso Portela, former registrar and specialist in electoral law, spoke about the failures and successes of this electoral process that is coming to an end.

A strong system in its physical traceability 

In this regard, the 3 experts emphasize that the success of these elections is that the Colombian electoral process has a physical traceability that guarantees transparency and proper auditing of results. What failed, without a doubt, especially in the elections for Congress, was the design of the E14 that generated confusion in the juries and that were complex when filling them out given the number of candidates. 

Carolina Botero, director of the Karisma Foundation and columnist for the newspaper El Espectador, highlights that that traceability allowed the electoral process to work. However, he reiterates that there are still flaws in the technological issue: "The technology, as it has been happening, is very dark, the control mechanisms are imperfect, there are many that do not exist, and there is much to be done." 

Success is that traceability and transparency, according to Alfonso Portela, who participated in the electoral reform of 2011 and says that it was thanks to the fact that the process for years was divided into 3 different electoral processes: the pre-count, the count and the digitization. In this aspect, Luis Carlos Donado agrees:

 "the electoral process in Colombia has a traceability that has been taking place since before 2018. The Registry has been working to improve its processes, in the collection of information and that all citizens have access to the E14”. 

Demystify software and its transparency 

Regarding the electoral software and its possible manipulation, Luis Carlos clarifies that the software is nothing more than a large excel spreadsheet that captures the E14s, therefore, its traceability is simple and can be verified through physical forms.

However, for Carolina Botero, who repeatedly in these elections asked the Registrar to make public the source code of the counting software to guarantee transparency, she insists that that 'spreadsheet' is not public for scrutiny, which for her opens up room for manipulation. 

Publishing the source code, for Portela and Donado, is not necessary and it is not a guarantee for the audit. They insist on physical traceability, as is the case with the E14 and E24 forms, which are key in the scrutiny process.. Alfonso emphasizes that the evolution of the electoral process in Colombia shows that.

“Part of the transformations we made in the entity was precisely to remove that gray cloud of what used to be waiting until Tuesday for the information on the results. Those transformations that were made to the system were to open the results to everyone in real time from different perspectives and thus demystify that software”.

Faced with the audit that must be done to the software, Luis Carlos Donado considers that 'It is very simple to do, it consists of some test data and fill out some E14 to verify that it gives the sum of the final votes. Talking about transparency of software source code is a salute to the flag because the origin of the data is physical'. 

Errors in communication and electoral pedagogy

As these elections are marked by controversy and noise on social networks, theThe Registrar's Office failed in its way of communicating and in the logistics of processes that were not new, but that generated confusion. 

To this is added that both Citizens and the media do not have an electoral pedagogy to distinguish between pre-counting and counting. For Pilar Sáenz, it was until these elections, and after what happened in the vote count for Congress, that the results given on the day of the elections are informative and those of the count are legal. 

“Until this year that the whole problem of the legislative elections was known. Never had the country, the journalists and the Registrar itself explained in a comprehensive way that we had this entire scrutiny process”, says Pilas Sáenz, Karisma Foundation.

Another mistake that was made was wanting incorporate technological tools that in the end did not end up working, as was the registration of identification cards over the Internet and the assignment of jurors, which were implemented without any prior testing. 

Regardless of the errors and failures, democracy in Colombia finally worked. The electoral mechanisms came out well in the face of criticism and alerts of manipulation and fraud

The goal going forward is to assess how technology can play an important role without dismantling what works. This in addition to strengthening complementary technologies such as biometric identification.

If you missed this Hangout, you can see it in its entirety on the ImpactoTIC Youtube channel

Main Photo: Registrar's Office