INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Fighting Electoral Fraud, Miscounts with Technology

Published: Wed 15 Sep 2004 04:02 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 QUITO 002500
SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV PREL PHUM EC
SUBJECT: FIGHTING ELECTORAL FRAUD, MISCOUNTS WITH TECHNOLOGY
REF: QUITO 2449
1. SUMMARY: Ecuador's byzantine electoral process demands
newspaper-sized ballots, seven-hour counts, and spawns
unacceptable numbers of nullified votes. Worse, its
complexity raises the possibility of electoral fraud.
Ecuador's supreme electoral authority sees a partial solution
in increased use of automation, however. The Supreme
Electoral Tribunal (TSE) this year inked an agreement with
its Brazilian counterpart and the OAS to utilize computerized
voting stations in 271 precincts in five provinces. TSE
experts predict accurate results from the pilot system one
hour after polls close. END SUMMARY.
2. Ecuadorians go to the polls October 17 to elect prefects,
mayors, and provincial/municipal councils. The national
electoral system mixes presidential and parliamentary
elements; voters select one candidate for prefectural and
mayoral races, but cast as many votes for council members as
there are open seats (voting for a party list, or splitting
votes among several parties). At the close of the
registration period, the TSE announced that some 150
organizations would field candidates in October. Taken
together, in populous provinces like Pichincha and Guayas,
ballots can look more like racing forms, producing headaches
for vote counters and observers alike and making fraud more
difficult to detect.
3. The TSE's track record modernizing Ecuador's electoral
system is solid. In 2000, it initiated a telephone-based
quick count system, used to good effect in 2002 as well.
Initial results for that presidential election arrived in
Quito just 90 minutes after polls closed. The system is
limited, however, in that it still depends on manual ballot
counts, precluding its use in complex, multi-seat
congressional and council races. It is also costly; TSE
Technical Advisor Axel Villa told Poloff September 9 the TSE
would pay a Spanish contractor $3 million for quick-count
services.
4. Existing vote tabulation technology allowed accurate,
quick results reporting, Villa claimed. The TSE was
committed to automating the vote 100 percent by 2012. To
that end, it had entered into an agreement with the OAS and
Brazilian electoral authorities to use the latter's
technology in a pilot program this October. At 271 of
Ecuador's 34,000 precincts, in Guayas, Pichincha, Manabi,
Imbabura, and Azuay provinces, citizens would cast ballots at
PC-based workstations. Tabulation would occur automatically,
once the precinct captain executed a few simple computer
commands. He then had only to transmit results to the TSE in
Quito via a simple modem uplink.
5. Villa demonstrated the system's workings to Poloff.
Party symbols, colors, and assigned numbers would aid
illiterate and semi-literate Ecuadorians, especially
important in heavily indigenous areas. In response to
remarks that the process was user-friendly but still complex,
the TSE technician claimed all voters in pilot precincts must
undergo a two-hour training course before accessing the
machines.
6. Brazilian Commercial Attache Alfonso Netti September 8
provided additional detail on the TSE/OAS/Brazil agreement.
Brasilia earlier had provided electoral assistance to
Paraguay; that impoverished country now features
state-of-the-art vote tabulators at nearly half its
precincts. Under the Ecuador accord, Brazil had loaned the
TSE nearly 800 machines. A majority would not see duty
SIPDIS
election day, but rather appear in shopping malls and
universities in the run-up, raising electoral and system
awareness. Brazilian experts had trained TSE trainers in
April and technicians stood ready to assist throughout the
campaign. Should the pilot prove successful, Netti noted
that the Brazilian manufacturer (a subsidiary of U.S.-based
Diebold, Villa later revealed) would seek to sell Ecuador
machines and service contracts.
7. Media have reported the pilot program favorably, in part
due to a proactive TSE publicity campaign. Tribunal
authorities traveled to each province for kickoff events to
raise awareness. In addition, TSE President Nicanor Moscoso
has trumpeted the system as an integral component in the
fight against fraud. He is lobbying party officials to make
similar pronouncements.
8. COMMENT: Embassy officers fanned out nationwide to
witness Ecuador's 2002 presidential and congressional
elections. Each was impressed by the perseverance of poll
workers, many tabulating results well past midnight, in cold
and by candlelight. Observers were mortified, however, by
the ballots' complexity and the null votes it produced. The
TSE pilot program thus appears both necessary and long
SIPDIS
overdue. Choosing proven technology too seems prudent -
Netti explained that 120 million voters would utilize similar
machines in Brazil's own October elections. But we're
somewhat skeptical the TSE can train the pilot's 63,000
voters, many uneducated, to use its systems. And poor
communications in Ecuador's rural regions might stymie the
TSE in its goal of 100 percent automation by 2012. END
SIPDIS
COMMENT.
KENNEY
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