Electronic voting in Panama: Slower, more expensive, more uncertainty... Goodbye!

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 09/04/2012 - 16:56

Panama just underwent a nasty e-voting exercise: Electronic-mediated elections were held for the committee of the PRD party. It sounds simple - Even trivial! There were only 4100 authorized voters, it was geographically trivial (all set inside a stadium)... But it blew up in smoke. I won't reiterate all what happened, I'll rather direct you to our project's (the e-voting observatorium) page: News regarding Panama (for those coming from the future, search starting at 2012-08-27 — and yes, it's all in Spanish, but there are free-as-in-beer translation services.

Many e-vote proponents/sellers/pushers were very eagerly waiting for this election to brag about one more success... So much that they could not just ignore it, and started rationalizing it away. Anyway, while feeding the observatorium, I came across this opinion-article in the Voto Digital website, which makes quite a bit of pro-e-voting noise. I replied to it, and I think my analysis is worth sharing also with you:

So, lets make some simple numbers, rounding the numbers: The PRD vote in Panama was done for a universe of 4100 voters.

It took 10 hours (instead of the planned 4), so 410 people were processed every hour. There were 40 voting (electronic) booths, so each processed 10 people per hour. This means, each person spent 6 minutes by the booth.

A manual vote in this fashion is highly parallelizable: Each of the voters can be given ballots with anticipation, or many of them cna be allowed in to be given the ballots in situ (depending on the electoral scheme employed). The contention time is the time it takes to each voter to get near the booth and deposit his ballot (either folded or in an envelope) - And it will very rarely be more than a couple of seconds.

So, given that using electronic booths parallelism cannot grow (there is a fixed number of machines) and the queues grew wildly, with traditional voting it would have surely fitted in the expected four hours (they were expected, also, based on their past experiences).

As for counting, that's the slowest part of manual voting, it's also highly parallelizable: If each of the 40 booths has slightly over 100 ballots, the party personnel can easily count them in under 30 minutes. Capture and aggregation for the 40 partial results would take an extra 10 minutes, even being generous.

Manual voting would have saved them around five hours, without demanding additional resources (and being thus much more economical than having to buy 40 specific-purpose computers). And as an additional advantage, the physical and tangible vote proofs would remain, in case they were ever again needed.

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