Most of Latin America has very similar voting systems, with the notable exception of Brazil. Differences exist between countries, but the similarities are greater. The following is a description of the voting system in Guatemala as a means of understanding the whole regional opportunity.

Voting system in Guatemala

Voting tables are spread out nationally in voting centers as part of municipalities held within 23 districts. Each table is managed by a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5 volunteer citizens. They are accompanied by witnesses (Fiscal in Spanish) from any political party that wants to oversee their activities. A few hundred citizens are assigned at each table based on the geographical proximity of their registered voting address. On election day, each citizen identifies themselves at their table and is given their paper ballots.

At the end of election day, voting centers are closed and only authorized people are allowed for the count. All ballots are counted in front of witnesses, allowing for challenges to be recorded in case of disagreements between volunteers and witnesses. Totals are tallied for each party and a consolidated result is written on an official document. All volunteers and witnesses sign the document once there is a consensus. This summary document, known locally as the Acta#4, now becomes the only legal document that is valid. Individual ballots are stored but have never been reopened since the first election of this kind in 1982. The Acta#4 is immediately a public document but access to it is controlled by the national voting authority, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral – TSE. The TSE’s IT department makes one of the carbon copies public via their own digitalization system, database, and website.

The following is an example of one such voting table results document, the Acta#4:

Lots of paper isn’t safer

Since the system was developed in the 1980s and updated in the 1990s, digitalization infrastructure was expensive and thus carbon copy paper copies were utilized. There are a 2 carbon copies made plus additional paper certifications that are also carbon copied without a maximum limit. Paper copies must be issued to any political party that requests them. In 2019, there were over 26 political parties resulting in an average of 13 copies per table. The IT department contracts a few thousand data entry contractors. These results are then reported by the press. This has created many problems and has led to widespread suspicion of fraud due to its lack of transparency and several significant errors along the way.

In 2019 Guatemala held 6 elections: Presidential primaries, Presidential run-off, National Congress, District Congress, Municipal Corporations and Central American Parliament. Each one has a summary document like this one at each voting table. Since there were over 21,099 voting tables this year there are more than 126,000 original documents. 13 copies on average result in a total of over 1,500,000 different paper documents. The result is a confusing mess that exploded due to social media penetration, the ease of manipulating documents and spreading fake news. Few people now trust the election authorities and most question the legitimacy of the election leading to increased governance problems for the incoming government.

Enter #Fiscal_Digital

A volunteer effort led jointly by Fundación Herencia Cultural Guatemalteca, a local non-profit focused on creating citizenship experiences, and ceiba.io, a community of blockchain enthusiasts. Digital copies made available to the public via the internet were hashed with SHA256 and their results were registered on Bitcoin, EOS, Horizen and Dogecoin for ample verification. All images were then uploaded to #Fiscal_Digital enabling anyone with a computer, a phone and internet access to participate in a crowdsourced OCR to generate an independent tally to audit the official results. For an Acta#4 to be “validated” by #Fiscal_Digital, 3 different users need to produce identical information for each document. Documents are randomly selected between thousands, practically eliminating the possibility for bad actors to influence results. This experience has led to a proposal to the TSE’s Commission for the Update and Modernization of the Guatemalan Election System.

Our proposal for the region

#Fiscal_Digital’s proposal to the TSE that will be taken to other Latin American voting authorities is:

  1. Include a purpose built IOS or Android device at each voting table to photograph original voting result documents (Acta#4) as soon as they are created. The local app on the device will upload the JPGs to as many blockchains as possible, including the hash of a JSON that includes geolocation, timestamp, table ID and unique device ID.
  2. Re-design voting table results documents (Acta#4) for optimal OCR performance via automatic systems as well as crowdsourced efforts.
  3. Re-define IT department’s role as implementers of blockchain certifications and OCR technology as efficiently and transparently as possible instead of contracting thousands of data entry and scanning consultants.

The proposal enables voting tables to maintain their valuable consensus at the tables between citizen volunteers and political party witnesses. When consensus is achieved, they publish results in an immutable and publicly accessible format. All further intermediaries will be made unnecessary and thus all possibility of alteration of election results will be eliminated. Millions of dollars will be saved, millions of paper versions will be saved while information integrity and velocity will be maximized. Any third-party auditor will be capable of validating results within hours.

Latin America resisted evolving its paper-based, human-powered election systems throughout the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. Blockchain enables a leapfrog opportunity from the current state of distrust into secure, immediate and immutable election results.

#Fiscal_Digital, together we count all the votes. #Fiscal_Digital, juntos contamos todos los votos.

Join the GBA Voting Working Group to become part of the movement to bring integrity to election systems around the world. Read other posts about voting at GBA Voting Posts.

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