Costa Rica: After the CAFTA Referendum

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Process handoffs in Costa Rican electoral tribunal quick-count system. Votes (1) transmitted by telephone to regional centers, where the data is (2) manually entered for transmission to the TSE, via both private network and Internet, and from there to (3) the news media, via Internet. Network and telephone lines monitored by two private firms, ICE (telephony) and RACSA (ISP). A manual count is taken to confirm the quick-count, once (5) the ballots are physically delivered to the TSE in San Jose. White-hat hackers: Devise the simplest possible plan for defrauding this system. What occurs to me is that you (1) mess with the preliminary results during data entry or transmission, and then (2) mess with the ballots during transportation to make the results agree with the quick count. This is how the mapaches did it in Mexico. A very rigorously documented chain of custody on the ballot documents would therefore be paramount. In Mexico, cases of ballots tampered with while in IFE custody were documented.

TSE debe concluir conteo a más tardar 20 de octubre: La Nación (Costa Rica) reports the final vote count for the national referendum over ratifying the CAFTA free trade agreement will be complete by October 20.

It notes a Washington Post editorial calling the apparent victory of “Yes on CAFTA” a “defeat for Hugo Chávez.” The OAS certified the transparency of the election and called on all sides to respect the results.

“Preliminary results” suggested that the measure passed by a margin of 51.6% to 48.3%, or 3.3% — about your standard margin of error in opinion polling, right?

But the manual recount will not be completed until October 20.

One public opinion poll indicated a margin of 12% in favor of “no.” Another — by a firm which lists the Presidency of Costa Rica as a market research client — indicated a technical tie. See

I have been reading a University of Costa Rica publication — from the statistics faculty — on the role of the new media in forming public opinion during the recently completed referendum on CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade agreement. So I thought I would take a quick survey of coverage of the issue, by looking at the principal daily newspapers.

The Web site of the Diário Extra leads today with a photograph of two women fighting in the public street, captioned something like “Cat Fight!”

Its top headline is “Judge Accused [by ex-wife] of Raping Daughter, 6.”

That story is followed by “PAC will not obstruct the TLC.”

The opposition party, which campaigned for a “no” vote in the referendum as in the 2006 Presidential campaign, will reportedly boycott the ratification of the referendum result by Congress, but will not attempt to obstruct it.

That, nearly word for word, is also the top headline on the CAFTA issue in Al Día, and its top headline overall.

La Republica (a business publication) leads with “Arias leads trade delegation to China.”

La Nación reports on the ongoing manual recount of votes from the Sunday election.

El próximo 20 de octubre vencerá el plazo que tiene el Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE) para efectuar el conteo manual de votos del referendo sobre el Tratado de Libre Comercio (TLC).

The TSE’s deadline for manually recounting the votes in the CAFTA referendum will expire on Sunday, October 20.

De acuerdo con la Ley de referendo , hasta ese día tiene tiempo el TSE para dar a conocer el escrutinio definitivo de los resultados que arrojaron las urnas electorales en todo el país.

According to the Law of Referendum, the TSE has until then to provide a definitive account of the results from polling places all over Costa Rica.

Una vez definido el resultado, los magistrados lo enviarán a la Asamblea Legislativa, para que esta lo remita a la Imprenta Nacional y se publique la Ley 16.047 en el diario oficial La Gaceta, lo que le dará vigencia.

One the result is defined, the magistrates will send it to the Legislative Assembly, which will forward it for publication of Law 16,047 in the Official Gazette, which will give effect to the law.

Este proyecto 16.047 es el primero que se aprueba en nuestro país por casi 800.000 votos, que emitieron los ciudadanos para favorecer al TLC.

This law is the first to be approved in our country [by popular referendum], based on nearly 800,000 votes in favor of CAFTA.

Más de 1.500.000 costarricenses acudieron el pasado domingo al primer referendo en la historia del país, con el propósito de ratificar o rechazar el TLC.

More than 1,500,000 Costa Ricans went to the polls last Sunday in the first referendum in Costa Rican history, to decide whether to ratify or reject the TLC.

Tranquilidad. La tranquilidad y la normalidad prevalecieron ayer en el salón donde tres magistrados, 186 funcionarios del TSE y 36 fiscales de los partidos políticos acreditados iniciaron el conteo manual de los votos.

Calm and normalcy prevailed yesterday in the courtroom where 3 magistrates, 186 TSE employees and 36 accredited monitors from the political parties began the manual counting of votes.

Jaime Madrigal, contralor electoral del TSE, explicó que una vez que terminó una pequeña ceremonia de inicio, que encabezó la magistrada Eugenia Zamora, los funcionarios de la entidad comenzaron a subir los sacos con la documentación electoral.

The TSE’s elections controller, Mr. Madrigal, explained that once a short opening ceremony was concluded, presided over by Justice Zamora, the employees of the TSE would begin bringing up the sacks containing the documentation.

El escrutinio va por orden numérico, esto es, comenzaron por la mesa número 1, que corresponde al distrito Hospital, del cantón central de San José, y que se abrió en la escuela Mauro Fernández.

The count takes place in numerical order. That is, they begin with Precinct No. 1, which is located in the Hospital district in downtown San José, at the Mauro Fernández School.

Sucesivamente, explicó Madrigal, fueron entregando 20 sacos a cada una de las tres mesas que realizan el escrutinio.

One by one, Madrigal explained, 20 sacks were delivered to each of the three counting stations performing the count.

El presidente del TSE, Luis Antonio Sobrado, dijo que probablemente ayer contarían los votos de 400 mesas.

TSE presiding magistate Sobrado said that 400 precincts would probably be counted tomorrow.

Madrigal dijo que solo falta el saco de la mesa que se abrió en Isla del Coco y que está previsto llegue a más tardar el jueves.

Madrigal said the only votes outstanding are the sack from the precinct on Isla del Coco, which should arrive by Thursday.

Las sesiones del conteo manual de votos se harán en dos jornadas, de 8 a. m. a 12 m. y de 2 p. m. a 6 p. m. Ayer participaron 12 fiscales de los partidos políticos.

The manual counting sessions are done in two shifts, from 8 am to noon and from 2 pm to 6 pm. Yesterday, 12 monitors from the political parties were taking part.

I wonder how the quick count was conducted? And by whom?

Here is a document (Spanish, PDF) from the TSE on the “systems architecture for the transmission of election data.”

Local results are “digitized” at regional “reception and transmission centers” (CRT), with PCs linked to entral computers at the TSE in San José.

Features of the electronic reporting system:

  • Digital signatures (hashes) to uniquely identify the data transmitted
  • User ID and password
  • Review (and presumbably verification) of the information by the precinct official
  • Manual data entry of that information by [the Vote Reception Board].

I cannot quite figure out if the precinct officials sign off on the accuracy of the information before or after it is entered manually into the system.

After, you would think, would be ideal. Process handoffs are the riskiest in data management systems, right?

“System put through several tests in September and October.” What tests?

Who developed it? It was developed in-house by the TSE.

Interesting automated beancounting story.

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