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Fri Jul 1, 2016, 07:34 PM

Macri electoral reform bill raises questions over electronic voting, campaign finance.

The electoral reform bill introduced last week in Argentina by the Mauricio Macri administration is likely to have smooth sailing in Congress; but opposition leaders expressed doubts over the draft bill’s proposals for an electronic voting system.

The bill, which would amend the Political Parties Financing Law signed in 2009, also included campaign finance reform proposals that are mostly of a voluntary nature. These were also met with skepticism, given that financial reports from all the main parties — including President Macri's PRO — have been plagued with irregularities.

In the case of the PRO-led "Let’s Change" coalition, its titular financial officers were two retired women, aged 68 and 82, with no official affiliation with the party. These revelations come less than three months after the Chequeado fact-checking website revealed that Macri had received almost three million pesos ($320,000) in cash donations from government contractors ahead of the 2015 presidential elections, which is illegal in Argentina.

These and other irregularities were confirmed by the auditor’s body at National Electoral Court (CNE) that is now reviewing the financial reports submitted by the country’s political parties after the PASO primaries held in August last year.

Federal prosecutor Jorge di Lello responded to news of alleged illegal practices spotted in Macri’s right-wing PRO; but also in financial reports filed by the center-left Victory Front (FpV) candidate Daniel Scioli and the centrist Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa. “Either those doing the accounting don’t know their maths, or there’s something strange going on,” di Lello told Radio del Plata. “Campaign financing is the greatest corruption phenomenon in the country.”

Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio and Political Affairs Secretary Adrián Pérez touted the bill's anti-corruption provisions such as expanding the National Electoral Court (CNE) audit council from seven to 24 members. Auditors have been requesting an expansion in the council to help speed the review of the staggering 3,727 financial reports filed last year at the national, provincial, and municipal levels.

Experts in political financing have said campaign expenses and contributions in last year’s elections were underreported, suggesting the declared funds amounted to less than 10% of the total. Macri's presidential campaign, for instance, declared expenses of only 27 million pesos ($2.9 million at that time) and 22 million pesos in private contributions.

But activities such as opinion polls, political consultancy services, rallies, and payments for prime-time TV spots are rarely detailed in these reports. The PRO declared 92 million pesos ($10 million) in unspecified "party development" expenses during 2015.

Electronic voting

The government-sponsored bill calls on replacing the existing paper ballots currently in use in most of the provinces with a fully electronic system befor the 2017 mid-term elections. Electronic voting in Argentina was first used in Salta Province in 2009, and extended to the Buenos Aires mayoral election last year.

The Macri administration touts electronic voting as a way to achieve greater “transparency and agility” during the vote count. Proposals for electronic voting came under fire last year, however, after a Buenos Aires IT security professional (Joaquín Sorianello) discovered and reported vulnerabilities in the electronic system used in the Buenos Aires mayoral elections (which the ruling party candidate narrowly won despite being behind in most polls).

Once the vulnerabilities - including exposed SSL keys and ways to forge ballots with multiple votes - were reported to the manufacturer of the voting machines ("Magic Software Argentina" and the media, Macri - who was mayor at the time - ordered Sorianello detained and his computers and electronic devices impounded.

Justicialist (Peronist) Party legal counsel Jorge Landau said the Macri administration should not rush to implement the electronic system. “Since we’re talking about a new, unknown tool for most Argentines, there should be only a progressive implementation of the measure — they way they did in Salta,” Landau said, adding that “Brazil took eight years to switch from paper ballots to the electronic system.”

At: http://buenosairesherald.com/article/216914/electoral-bill-raises-questions-on-electronic-voting-campaign-financing

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