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Press Release

OAS Electoral Oversight Mission in Colombia Issues Observations

  June 21, 2010

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, sent his greetings to the government of President Álvaro Uribe, President-Elect Juan Manuel Santos and to the Colombian people after yesterday’s Electoral Day. The top representative of the OAS called Santos to wish him success in his future labor as head of the country. Furthermore, he lamented the deaths of uniformed officers and civilians in incidents that were not directly related to the elections.

The OAS had deployed a Mission of Electoral Oversight integrated by 81 international observers from 23 countries of the Americas and Europe. The Mission arrived in the country on February 20th with the objective of following the legislative elections in March and the presidential elections of May 30, including this second round of presidential elections.

During the various stages of the process, a mobile team covered 30 of the 32 departments in the country. The Chief of Mission, Enrique Correa, held meetings with electoral and governmental authorities, and with leaders of the various political and security forces. He also visited the departments of Atlántico, Antioquia, Cundinamarca, Nariño and Valle del Cauca.

On the day of the second round of presidential elections, international observers traveled to 125 municipalities to report on the progress of the voting. Furthermore, the Mission’s technicians were present at the preliminary information consolidation center of the National Registry of Civil Status.

Electoral Process

The OAS Mission of Electoral Oversight wishes to highlight that the electoral process, which began with the legislative elections, was successfully conducted, and is considered an achievement by the Colombian government and people. Nevertheless, the Mission wishes to recall some aspects mentioned in the previous elections and make medium- and long-term recommendations to help improve the electoral processes in Colombia.

It is necessary first of all to reiterate that compared to elections in the recent past, and to the first round of presidential elections and the legislative elections, yesterday’s saw the lowest level of violence in the last decades. While it may have been necessary to move polling stations due to threats made against certain localities, and while electoral materials were burned in the Municipality of San Calixto, Norte de Santander, significant progress was achieved in matters of security. This led to elections with few mishaps to candidates, juries, party witnesses and electors. Nevertheless, we cannot fail to take into account the security incidents that caused the deaths of uniformed officers and civilians.

The presidential election was conducted with greater transparency and adequacy than the polls last March. In fact, during the legislative elections there was pressure exerted by some candidates on voters in certain areas to obtain the number of votes necessary to gain a parliamentary seat. In that case, the Mission evidenced vote buying in six of the country’s departments. During yesterday’s elections, vote buying was observed in the Municipality of Montería. That difference in scale between one and another election contributed to reduce the pressure on voters, as well as the number of coercive activities, threats and/or vote buying and selling, leading to freer expression by voters.

The weaknesses and strengths of the Colombian electoral system were newly reflected on the day of the election. There are still structural difficulties that require legal and technical adjustments to be overcome. Despite this, the electoral organization confirmed the progress achieved in the first presidential round, and the lessons learned from the March voting were in evidence. This was translated into a more orderly process, one that was easier on the voters and functioned more adequately in key areas such as tranquility in voting, quick and adequate filling of the ballots, and speed in the publication of the results.

As in previous elections, the Registry created the right conditions for the beginning of Election Day. The work of distributing electoral kits was efficient and almost all of the observed tables provided complete material to voters in a timely way. Furthermore, the Registry deployed a large number of personnel to direct the electorate: if 82% of voters in the observed tables in March had adequate information on the location of their table, that percentage grew during the first round of presidential elections to 96% and reached 97% during the second round.

The electoral juries often indicated that training received in preparation for the presidential elections was of greater quality than that in March, contributing to give uniformity to the procedures and enhancing confidence on Election Day. This factor, along with the simplification of the voting (a single ballot), allowed the process to flow with speed.

However, the central contribution was in the appropriateness with which the counting at the tables was conducted. In the parliamentary election, administrative or organizational problems were reported at some 58% of observed tables, a percentage that decreased to 14 during the first round of the presidential elections and to 10 during the second round. This was one of the greatest achievements of the elections though efforts are still ongoing to achieve uniformity in the counting process. Another relevant success was the lack of intentional acts to influence the choice of voters, compared to some four percent at tables previously observed by the Mission.

Nevertheless, the process had shortcomings and complications. The most disquieting was the large quantity of voting precincts lacking adequate places to cast a ballot. This is a structural weakness in the electoral process that isn’t solely evidenced in rural areas with precarious infrastructure but also in large cities with an overcrowding of open-air tables and booths. Furthermore, the design of the voting screens does not provide privacy to voters. This problem was noticed in 40% of the observed tables, where the secret ballot was not adequately guaranteed.

A lack of protection of the secret ballot facilitates the buying of votes and coercion, long-standing practices around the country. A second impact was the difficulties in counting, which was conducted in highly reduced spaces, increasing the risks of error or manipulation and making control by party witnesses more difficult.

It is noteworthy that a copy of the ballot was not provided to public prosecutors or made public until the end of the process of relaying preliminary data. Furthermore, two months after the parliamentary elections, at the time of the second round of presidential elections, the definitive official results were not yet available, since the National Electoral Council (CNE) continues to conduct a review of the ballots.

After the problematic relaying of the preliminary results of the legislative election of March, the Registry effectively modified the electoral computing infrastructure. It must be noted that the conducting of numerous simulations at the national and departmental levels allowed for the identification of aspects of the process to be improved upon.

The quickness with which the results were published was evidence once again of the progress achieved by the Registry in this aspect of the process. A little less than an hour after the closing of the tables, 95% of the votes had been processed and publicized. As in the previous election, the Mission wishes to congratulate the National Registry for the promptness with which the preliminary results were submitted.

As in May 30, the publication of the results was conducted from a center in Medellín, especially dedicated to this task. This made it possible to significantly decrease the publication time of the electoral information via Internet.


1. Improve the conditions of the polling stations

It has been noted that many of the polling stations do not meet minimum requirements for elections to be conducted adequately: lack of convenience in the exercise of the vote, guarantees to ensure a secret and therefore free ballot, convenient space for the work of the juries throughout the day, and for the counting that in many places was conducted under precarious conditions. It is up to the electoral authorities to seek the most convenient spaces, always favoring educational centers or buildings with classrooms and/or covered rooms to reduce the use of open-air spaces, even where carps are used. The wind and rain in many places during the second round of presidential voting placed in evidence the complications that arise from working in open spaces.

Furthermore, it is recommended that the census conducted in the polling stations include not only the ID number of the voters but also their name in order to ease the search.

2. Submit copies of the ballots to the party witnesses

The current system does not provide for the party witnesses to keep a copy of the counting ballots. Given the great diversity of the competition in the March elections, there were reasons to prevent every organization from receiving a copy. However, it is important for the transparency of the process and for improved control by the stakeholders to find a mechanism that allows them to have access to an official copy of this key electoral document. On the other hand, this is made easier during presidential elections when the number of competitors decreases.

3. Relaying of Preliminary Electoral Results (TREP)

It was noted about this process that the relaying of data via telephone does not generate the assurances required from a procedure of this nature. The use of this methodology does not guarantee an efficient system of authentication, verification and auditing. Furthermore, it would be necessary for quick counting to provide a copy of the ballot instead of asking that juries fill out another document. Under the current standards, information that should be identical isn’t always so, and can be a source of errors and confusion, more drastic in cases where the results of the contest are close.

The Mission recommends an analysis of the deficiencies in order to improve the relaying and processing of results in the next elections. A good example of this would be the application of a method that would reduce the use of telephones and implement a system via Internet. This would decrease the risk of errors and distortions.

4. Electoral census

The Mission also has noted that the electoral census is out of date. An example of this is the presence of ID cards of deceased persons. Furthermore, incorrect information has been received on demographic data. Given that these are constantly changing, it is necessary to continuously update and clean up the electoral lists. In this way, transparency and reliability in the lists may be guaranteed. In this sense, the Mission considers the task of auditing, cleaning up and updating the census of an urgent nature.

In the long term, the electoral census should be put together through a system of biometric registry applied to all citizens. This registry should contain data pertaining to the identity of each citizen as well as fingerprints, digital photographs and other information deemed necessary.

In the following weeks, the Mission will present a report to the OAS Permanent Council with the results of its work of observation and with the goal of expanding on the medium- and long-term recommendations made about the electoral process. The final report of this Mission will be published in the months ahead.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-249/10