Voting From Abroad: Enhancing Electoral Integrity in El Salvador

  • Erin O’Neill

In 2024, El Salvador will host presidential, legislative, municipal, and Central American Parliamentary (PARLACEN) elections to determine the country’s future representatives. This upcoming election cycle is particularly unique because it will be the first opportunity for many Salvadorans abroad to participate in elections at home electronically. The ability for more Salvadorans to vote comes at a key moment for the country’s democracy, especially in the context of President Bukele’s much debated reelection. IRI, as part of its long-standing commitment to advancing democracy abroad, will be supporting local civil society partners with the technical, administrative, and logistical expertise necessary to monitor electoral processes and advocate for transparency. 

Voters abroad are an underrepresented voter demographic whose population is only growing. For example, there are an estimated 1.3 million Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S. today. This means that the number of Salvadorans in the U.S. is equivalent to approximately 20 percent of the total population in El Salvador (6.3 million). Although this comparison only analyzes a small portion of the much larger diaspora, it highlights how Salvadorans abroad represent a new cohort of voters that could influence the outcome of the election. Electronic voting mechanisms for Salvadorans abroad present a potential opportunity for greater access to voting, leading to greater political participation, and in turn more democratic elections.  

In October 2022, the Legislative Assembly approved the Special Law for the Exercise of Suffrage Abroad, which allows Salvadorans living abroad to vote in general elections. Despite the proximity of the 2024 elections, some logistical details for voting from abroad remain unclear. The number of voters abroad eligible to vote is unknown. Although the logistics are still being finalized, it appears that the new measures could result in larger voter turnout. This present uncertainty, in addition to the administrative challenges that coincide with implementing new electronic and in-person voting systems mandated for the 2024 election, have raised concerns over electoral integrity. 

Fortunately, civil society has been at the forefront of ensuring that these legislative changes uphold electoral integrity in El Salvador. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are holding elected officials accountable by monitoring the implementation of these new, and still developing measures, while also promoting political participation by informing the public of new processes and deadlines. Some CSOs have even drafted recommendations to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo Electoral, TSE), the highest electoral authority in the country. By doing so, CSOs are playing a critical role in confirming that voting systems abroad, no matter their format, are transparent. By supporting the dissemination of electoral information to those eligible to vote, IRI is supporting political participation and civic engagement. 

As a result, some technical recommendations made by civil society have been adopted. For example, the TSE contracted Spanish company Indra Solutions for the design and implementation of electronic voting software and voting centers for all Salvadorans abroad, a decision endorsed by electoral experts because of the company’s extensive experience. Additionally, the TSE contracted Custom Software Development Company (CGTS Corp), an American company, to audit the voting systems, as well as the electoral registry of Salvadorans abroad. Most recently, the TSE signed a cooperation agreement with the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (Tec de Monterrey) to perform a second audit on the remote online and face-to-face electronic voting mechanisms for those abroad. 

Despite great efforts by civil society, challenges remain due to the proximity of the elections. There is not only a time constraint on the operational implementation of new systems and measures, but also on informing potential voters of such changes. Thus, civil society must continue its oversight of the electoral process by developing innovative mechanisms of participation to support citizen participation, elections monitoring, electoral reforms, countering cyberattacks, and digital misinformation.

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