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Overseas voting plan moves forward

April 15, 2011

A plan that will allow Costa Rican citizens living outside the country to vote abroad is taking shape. Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) magistrates are weighing two options to implement overseas balloting, a requirement of the Electoral Code.

One proposal would require Costa Rican expats to find the closest consulate and cast their votes on officially sealed paper ballots that would be sent back to Costa Rica. Another proposal is for a high-security international computer network that would digitally link Costa Rican consulates with TSE headquarters in San José. Voters would cast their ballots electronically on a computer, and results would be immediately registered.

“The use of paper ballots is considerably cheap and would be easy to manage for TSE officials, who would only have to find a trusted courier service,” said Erick Schmidt, the TSE’s electoral program coordinator. “The digital solution is way more complicated, but it is the alternative most countries have chosen.”

That option would allow Costa Rican citizens to pre-register online.

So far, TSE officials have not yet estimated the cost of either proposal. They have until June 15 to make that decision, at which point a budget proposal would also be submitted.

Making sure the process is fair and transparent is another concern for TSE officials. Consuls and members of Costa Rican political parties may be asked to serve as election observers.

“Political parties could organize their people and ask them to participate as observers to ensure transparency,” Schmidt said. “The transparency issue will be addressed once magistrates approve general regulations in upcoming months.”

Overseas balloting will allow Costa Rican expats to vote in presidential elections and referendums, but not in elections for lawmakers and mayors, a rule established by Article 187 of the Electoral Code.

According to the Electoral Code, the system must be up and running by the next presidential election, on Feb. 1, 2014.

TSE officials estimate that more than 100,000 Costa Rican citizens live abroad, but only 28,000 have registered an updated address in any of the 50 consulates around the world.

Last December, Costa Ricans living abroad nearly had the opportunity to vote on a referendum of a bill seeking to legalize same-sex civil unions. But Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the referendum was unconstitutional. More than 700 people had registered to vote overseas.

“A lot of improvements need to happen before implementing the overseas voting. I consider electronic balloting to be a good idea though, since one can not always afford to invest time and money traveling to the embassy,” said Alexander Araya, a Costa Rican resident living in Berlin.

“It’s fair for those of us living abroad to have the right to vote. First of all, we still are Costa Ricans and government is a relevant matter for us. Secondly, I believe distance provides expats with an interesting perspective when casting our votes,” said Denisse Duncan, a Costa Rican playwright living in Barcelona, Spain.

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