Buenos Aires Times

argentina COLLABORATION

US experts talk election reform with Argentine officials

Meeting focuses on use of social media in elections, campaign finance, and Argentina's famously complicated presidential transitions.

Wednesday 13 March, 2019
A voter casts their ballot in Buenos Aires.
A voter casts their ballot in Buenos Aires. Foto:Votar Argentina

Argentine officials met with a host of experts from political and international organisations this Monday, addressing a number of topics such as the use of social networks, campaign finance and electoral reform as Argentina heads deeper into an election year

The meeting focused in on the use of social media in elections, campaign finance, and Argentina's famously difficult presidential transitions, said David Lane, the president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust and a former US ambassador to the United Nations who attended the meeting.

Lane was one of a group of high-profile US experts and officials who attended the closed-door meeting, seeking to give insight and discuss topics with Argentine officials.

Cynthia Arnson, the director of the Latin American Program at the Wilson Center, told the Times that while a presidential election year is “not the time to do major electoral form,” the workshop explored whether Argentine officials “would be willing to come together to sign agreements on various topics.”

Cash donations to political campaigns, for instance, could be banned to promote a “higher degree of transparency and traceability in campaign finance,” Arnson, an expert on Latin American politics, said.

“Cash is, by nature, untraceable,” Arnson argued. “And there seems to be some agreement [among Argentine officials] on banning cash donations.”

The Wilson Center director also highlighted the spread of “fake news” on social media platforms as a major problem for nations. Arnson suggested Argentina could move to regulate incorrect news in order to stabilise the country’s election system. In both the US and Argentina, she added, a “majority of people don’t know how bots work or how fake news spreads.”

The use of social media as a campaign tool has been a hot topic in recent years, both in Argentina and beyond.

In March, 2018, Amnesty International issued a report on on “trolling and attacks on freedom of expression” in Argentina, analysing a data set of 354,000 tweets. The study “detected a high activity of cyberattacks linked to the national government, with the objective of delegitimising the speech of journalists or people working to defend human rights.”

“Many cases are coordinated to inhibit the expression of multiple perspectives and limit the circulation of diverse opinions,” the organisation wrote in its report.

Arnson said that social media tools “can be enormously helpful – or do tremendous damage.”

With proper reform, candidates would “actually condemn these instances of the dissemination of misinformation, even if it helps their campaign,” she said.

Argentina officials also discussed electoral reform with the US experts, a timely topic given some complaints emerged in the wake of last weekend's election in Neuquén about the province's electronic voting system. At least five complaints were lodged about voting machines.

While the Neuquén election was not specifically discussed in the meeting Monday specifically, Lane said that “changing the design of ballots in Argentina would be a matter of long-term reform.”

The country’s framework for provincial elections could also be modified to promote a fairer race, Arnson said. “The discretion that governors have for setting the date for provincial elections massively favours the incumbent,” she said, explaining that “the opposition doesn’t have the time to mobilise.”

Yet while the US experts were sharing best practice approaches that could improve and pacify elections in Argentina, they were also keen to stress that their own country’s elections are far from perfect.

“We are not unaware of our challenges at home,” Lane admitted.

The former US ambassador said he hoped the organisations would soon be able to assist Argentina's efforsts to reform its electoral process.

"Hopefully we'll be back, hopefully we can find some common ground with local participants," he said.

Op-Ed

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