App designed to
The number of
voters in Panama’s
had been selected as Election Day years
before—and 3 May it was going to be.
Still, if the new technology did work
correctly, the speed of election returns
would increase significantly. Mobile
phones running the WAP app would
operate at 80 percent of the country’s
polling stations, with the rest in such
remote rural areas they had to rely upon
VHF radio and satellite phones.
The stakes were high, but the risks
seemed worth it.
The tribunal outsourced the app
writing to a Panamanian software company, while its developers made changes
to the result-tabulation application.
Meanwhile, 800 mobile phones were
acquired for polling stations.
Not willing to take any chances, the
project team decided to divide and
“The 800 phones were divided
equally across three cell phone networks
to avoid network congestion and pro-
vide some contingency against failure,”
Mr. Valdés-Escoffery says. “We wanted
to avoid being reliant on just one
As Election Day drew nearer, early
trials of the WAP app highlighted usabil-
ity, training and security issues. No fewer
than 12 simulations were run, with
results sent in from the country’s polling
stations and displayed on the monitors.
As the simulations were underway,
security experts and “ethical hackers”
from the United States were probing the
WAP-based system’s defenses, prompting
last-minute changes to both the software
code and the instructions for its use. One
modification, for example, required two
or three combinations of passwords to
allow for the possibility of a phone being
lost, stolen or misappropriated.