During elections, incidences of crimes and irregularities surrounding this process become a constant throughout Colombia’s national territory. For this reason, citizenship must encompass a broader sphere, which transcends the simple exercise of voting and calls for a more active participation around the oversight of fraudulent acts that might be committed by various different actors within the context of the electoral battle.
One of the main tools available to members of the public that helps them to act opportunely in the face of these incidences is making a complaint and knowing the channels for reporting corruption. However, in Colombia, the complaint process often includes certain risks and hurdles, ranging from a lack of knowledge of the different options and channels to report incidences, to threats and risks against the life of the complainant; without a doubt, these are disincentives for citizens to make use of this tool.
Despite the different hurdles that might be encountered, the main thing to know in order to make an effective complaint effective is understanding what to report and how to follow the process. With that in mind, it is necessary to also be clear and capable of differentiating between electoral crimes and electoral irregularities.
Electoral crimes are found in the Penal Code and are formally known as “Crimes against mechanisms of democratic participation.” There are currently 16 electoral crimes, which carry custodial sentences that range between 4 and 9 years in prison, and fines ranging from 50 to 1,200 Colombian monthly minimum salaries (SMLV).
Then, on the other hand, there are electoral irregularities, which refer to all violations of regulations that are not of a criminal nature; for example, administrative violations at the National Electoral Council or infractions of the Disciplinary Code. Although these activities might not constitute a crime, they are equally reportable, because they harm democracy and electoral competition.
The next question is where to place your report? In Colombia, there are different channels to report crimes and electoral irregularities. Firstly, there are the official State channels that are set up to receive complaints, investigate them and sanction them, according to their competence. For criminal matters there is the Prosecutor’s Office; in disciplinary matters, the Attorney General’s Office; In fiscal matters, the Comptroller’s Office; and, for electoral violations of an administrative nature, there is the National Electoral Council.
However, in 2013, in order to unify the complaint channels in electoral matters, the Immediate Reception Unit for Electoral Transparency (URIEL) was created within the Ministry of the Interior, where it is possible to denounce both electoral crimes and any of the different electoral irregularities.
Finally, there are complaint channels that are part of civil society, which provide support and advice to publicize these fraudulent acts. The Anti-Corruption Institute has a free channel that is accessible and available to all citizens, which can be reached by clicking here. That said, regardless of the complaint channel that is chosen, the fundamental rule is to make proper use of these tools so that we, as members of the general public, can play a more active role in electoral processes.