Sunday, December 17, 2017

OAS calls for new elections in Honduras

Today witnessed a series of press conferences in the contested Honduran election.

Shortly after the OAS Mission said it would be making a statement late today, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral announced its own announcement would be made earlier in the day.

Not surprisingly, given previous statements, the TSE's announcement was their conclusion that the presidential election had been won by Juan Orlando Hernández, of the Partido Nacional. Neither the Partido Liberal nor the Alianza formed by two opposition parties, the Partido Anti-corrupción and LIBRE, have accepted the vote tallies posted by the TSE, alleging a number of different kinds of fraud.

There is also a potential legal issue left unaddressed: whether the candidacy of Hernández was entirely legal. The current president ran for an unprecedented second term under a Honduran constitution that prohibited even talk of re-election, until a Supreme Court he shaped while head of Congress ruled otherwise. The Supreme Court ruling opened the door to re-election. But lawmakers in Honduras did not pass any legislation authorizing re-election. Technically, then, this is not just an unprecedented election outcome: it is one that took place outside any defined legal framework.

Both the European Union and the Organization of American States are on record as seeing the electoral process as problematic. While the EU released a statement today that many read as supporting the TSE's conclusion, the OAS today signaled more reservations, beginning with statements by Secretary General Luis Almagro on Twitter.

These were expanded in the OAS announcement this evening that the Secretary General of the OAS cannot provide certainty about the results of the election. The press release reiterates previous descriptions of the electoral process as "characterized by irregularities and deficiencies" and of "very low technical quality" and "lacking integrity".

The press release continues:
in the face of the impossibility of determining a winner, the only road possible for the winner to be the Honduran people is a new called to general elections, within the strictest respect for the rule of law, with  guarantees of a TSE that would enjoy the technical capacity and the confidence of the citizenry and the political parties.

This is followed by the appointment of a commission from the OAS of ex-presidents Jorge Quiroga and Alvaro Colom to "carry out the necessary work for a new electoral process and national democratic reconciliation in Honduras".

The full basis for this position is contained in the OAS mission's report to the Secretary General. It rehearses all the weaknesses in the electoral process. It calls allowing a run for re-election based on a court finding (without implementing legislation in place) a "bad practice...that revived the polarization generated by the coup and political crisis of 2009".

The OAS report also provides a new statistical analysis by Professor Irfan Nooruddin of Georgetown University addressing whether the sharp change in voting patterns noted after a break in counting could be explained in any innocent way.

This retraces some of the terrain covered by an analysis in The Economist that concluded that the shifts in voting seen were very unlikely.

Professor Nooruddin uses additional techniques, and concludes "on the basis of this analysis, I would reject the proposition that the National Party won the election
legitimately."

We will revisit these statistical analyses tomorrow, explaining what they do (and do not) show, and relate those observations to some of the known problems in the conduct of Honduran elections in general, and this one in particular.

For now, though, the question is: will Juan Orlando Hernández accept the OAS recommendation? Or does he think he can ignore the massive resistance to his re-election that has already led to almost two dozen deaths of protesters, and the closure of roads across the country?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Processing an Acta: Rules and Procedures

Amidst allegations of voting fraud, the Honduran Tribunal Supremo Electoral does itself no favors with its incapacity to explain what it does. For many outside observers, it may be worth reiterating that the TSE does not directly count ballots; even when voting irregularities are charged, they mainly return to and re-examine the summaries of votes at each polling place, or MER.

Even those of us who have been following contested TSE procedures through the last three electoral cycles can get confused about how the TSE processes these vote tally sheets (acta in Spanish). Some confusion about how the political parties obtain actas has been evident in blog posts and other coverage. Although what follows is dense, it is an attempt to make this more transparent.

There are published rules governing how actas are supposed to be generated and transmitted to the TSE. The rules are contained in a document issued by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral on November 21 and published in La Gaceta of November 24, 2017-- just two days before the election. They are titled "Reglamento del Sistema Integrado de Escrutinio y Divulgacion Electoral (SIEDE)" and describe both the hardware and software environment for the processing of vote tally sheets for the three elections held on November 26, 2017.

Here's how it was supposed to work:

First, there is a physical space in a voting center where there are two different kinds of "digitization kits". This is the ATX, the "area of transmission (area de transmisión)". 

It contains a tablet kit, consisting of a tablet, a multifunction printer/scanner, and a GSM (cell phone) modem. It also contains the Operador de Mesa Receptora (OMR) kit, consisting of a tablet, multifunction printer/scanner, and 2 GSM modems, one for TIGO and one for CLARO, the two major cell phone providers in Honduras. 

Each OMR kit serves up to five MER (polling places). The modems are supposed to be connected to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) over the cell phone provider's data network, terminating in the TSE's computer center.

Each OMR kit is operated by a custodian who is designated and credentialed by the TSE.

On the day of the election, the TSE is supposed to reset its database, and all counts, to zero at 6 am and generate and sign a document that this occurred.

At 7am, the digitization kits are set up in the voting centers.  At that time the security envelope containing the login information for that specific kit is opened, and the operator logs in over the VPN to the TSE system to receive encryption keys, security certificates, digital signatures for each MER that that operator will support, and only for those MER. 

The operator then generates an "hoja de prueba" that is supposed to show that there are no images of actas stored on the tablet, print it, and sign it, then scan it and send it to the TSE.  This process is supposed to shut down the OMR kit, so that it cannot be used until after the voting center closes at 4 pm

At 4 PM, when the voting center closes, the software controls the transmission of the voting tally sheets. Voting tally sheets (actas) are generated at each MER for each of the three levels of election, in this order:  Presidential, Congressional, and then Municipal.  Actas are signed by representatives of each political parties present at the MER.

Then the President of the MER, along with any members who want to join in, take the vote tally sheets physically to the ATX area inside the voting center.

Once the acta is at the ATX, it is the responsibility of the ATX custodian to wake up the equipment, log in using the TSE supplied credentials, verify the ATX information (department, municipality, voting center, identification number of the ATX, number of the MER).

We can assume that all of this information is contained in the JSON information transmitted to the TSE.  We can also guess that this error-prone manual process is responsible for the actas in the TSE system today that have images of the tally sheet for a particular MER, but are filed within the system as if they are the tally for a different MER. This is acknowledging that there is the potential for operator error, which the system is supposed to have safeguards to prevent.  Once the information is entered into the tablet, the custodian is supposed to make sure the whole system is working (the procedure to do this is not specified).

Then the OMR custodian scans the actas in the ATX that serves the particular group of MERs.

The software works off a QR code on the acta and verifies it is for a MER assigned to this ATX and OMR kit.  Once scanned, the system displays the scan on the tablet for the custodian to verify the quality of the scan, that the information is legible, and that it is correctly scanned with no missing or obscured information.  If it is OK, they click a button on the screen to transmit it.  If its not OK, they click another button on the screen to rescan the acta.

Transmission occurs between the ATX and a receiving server in the TSE computing center, where it is then replicated to the servers of each of the political parties.

The political parties are responsible for installing a fiber optic network between their server and the TSE network. Each acta replicated is encrypted with a digital signature that guarantees its authenticity, as transmitted by the ATX.  The political parties and the TSE verify the digital signature of the acta to validate it.

There is a second check on poll tallies provided for the political parties. Back at the OMR, once an acta is transmitted up to the TSE, the custodian prints enough copies of the acta to give to each party's representative on the MER and stamps of the back of each one a rubber stamp that says it conforms to the original and is signed by the secretary of the MER.  This process is repeated for each of the OMR kit's MER for the actas for the Presidential, Congressional, and Municipal elections.

Obviously, if there isn't a party representative at a specific MER, this copy won't be received by the party. In general, when the parties cite their actas, they mean the ones transmitted by the TSE, but they may also have the paper copies.

Once transmission concludes for all actas, the custodian prints a receipt for his/her service as custodian and transmits the log files to the TSE.

Now here's one place where what happens introduces the fear of manipulation: all the actas scanned at the ATX centers are supposed to be scanned a second time in Tegucigalpa when the physical package of electoral materials (maletas in Spanish) arrives. The OAS report noted that some of these arrived without security, already open. Pictures of a truck backing up to a hotel in Tegucigalpa that appeared to show such packages raised the concern about some actas possibly being scanned outside the INFOP facilities. In both situations, there is concern that a substitute acta could have been inserted in place of the one scanned on election day at the ATX center.

The published rules make clear that at INFOP, as the documentation physically arrives, the actas are taken out and scanned a second time, and that those scans go into the TSE computers and are replicated to the party servers.

The scans produced in Tegucigalpa replace original scans transmitted from ATX centers. These scans are clearly done using different procedures with a different way of getting in to the system. INFOP does not use the ATX software. There are no documented security protocols to provide for the authenticity of the INFOP scans in the rules as printed by the government.

We presume that the scanner and software in the INFOP center is different than that used in the ATX centers. The images from scanning at the INFOP center (1) lack the time and date stamp at the top, and (2) don't clearly show the security tape applied to the acta to prevent alteration.

It is notable that the otherwise very specific rules from the TSE do a bunch of hand waving rather than documenting the scanning protocol at the INFOP warehouse. It is only by reading between the lines that we can infer that these scans replace the ATX transmitted scans in the TSE system.  A proper software/procedural audit would have questioned why there were no protocols described for this process, but the TSE didn't ask its audit firm, Audisis, for a pre-election audit.

What the published rules make clear is that each political party can receive both a physical certified copy of each acta from its representative on the MER, and a digitally transmitted, encrypted acta image from the ATX, replicated from the TSE receiving server. 

Each party also receives a scan of the acta made in the INFOP warehouse as each election package physically arrives back at the TSE warehouse and is opened and scanned. 

At no point does the TSE compare each of the scanned images with the paper original and the votes recorded in its computers to validate the results of the election. That simple procedure would detect some kinds of fraud that are suspected or rumored.

Friday, December 15, 2017

More Audit Irregularities

Thanks to the incredible people over at the Voto Social we now have another anomaly related to the Actas, that the timestamps added by the ATX system when it scanned the actas have been systematically removed from the images of all but 3,737 actas in the TSE system.

Just to refresh your understanding of this part of the voting hardware and software, each MER submits a vote tally sheet, an acta, as a paper form to be scanned and transmitted to the TSE.  The scanning software adds a time stamp in the upper left to the images of actas before encoding the image, its MER number, and other data into a JSON post to the TSE main computer system in Tegucigalpa.  Here's a sample, as originally downloaded by the Voto Social website from the TSE archive:
Note the small text above the TSE and 2017.

Here's how the same acta appears in the TSE system today:
Suddenly the ATX scanning software added text on the acta image is missing.  There is no conceivable reason for anyone to edit the image to remove that data, except that it provides a way to precisely audit when the images were added to the TSE database.  So someone removed information that could have been used to audit the addition and counting of actas in the TSE system.

In addition, the ATX scanners provided better quality scans so that you could actually see the security measures on each acta, such as the special tape that was put on the acta over the vote tallies to prevent alteration.  You can see the left edge of the tape on the top image, but its almost undetectable on the bottom one.  They noted that on some of the original scans you could even read the security watermark in the tape, while on the scans in the TSE system, it is invisible.  You can see the full images from which these details were extracted on the Voto Social website here.

They take all of the above as evidence that the TSE for some reason rescanned or edited actas that were transmitted on a non ATX scanner and entered them in some other fashion in the TSE database.  They note that there is no established protocol in the TSE that would require the rescanning or editing of ATX images.  They also note that there are no attempts on these actas to change any of the data....just the curiosity that original time stamped images were replaced with lower quality images that removed the time stamp information that could have been used to audit the arrival of each MER's acta.  No international observers report being present when acta images were re-scanned or edited.

But there are other curiosities with the images as well.  The ATX transmitted version of acta 13014 has no signatures, but the image stored in the TSE database does.  You can see side by side copies here. The Voto Social authors suggest it was transmitted this way to allow the TSE to add the signatures, though why they would want to do that is not examined.  This particular acta contains more votes for Nasralla than it does for Hernandez.

What does this mean?  It means that there is undocumented either rescanning or editing of ATX scanned actas as part of TSE procedures, neither of which appears as part of the governing rules of the Sistema Integrado de Escrutinio y Divulgación Electoral (SIEDE), the composite TSE vote tallying system and software., for this election.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Auditing Update

This is an update to the previous post based on a memo issued by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE)  (not Audisis) on the crash of the TSE servers on November 29.  This update is a result of finding a technical appendix on another copy of the TSE memo.

First, lets make it clear the memo comes from the TSE, not Audisis as the press coverage implied.

The appendix describes the vote counting system as a group of clustered servers.  Scanned acta images are transmitted from the INFOP warehouse to a cluster of two receivers at the TSE.  Transmission is via JSON, a markup language, over a secure network connection.  From there, the JSON markup is converted to a database record, transitioning through an application software cluster of two servers, and a database cluster of two servers.  We learn for the first time what we had guessed; that the database software is MS SQL.  The database cluster talks to a single  database of 600 Gbytes on a SAN system which has 12 TBytes of free storage.  The transcription of the actas takes place on a series of desktops connected to the application software level over a network.  We know that there are at least 60 computers doing transcription today, and probably more.  The Technical diagram does not show the web dissemination of data a part of this process.

The appendix says that Dell AMC sized the original database at 600 GBytes based on recommendations of the vendor of the transcription software.

The tecnical appendix has confused and undoubtedly not correct set of times for events, and contradicts the main report of what happened with respect to the database.  We will use the times reported in the appendix here, but compare with the times reported in our previous blog post, which came from the body of the report.

Both the appendix and the body of the report agree that the servers ran out of space and went down at 9:47 am on November 29.  They shut down the transcription system and enlarged the database to 1.8 TBytes.  They repeat that it took 3 hours 20 minutes to enlarge the database and bring the transcription system back up, coming back on line about 1:10 pm the same day.  When they restarted transcription, the MS SQL database was unstable, needing to be restarted every 10 minutes.  No explanation of why it kept crashing or why they thought taking the next steps would resolve it.

At 5:30 pm they took down Node 1 of the database cluster, leaving Node 2 to do all database access. This supposedly restored some stability to the Transcription service.  At the time they took Node 1 off the cluster, they decided to install a new database instance on it, in case Node 2 started crashing.  This involved reinstalling MS SQL on Node 1, which they renamed SQL4, which they then gave a 6 TByte database.  They also configured another server, SQL5, as a mirror of SQL4, with a 2 TByte database.  They took a snapshot of the database on Node 2 at 9:47 pm? and restored it on to SQL4 and SQL5, finishing about 1:10 am? (the appendix says PM but that's not possible unless it took into the next afternoon, long after they'd restarted the transcription process).  The transcription server was then reconfigured to use SQL4 and Node 2 and its database were permanently retired. SQL5 collected a mirror of the database but otherwise was not part of the transcription process.

Audisis reportedly then audited what the TSE had done.  The TSE claims what they did was completely transparent.  This description of a reformat of the server and installation of a new, larger database on the SAN matches with what the Alianza reported when they stated that the TSE had formatted the server.  They did.

Just as a point of normal procedure, it should have been Audisis that released a report on the changes to the system, not the TSE, and it should have been Audisis in its own words reporting on the integrity, or lack thereof, of the systems after the change.  Instead the TSE chose to put words in Audisis's mouth.  That they managed to nearly fill up a 12 TByte SAN with databases is remarkable.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Auditing a Failed Election

Auditoría Integral y Seguridad de Sistemas de Información (Audisis),the Colombian firm hired by the TSE on November 13 to audit the election results for the November 26th election, has released an unsatisfactory memo detailing what caused the TSE computers to fail on November 29,  and what modifications were made to the system to fix it.  In the process it raises more questions than it answers.

The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) announced it had reached a contract with Audisis to audit the election results of the November 26th election on November 13th.  David Matamoros Batson informed everyone at the time that they were lucky to have found such a qualified firm for only $700,000.  Matamoros stated that Audisis and the TSE had agreed on 7 points to be audited:
(1) Security of the actas, that the image scanned in the voting center is the same as the image received by the TSE to count.
(2) verify the software used by the TSE for counting and publicizing the tallies is what is being used.
(3) network security
(4) verify the functioning of the vote tallying software for all the elections being run on November 26.
(5) security of the database
(6) make sure transmitted actas are shared with the political parties
(7) evaluate the suitability of the technology being used to publicize the results.

So with the above in mind, Audisis released, through the TSE, a "report" of what happened when the system went down on November 29th.  According to Audisis, the system went down at 9:42 AM because it had filled up its database.  This, by the way, contradicts President Juan Orlando Hernandez who claims it never crashed or became unavailable, just slow. 

What the graphic in the report shows is two server instances running with a 12 Terabyte SAN storage network, but only a 600 Gigabyte database allocated, and apparently shared between the two servers, which are clustered for high availability.  It then took them 3.2 hours to expand the database to 1.8 Terabytes, bring up the servers, and perform a minimal data audit.  The servers were up for production again at 1:08 pm and they began adding actas again at 1:10 pm.

 They continued to observe problems with database performance and decided to bring the system down again at 6 pm the same day.  They increased the database size again; this time to 6 Terabytes.  It took them 5 hours 30 minutes to reconfigure the system to use the additional capacity.  They also added a 3rd server, this one configured with a 1.8 Terabyte database, to receive replicated data from the original database as a check of system integrity.  The system returned to production around 11:30 pm that evening, almost 9 hours after it was halted.

The first thing you do when you design a database is design the table structure, then make a good faith estimate of how much storage space the data will need.  You always give a healthy overestimate because you have to remove the database from use to increase its size.  When you're processing election data, you don't want that to happen.  With the kinds of data we are dealing with here, you should be able to make very precise estimates of how much storage space should be needed. Yet somehow they failed.

I can't fathom how they filled up a 600 Gigabyte database, even with all the acta images from Presidential, Congressional, and Municipal elections and a complete voter roll stored in the database, I estimated it would only take about 34 Gigabytes of database storage to process the results of the election.  I, after all, stored the complete results of the 2013 election in a database on my laptop without it taking up even 20 Gigabytes.  Even with every conceivable kind of transaction logging turned on, I'd be hard pressed to design a database requiring 100 Gigabytes.  What were they doing?

Replication put simply is the ability to have two or more databases stay synchronized to provide greater availability.  If they are in geographically different locations they can also be used for disaster recovery.  Since the databases need to remain identical, normally they would need to be of the same size.  So why would you replicate data from a 6 Terabyte database to a 1.8 Terabyte database?  Doesn't that mean you didn't need the 6 Terabyte database size?  Or even the 1.8 Terabyte database size?  Unclear from the report released by the TSE is whether the third server added already had a cloned database, so that only newly added data needed to be replicated, or whether the database was empty and needed to replicate all the existing data across a network.  While replication is designed by database vendors to minimize its impact on servers, it still has a measurable impact.

In many ways the report released by the TSE, supposedly compiled by Audisis, raises more questions than it answers.  It provides an excuse for why the TSE systems went down for almost 10 hours, but the reason doesn't seem credible. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Analyses support doubts about vote and OAS disclaims results while police refuse to stop protests

Our headline may seem to juxtapose three unrelated things. But we think they have to be seen together. And actually, there's one more thing... and it's a doozy.

To recap where the process stands: the TSE resumed counting vote tallies without representatives of the other parties. At the end, it says its count shows the incumbent president with a lead of around 55,000 votes. According to the TSE, the next step is for the parties to register challenges and petitions, within 10 days, and then within 20 days the TSE will certify an outcome to the election.

(In reporting this story, the Voice of America slipped up, describing Juan Orlando Hernández as "U.S.-backed"; the US doesn't normally take sides in a foreign election.)

No one who has watched the situation unfold can be completely satisfied that the vote count has been transparent or without problems. Unexplained prolonged delays in posting numbers, computer crashes that received different explanations at different times, and above all, the weird behavior of the numbers before and after the more than day-long delay, have Hondurans and international observers alike worried.

The OAS actually went so far in its preliminary report to conclude that "the tight margin of the results, and the irregularities, errors and systemic problems that have surrounded this election do not allow the Mission to have certainty about the results".

In the body of the report, the OAS expresses concerns about the vote counting process, noting some ballot boxes arrived open, missing documents, or without security. They also write that after initially counting ballots as they arrived, at some point the TSE "altered the order" to use "criteria that were not explained". So the vote counting switched from non-selective, to selective-- but we don't know what criteria were used to select votes to count.

The OAS concluded that the only route out would be for the main candidates to negotiate an agreement to review the 1000+ poll tallies that were scrutinized for inconsistencies, as well as recount the 5000+ tallies counted after the initial phase of vote counting, when the trend changed, as well as do a complete recount of three departments (Lempira, La Paz, and Intibuca), rural states that had exaggeratedly high reported voter turnout. That is a complete endorsement of the position of the Alianza.

Independently, The Economist, which previously published an article about a tape they received apparently showing training of National Party operatives in ways to cheat, undertook a statistical analysis that gives support to Alianza complaints that the change in voting trends after the break in counting is statistically improbable.

And that brings us to today's amazing development: the police across Honduras, including the US supported militarized policing units, standing down and returning to their bases, refusing to follow the orders they received to stop protests. Under the state of exception declared by Juan Orlando Hernández, free circulation in the country was limited, a night time curfew was declared, and the armed forces and police were directed to remove protesters. What followed was violence, including deadly violence.

Announcing their stand-down, the national police spokesman said "“We want peace, and we will not follow government orders – we’re tired of this". 

When a sitting president who has concentrated power loses the ability to command the police, it is a signal of loss of control over the forces necessary to maintain dominance. Even if the TSE were to declare him the winner, it is not clear how governable Honduras would be for a president who took advantage of a somewhat ambiguous court ruling to seek a deeply unpopular second term in office.

After the 2013 election, when Hernández received only 37% of the vote, the three parties that split the majority of the presidential votes did not cooperate as a concerted opposition. This time around, two of those parties entered an alliance and ran an agreed on presidential candidate.  This time, the Liberal Party candidate who trailed in the polls has been vocal in saying his review of the poll tallies says the Alianza won, and has supported their calls for a recount, even a full 100% recount if needed.

And here's the extra bit: according to a Honduran lawyer, whose twitter profile says she is a Liberal Party member, election law actually demands a recount of some votes already.

This isn't because of the uncertainties about counting the poll tallies that are already being debated.

It's because the margin between candidates is less than the number of null votes. Null votes are those marked as invalid at the polling place, and thus not included in the totals on the poll tallies from which the central electoral authorities work.

The law appears to require reviewing the null votes from the original ballots, if there are more of them than the margin between candidates. With around 55,000 votes officially between the two candidates, the number of votes marked null at the polling places is 135,000.

The TSE is unlikely to do any of this. Unfortunately, we doubt Hernández will risk the victory he went so far to gain and agree to the kind of recount and scrutiny of the counting process that is being called for by the Alianza, the Liberal Party-- and the OAS.

Until the army stands down and returns to its barracks. Unlikely, yes. But stranger things seem to be happening...

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Government Curfew and Suspension of Right to Move

Juan Orlando Hernandez declared a curfew and suspended some constitutional rights of Hondurans yesterday in response to protests against the way his party is stealing the election.

The first part of Hernandez's decree declares a 6 pm to 6 am curfew, and removes for 10 days the constitutional right of the people to freely move around the country.  It exempts those working on the election (TSE employees, National and International Observers, Party Officials), cargo transport, Police, Military, and Diplomatic officials.  Notice that the press is not free to move around or cover what's happening.

The second part of the decree directs the military to take whatever measures it needs to maintain order, either separately or in conjunction with the police.  It orders them to arrest and detain anyone who is out during the curfew, to read them their rights, and to maintain a list of those arrested at every military post.

All those arrested will be held until the Prosecutor's office can charge them with a crime.

The military is to clear all the roads, bridges, and public places seized by protesters. UPDATE: order from President this morning also calls for removing protesters from private property. This makes any protest a target for repression; goes beyond the official order.

All government parties are to assist the military as requested.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Controversy about votes being "monitored"

 UPDATED to add Santa Barbara and Cortes to list of departments where votes held for "monitoreo" favored the Alianza; and to note that the TSE has said it will count all votes, something we are seeing happen as we go through our list of tallies in monitoreo.

Today. reports from Honduras indicated that the Tribunal Supremo Electoral was holding about 300,000 uncounted votes in a state of "monitoreo". They offered no explanation why. What was expressed was that these votes would not be counted before a winner was named in the now extremely tight contest between Juan Orlando Hernández and Salvador Nasralla.

This alarmed international observers, who observed-- quite rightly-- that this many uncounted votes could well swing such a tight election. Both the OAS and the European Union publicly called on the TSE to count all the votes before designating a victor.

Remarkably, this call was echoed by COHEP, the Honduran council of private enterprise.

The EU in particular urged the TSE to take the time to count the votes, so that every vote was recognized, rather than hurry to end the election prematurely. UPDATE: as of 10 PM Tegucigalpa time, the TSE has said it will count all votes; and we are seeing the status change as we go through our list.

We decided to review the vote tallies that are being held for greater scrutiny-- or monitoreo-- ourselves, to see if the suspicion many have, that this includes a preponderance of pro-Alianza voting, was upheld.

It may take us a few hours. So far, though, in the Departments of Atlantida, Colon, Cortes, Santa Barbara, Valle and Yoro, the total of votes on these uncounted tallies for the Alianza is higher than the total for the National Party. (We are suspending this project at 1 AM Tegucigalpa time, as the TSE continues to update some of these. We will spot check other departments tomorrow...)

There may be reasons these tallies require extra scrutiny. There are check sum features built into the tallies, so errors in transcription or uncertainties about numerals can be resolved in many cases. In others, the question would be if, for example, over-writing on one line should result in ignoring the votes for other candidates.

So far, though, it is clear that this vote pool reserved from counting would contribute to shifting the margin back in the other direction.

Election update: four days since polling ended

Yesterday the Tribunal Supremo Electoral said it would make an announcement of final vote count at 3 AM local time Thursday.

One assumes that was a projection based on the pace of counting, not (just) a way to try to avoid having people awake and paying attention. We did not set an alarm, which is just as well, since nothing was announced at 3 AM.

In part, that may be due to an as-yet incompletely explained event that affected the computer equipment Wednesday evening. This took the entire TSE system down with about 82% of the votes counted-- just after the vote had swung slightly to favor Hernández.

The explanation offered by David Matamoros, head of the electoral tribunal, was that this was a computer breakdown, due to the high volume of data being too much for the system used, requiring additional servers to come online. Continuing a pattern of uncertainty and confusion stemming from the Tribunal, another tribunal member, Marco Ramiro Lobo, was quoted as saying the system had been "hacked".

Regardless of the actual cause, the break in the technology came at an unfortunate point in the process. Moments before, an agreement (since repudiated) was released, brokered by the OAS, in which the two candidates agreed to accept the numbers that the TSE was supposed to be reporting in the early morning.

At 8 AM Thursday, Tegucigalpa time, the count is still stalled at just under 89%.

The vote count posted favors Juan Orlando Hernández by 23,000, out of a total of 2.92 million votes-- less than 1% difference.

Due to the procedures used by the electoral tribunal, it is impossible to be certain which polling places have yet to be tabulated. Where the 11% of votes still outstanding comes from is critical, because of the sharp differences in vote preference from region to region.

For example, in the Department of Cortes, where Salvador Nasralla has won 56% of the 404,000 votes counted, we can compare to the 2013 results, which showed a total of 516,000 voters. The possibility of there being more than 100,000 votes still uncounted from this region could be enough to shift the totals, if the current 56%/32% split of vote there continued, as that would be a 24,000 vote advantage for Nasralla.

This won't be settled until every vote has been counted. As the slow process drips on, Honduran citizens continue to have their trust in democratic institutions eroded.

And it appears that the almost inevitable round of repression of protest has also begun, with twitter reporting (and photos confirming) the militarized police or military tear-gassing protesters assembled outside the location of the counting in Tegucigalpa last evening.

It could be easy to lose sight of one clear lesson in this election: even if the incumbent president somehow holds on for a second term, against the popular rejection of presidential re-election seen in pre-election opinion surveys, the opposition campaign mobilized a far larger group of voters than international observers expected.

They maintained the level of support seen in the 2013 election, when it was split between the component Partido Anti-corrupción and LIBRE parties that make up the present Alianza, thus allowing Hernández to win with only 37% of the 2013 vote.

Whether denied office this year or not, the Alianza should be a political force to reckon with over the next four years, representing as many Honduran voters as the Partido Nacional, inheriting the role long played by the now diminished Partido Liberal as the counter to that political force.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle on the election


¿Como? ¿Quienes les ganamos, a quienes, porque y para que? 
How? Who won, over whom, why and what for?
                                                         
 To my skeptical friends:

The two parties of opposition have, since yesterday, counted all the poll tallies and the Alianza wins with the same 5% margin that was published by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral on Monday. Interesting that the victory could be so overwhelming when the polls by the Liberal and National parties, of private business and some by the Embassy continued foretelling the defeat of the Alianza up to a couple of weeks ago, that it would not manage to harvest more than 25%. The press in the USA followed, giving the win to JOH up to the very day of the elections. In Northern Europe, the same. On the one hand, important sectors there would prefer the status quo, to foretell his triumph was a way to support him. On the other hand, people were afraid to say it, and hid their determination. The rest is obvious.

Certainly, it is an extreme case. In the electoral canton in which I am selected to vote and to supervise, in Las Carmenes, in San Pedro, Luis Zelaya didn't even get 10%. The Alianza won every polling place over JOH, almost 2:1, 60% to 30%, despite the efforts of the mancha brava to pull in votes first, and later to insert twisted votes, and in the end, to impede people from continuing to vote, by prematurely closing the gates. But even in the neighborhoods of the bourgeousie, in San Pedro Sula, the Alianza won the majority of polling places. And the margin of advantage for Salvador on the North Coast and the west-- with the most urbanized population-- will keep safe the final result. We can say the triumph of the Alianza, thanks to Salvador, and God help him. We lost the mayors. There is no local leadership of the Alianza!

This stubbornness in hanging on to executive power is also interesting, which is not only personal to the despot. The first news indicated that los cachos (the conservatives) would hold many municipalities and-- thanks to the atavistic slate-- an important part of the Legislature. This instinctive tenacity of the mancha brava and total lack of responsibility is a dangerous bet, because JOH couldn't govern with 60% of public opinion against him and could lose everything. This could empowered Nasralla in his position to call for a strike and a Constitutional convention now, and it would be over. They could disappear. As happened with the Partido Liberal.

Clearly, there is not on this side less will to defend the conquest, and there are more of us. Who won? Everyone! Beyond Honduras-- that might finally truly reconcile itself, beginning with the recognition of that necessity-- Nasralla won of course, and the recomposed opposition, when LIBRE became the largest party with Mel at its head. Those who asked for the vote and those who, without being candidates, worked to attract them won, as -- in the end-- definitively, we won the voters. Some electoral tribunal officials [Marco Ramiro Lobo] will gain in general recognition, although the performance of the TSE in the end was calamitous. Never again! At the moment, the militia is gaining credibility!

We are defeating their greater resources and their better organization with our grip and enthusiasm. We are winning by overcoming indolence, indifference, negativity, the inertia of apathy, both our own and that of the voter. Overcoming in some cases the fear derived from the pre-electoral violence or the impression that the triumph of fraud was inevitable. Attaining the vote, with our own means, at times also with some sacrifice. Voting massively with a level of participation that hasn't been seen since the 1980s. We cusucos, armadillos, were too much for the fraud. The voters favored us with a majority very much higher than the official figure.

The notable failure of the eternal traps is also interesting. That, at least in the urban ambit, these don't work anymore. Could fraud influence the count of the totality of the vote for congress members, that the cachos, better organized, count on their own and in their manner? Could be. But the principal problem there is that there is no binding theme like re-election, and we voters of the Alianza are more critical and rebellious than the cachurecos. Not that there wasn't, it's clear there was, cheating. It is tiring to list them. Over in the lands of Fito Irías, famous for his gadgets, various activists were detained filling ballot boxes, afterward sent via helicopter to the site in Tegucigalpa, where at the last moment the mancha brava tried to rob ballot boxes. Here in El Ocotillo there were detected and detained bad citizens who were creating el trencito, a little train: one entered the polling station with hidden marked votes, deposited those that he carried and pulled out another group of sealed ballots, for the next and charged... they fished. Everywhere there appeared marked as deceased the people that someone supposed were ours. In El Carmen there was a a voter who was asked for his vote and ID, to photograph his vote to go out and sell it. Angry young men hurried by the well-paid activists who walked from midday on with money and some cases of falsified ID cards paying people to vote with them in the polling places where they controlled the oversight, which was discovered when-- later-- the actual owners of the identities arrived to vote, finding that someone had already voted for them, living a fingerprint "por no saber firmar" (not knowing how to write).

It wasn't defining. Now what before, on various occasions was just PR of the system was-- really-- a civic festival. There was a complicity among a great diversity of classes, of ages, of affiliations. All people, determined to "remove JOH". Great happiness. And after, equal worry, widely shared. (The manipulation by technicians of the TSE is another role. Almost incredible.)

Over whom did we win? Over JOH the dictator, because he undertook to make it something personal, and his gang, the deceitful cahirecos and their mancha brava, the imposters who see visions, the Cardinal, who was making an electoral intervention until the last minute, denouncing la intolerable injerencia extranjera (the intolerable foreign interference), we won over the bosses Flores and Micheletti, who have never lost everything, and the corrupt journalists and the media companies that misinform and mistake ratings for agreement, over the foreign lobbyists that have come to do so much damage, and also, J.J. Rendón and Arcadia lost.

Why did we win? It wasn't just that Salvador attracted voters or that the people identified with our proposals. Nor was it only a vote against re-election. We won because the people got fed up with JOH. With the omnipresence and almost omnipotence of JOH. They punished him as vain and prepotent, as abusive and cynical, and they will return to do it when it's needed. They voted to restore the agreed upon order and clean up the government. Those of us connected wish to preserve a space for our liberty, menaced by the dismantling of the state of law and sufficient guarantees.

La gente lee de otro modo,  pero cree en su voto.
The people read in another way, but they believe in their vote.

[our translation]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How Cartels Affected the Vote, 2013 and 2017

The presence/absence of drug cartels in certain communities radically corrupted the reported votes in the 2013 election. These were areas that overwhelmingly supported Juan Orlando Hernández in 2013.

Since then, a number of drug cartels have been the focus of activities that have disrupted them, in places like the western Honduran Department of Copan, where the border with Guatemala was the target of cartel activities.

We wondered, has the disruption of drug cartels changed the voting landscape in the 2017 election?

Below we provide a comparison between some key places in the Department of Copan in 2013 and 2017.

(Note, this analysis is based on partial returns for 2017. I used numbers as available at 10:48 pm Honduras time Tuesday.)

Santa Rosa de Copan

First, lets look at a town without much known corruption, Santa Rosa de Copan.  Here's how the voting broke down by party in 2013:

Liberal Party               19.27%
National Party             29.3%
Libre                           32.58%
PAC                            10.36%

These total approximately 91.45% of the reported vote, with smaller parties making up the rest of the voting.

In 2017, with the breakup of PAC and the formation of the Alianza by Libre, PINU, and a large part of what had been PAC, the 2017 results so far look like this:

Liberal Party              11.7%
National Party            30.69%
Alianza                       56.66%

These make up 99.05% of the total vote, with smaller parties splitting the fractional percent remaining.

What this shows is that National Party support here remained about the same as in 2013.  The Liberal Party lost support to the Alianza, and the Alianza combined the original support from Libre, PAC, and some of the small parties like PINU, in addition to drawing away 7% of the Liberal Party's vote.

El Paraiso, Copan

In 2013 the Ardon brothers ran the AA Cartel out of El Paraiso, Copan. 

Hugo Ardon, one of the founding brothers, was the Election campaign head for the National Party in Western Honduras after running the Fondo Vial (road building fund) and giving government contracts to the Cachiros, the Handels, and his friends, the Valle Valle cartels.

Alexander Ardon, Hugo's younger brother, was the mayor of El Paraiso.  In 2014 both brothers are thought to have escaped Honduras to avoid capture, leaving the cartel in the hands of younger family members.  In 2016 the Ardon cartel was thought to have been dismantled with the arrest of two brothers in Morazan, Yoro.

In 2013, El Paraiso, Copan had an alarming number of vote interference stories published in the International press.  We covered some of them here.  In 2013 it reported voting like this:

Liberal Party            3.0%
National Party        88.85%
Libre                        6.3%
PAC                         1.37%

This accounted for 99.52% of the total vote from El Paraiso in 2013.

In 2017, with the relaxation of drug cartel control of the region, voting looks like this:

Liberal Party            16.96%
National Party          50%
Alianza                     32.14%

This accounts for 99.1% of the reported votes. 

The National Party appears to have lost a lot of support between 2013 and 2017.

These may well have been fraudulent votes, as El Paraiso in 2013 had several MER that had overvotes where more people voted  than were registered, with turnout up to 156%. A correlation was noted between the presence of drug cartels and over-voting favoring the National Party. Removing the drug cartels definitely had an effect here.

Also relevant, in 2013 Libre and PAC poll watchers were actively suppressed by individuals with guns. This year, no active voter suppression was reported.

La Florida

La Florida was a town under the control of the Valle Valle cartel in 2013. Unlike El Paraiso's cartel, the Valle Valler were reportedly supporters of the Liberal Party.  Only certain aldeas in the municipality were under their control, though, and while those aldeas voted for the Liberal candidate in 2013, the municipio as a whole voted with the National Party.

In 2013, La Florida voted like this:

Liberal Party           27.11%
National Party         40.34%
Libre                       27.99%
Pac                           4.1%

accounting for 99.54% of the vote.

In 2017 the voting is quite different:

Liberal Party          32.7%
National Party        27.19%
Alianza                   39.71%

accounting for 99.6% of the vote. 

The Liberal Party vote increased 6% while the National Party lost 13%. The Alianza managed to pick up votes beyond those gained by its two founder parties in 2013, picking up a further 7% from the National Party vote. 

This could well reflect a readjustment of the vote following the removal of cartel influence from the region.

The patterns seen in these three cases tend to confirm what we and others argued in the wake of the 2013 election, that in addition to other distorting factors, drug cartels were part of the story.

With that influence removed, we have a snapshot of a region where the National Party has slipped, and the Alianza has gained over its partner parties (Libre and PAC).

While not our main goal when we started this, these three selected municipios demonstrate how variable voting is this year, from place to place. This lends support to suspicions of many that the continuing reporting of vote tallies that favor the incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernández, would be unlikely to happen if the order of counting were random. You might get one municipio going 50% for the National Party, like El Paraiso, but equally you might get vote counts with the Alianza in the lead.

Monday, November 27, 2017

New numbers quietly added to the TSE website

At 4:17, a tweet from TSE head David Matamoros caused a slight ripple of concern; he said "There are still 7500 summaries of polling places to scrutinize, that represent some 2 million votes":
“Nos faltan unas 7,500 actas por escrutar que representan unos dos millones de votos y por eso se avanzará en los resultados en la medida que se vayan recibiendo".

If there actually were another 2 million votes to count, election results might be open to considerable change. After all, as of the TSE's 2 AM press briefing, they had only counted about 1.99 million votes. So that would mean there were more votes not yet counted than already included. But in fact, the TSE has affirmed that 59% of the votes have been counted.

So what is happening here? Let's try explaining, using the numbers from the TSE site, which by 7 PM tonight reflected additional counting.

In the following table,  we list the total votes counted in the more than 10,500 actas (results from individual polling places) reviewed so far. These polling places had a total of 3.6 million possible voters; 2.02 million votes were actually reported, for a participation rate of 58% (suggesting this election is a normal one for Honduras).


Votes
(millions)
Registered voters (millions)
actas
Participation rate
counted
2.020682
3.617484
10,503
58%
uncounted
unknown
2.429389
7,625
unknown
Total electorate
unknown
6.046873
18,128


Until those remaining actas are counted, no one knows what the number of votes there will be; Matamoros is referring to the number of potential voters. To reach 2 million votes out of the remaining 2.4 million registered voters would require over-voting of 83%. While (apparently fraudulent) over voting was one of the tactics used in the last election, it did not take place on such a massive scale. There is no reason to think that the remaining actas somehow include a higher proportion of motivated voters than those already counted, from the cities, where get out the vote campaigns took place.

So let's assume Matamoros meant only that there were 2 million registered voters whose chance to vote is included in the actas still to be counted. He doesn't want to disenfranchise them with a premature conclusion.

What might we expect when these votes actually are counted?

The TSE website as of 7 PM Monday presents new numbers, compared to the 2 AM baseline. They show Nasralla and Hernández both gaining votes, with Nasralla adding 2,000 votes to his lead.

Because so much of the vote has already been counted, even though the TSE added 30,000 votes overall, the percentages of each of the two leading candidates remained the same.

Here's those numbers:


votes
vote share
change from 2 AM
Nasralla
868,473
45%
up 13,000
Hernández
772,458
40%
up 11,000

Unless there is a drastic increase in the proportion of registered voters exercising their rights to vote in the outstanding districts, most of which are in rural areas, we will expect about the same proportion of voting (currently 58%). This would add not 2 million, but 1.4 million more votes-- for a total electorate of 3.4 million, which is what we were projecting informally, based on our knowledge of previous elections.


Votes
(millions)
Registered voters (millions)
actas
Participation rate
counted
2.020682
3.617484
10,503
58%
Uncounted
projected
1.409045
2.429389
7,625
58%
Total electorate
3.429727
6.046873
18,128

Could the so-far uncounted voters have a different profile than seen to date? Sure-- but here, remember how Marco Ramiro Lobo defended the late hour of the first official results from the TSE: they waited until repeated counting of actas wasn't changing the margin of 5% between the candidates.

The TSE doesn't expect a change. The numbers will go up; but to erase a lead of almost 100,000 votes, there would have to be very unusual voting patterns.