Monday, November 27, 2017

What may be coming in the Honduran election

Honduras' Proceso Digital has a story today based on an interview with a member of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), Marco Ramiro Lobo. The headline says it all: "La tendencia presidencial se mantiene".

The presidential projection is staying the same.

Salvador Nasralla of the Alianza, the founder of the Partido Anti-corrupción, is maintaining a lead of 45.17% to 40.21% over the sitting president, Juan Orlando Hernández, who pushed his Partido Nacional into an unprecedented and unpopular campaign for re-election.
 Early this morning, the TSE reported tabulated votes for about 1,992,128 voters, of which about 95% were valid.

Ramiro Lobo confirms what has been reported based on the information given to the Alianza (and other parties) by the TSE: the vote count is complete for the major cities, which on-the ground reports say all went for Nasralla.

This raises the question-- with the majority of the votes counted, what, if anything, might change the current projection?

First in the fears of many Hondurans is corruption in vote counting, either locally or nationally.

The TSE counts votes from each individual mesa electoral, or polling place (MER). The ballots are counted at the polling place, and a report, called an acta, is sent to the TSE, along with the sealed ballot box, which allows for checking the count made originally.

This transmission chain introduces multiple points where people feared voting fraud could take place.

In the 2013 election, suspected fraud ranged from, at the local level, not counting votes that were actually cast; to changing the numbers transmitted to the TSE; to the infamous and clearly demonstrated pattern of "over-voting", where in a few districts, a much higher turnout was reported-- sometimes more than 100% of the registered voters.

Each MER is supposed to have the same number of potential voters. If more voters turn out in some polling places, the proportion of votes theoretically could diverge from the national tendency. This happened in 2013, and the over votes went largely to the National Party candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández.

This suspicious pattern was detected in 2013 by a distributed social media campaign to recalculate the totals from the published actas (an effort in which we participated).

This time around, the TSE did not publish those documents right away. But it did share them with the political parties. The Alianza set up its own recount process in anticipation of similar problems. It has not yet reported any.

The fact that the Alianza counts and those later confirmed by the TSE agree goes a long way to assuring that outright vote alteration is not happening after the actas reach Tegucigalpa.

So we have a couple of other possibilities to consider. First, the TSE said last night that it is still waiting for delivery of the sealed ballot boxes and counts from some places. These would by definition be from remote locations. They could, in theory, have different political views than the urban population.

But it would take an enormous swing towards Hernández to shift a 5% lead with only 40% of the vote still to count. And in the vote totals from more rural places posted by the TSE so far, this does not seem to be happening.

With the major cities already reported, the polling places not yet counted must be from the primarily rural areas of the country-- the northeast coast, inland Olancho, and southwest Lenca region. There are a few ways that this vote might shift the picture, but all of them seem unlikely, and the evidence available doesn't support expecting them to radically alter the pattern that has emerged.

First, Ramiro Lobo said explicitly that as the TSE is continuing its count, the original tendency established based on about 10,000 actas is being maintained.

Ramiro Lobo's statement to the press seems to be primarily to counter questions raised about why it took the TSE until 2 AM to report preliminary results. He says that when they counted the first 1500 actas, they had a statistical tie, so they kept counting until the difference was 5% and kept staying the same.

In other words, the TSE doesn't expect things to change, and is not seeing changes as it continues to count the remaining actas, including those from more rural locations.
 Even Juan Orlando Hernández, while still claiming his own information has him 7 points ahead of Nasralla, has now shifted from citing exit polling (done by a firm controlled by a former member of his government) to emphasizing that the TSE "recognizes" that its count is not "conclusive".

His statements may point to what he is hoping will change what seems like an inevitable loss. He is quoted as counter-factually claimed that the TSE had only counted 20% of the vote, when they reported having counted 59% of the vote. The comments reported have him claiming the pro-Nasralla counts reflect only votes from the two main cities (San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa). His hopes, it would seem, are tied to the country-side.

Unfortunately for these hopes, his math makes no sense.

The population of the top 20 Honduran cities in 2017 was 2,236,731. These top 20 cities only make up about 25% of the population of Honduras. With 59% of the vote counted by the TSE, that should mean that about 34% of the rural districts have already been counted-- and again, as Ramiro Lobo notes, continued counting is not changing the pattern.

So could it be that there is a specific rural area where Hernández is expecting either a higher turnout (over-voting, like the pattern that benefited him in 2013), or a radically higher proportion of the vote to go his way?

The posted data from the TSE show his highest support coming in the rural departments of the southwest part of the country. In Lempira, he currently holds a 58% to 33% advantage, and in Intibuca, a 52% to 30% advantage.

But the absolute number of voters in these departments is small-- a total of 47,000 reported from Lempira, and 37,000 from Intibuca. And by all accounts, this is where he can be expected to do best, as a native son.

In scenarios we have tried out, Hernández would need to have high over-voting in all remaining districts and have them vote on the lines of his core constituency to pull out a win so narrow it would be a statistical tie.

Other rural areas that the TSE is reporting already depart from any winning model. In Olancho, with 96,000 votes counted, the Alianza is ahead with 45% of the vote to the Partido Nacional's 44%. In Gracias a Dios, the vast eastern department, only 835 votes have been counted, with the Alianza and Partido Nacional each receiving about 33% of the vote. For Hernández, tying in the rural portions of Honduras is simply not enough to win.

Thus we come to our final observations about what may be coming in this election.

First, with the collapse of any opposition in the Honduran print press, the role of social media has increase dramatically,

On Twitter, get out the vote efforts were undertaken by Alianza supporters as "Operation Cusuco".

An independent collective of community media calling itself "Guancasco de Medios" also used Twitter to consolidate and share electoral information.

The imagery in both cases is fundamentally Honduran: cusuco is the local name for the armadillo, whose tenacity in digging in is legendary-- like hunting a cusuco, participants went to the houses of those who might not have otherwise come out to vote. The guancasco is the ancient Lenca practice of inter-community visits accompanied by ceremonies, through which peer to peer politics were transacted.

Poll watchers for the Alianza also used Twitter, to report vote totals they recorded as they concluded their work. This kind of publishing of vote totals, while unofficial, helps limit how the final official count could change-- or at the very least, would require justifications that the TSE does not, remarkably, seem inclined to even propose.

There is no reason to simply accept the claims by TSE officials to be disinterested stewards of the franchise. But there is every reason to see them as unwilling to take political heat when emerging voting patterns already circulating did not support the claims made by the sitting president.

Finally, the organization of poll watchers and national and international observers has to have changed the atmosphere. There are reports of violence against political activists, and international observers have not necessarily been welcomed.

But along with the role of social media, the presence of poll watchers and international and national observers has made it harder for real fraud to be carried out-- at least as reflected in results so far.

1 comment:

David said...

Excellent analysis. If hard to commit fraud, then other things might explain the delay - like JOH engaging in some kind of negotiation about his own future:

Rodolfo Pastor, el hombre a cargo del plan de gobierno de la Alianza, dice que se despidió de los magistrados del TSE a las 3 de la mañana de este lunes 27 de noviembre. “En ese momento ellos hablaban de más de 70 % de las actas procesadas, y la ventaja de nuestro candidato había aumentado a siete puntos. La ventaja es definitiva. Los magistrados usaron otra palabra: irreversible”. ¿Por qué no lo han dicho en público? “Juan Orlando es un hombre muy poderoso y ahora mismo intenta negociar. No quiere reconocer su derrota y, si lo hace, pretende otras cuotas de poder y garantías de amnistía. Pero no tengo idea con quién puede negociar a estas alturas”.