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%
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%
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%
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%
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 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%
accounting for 99.54% of the vote.
In 2017 the voting is quite different:
Liberal Party 32.7%
National Party 27.19%
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.