Friday, November 29, 2013

The New Political Landscape in Honduras

On Friday, La Prensa connected the dots on the new Congress, quoting statements from Xiomara Castro that suggest LIBRE party leadership is (while pursuing complaints of irregularities and inconsistencies in the official vote count) moving on to the next stage: functioning as a major opposition party in a new, multi-party political landscape.
Castro... pointed out that LIBRE has converted itself into an "important political force" by the number of congress-members that it gained in the unicameral Congress, made up of 128 members.
"We broke the chains of two-party rule, today we are located in the first place, today we have demonstrated that the people fought and will fight for the platform of LIBRE".

As previously noted, the Partido Nacional is projected to have 47 congress members; Libre will have 39; the Partido Liberal will have 26; and Salvador Nasralla's Partido Anticorrupción is expected to have 13 congress members, with the final three falling, one each, to the long-established smaller parties: PINU, the Christian Democrats, and the
Partido de Unificación Democrática.

La Prensa adds a contrast with the existing congress that is worth quoting: 

In the present Congress, presided over and absolutely controlled by Hernández, the Partido Nacional has 71 diputados, the Partido Liberal 55, and the other three minority parties shared 12 seats, which had given total control to the conservative binomial that has governed this country for more than a century.

La Prensa is clearly anticipating less total control over the incoming government. That leads us to consider possibilities. LIBRE/PN coalitions seem unlikely (although some press reports earlier this week contained speculation about such an alliance).

We note with interest the opinion of Raúl Pineda Alvarado:
“The ideal is if there exists an agreement with all the political parties, but in any case the natural alliance that the nacionalistas could make is with the Partido Liberal”.

Pineda Alvarado is an ex-congress member for the Partido Nacional. So his comments give us insight into the pragmatic approach we might expect from within his party. His views are echoed by a re-elected Partido Nacional congress member, Antonio Rivera Callejas, who says that the PN could make alliances with the more "democratic" part of the Partido Liberal.
Rivera alludes to the marked division between the present day Liberal congess members, some of whom have stayed in line with the presidential candidate, Mauricio Villeda, and the other that has had more affinity with LIBRE. In the case of the first 26 virtually elected congress members, many of them re-elected, all belong to the first group, that is to say, they are "villedistas”.

Thus, we can expect an attempt to form a coalition of the two traditional parties on one side, with a possible 73 votes giving it a majority in Congress. Partido Nacional commentators add the three single representatives of the small parties, projecting 76 votes.

But that presumes that the entire Liberal party delegation does not see advantage in using its seats more flexibly, to advance its own political projects.

Earlier today, La Prensa suggested that the Partido Anti-Corrupción will form an alliance with LIBRE, in opposition to the two major parties. Despite ideological differences, both parties were mainly motivated by rejection of the existing power structure, which both characterized as fundamentally corrupt. Quoting PAC member (and projected congress member) Virgilio Padilla, La Prensa wrote
We believe that the opposition has to plan a block that can oppose the officialism of the government, and that can only be an alliance constructed with the Partido Liberal, Libre and PAC... We are disposed to establish an alliance that will defend Honduras, an alliance that represents the interests of Honduras, an alliance that will impede intervention in the Judicial Branch, because if the Partido Nacional is going to control all the powers of State, impunity is going to continue.

Salvador Nasralla, the presidential candidate, is said not to have ruled out any alliance, but La Prensa concludes alliance with the Partido Nacional is unlikely.

A three-way alliance would give LIBRE-PAC-Partido Liberal control of congress with 78 votes.

LIBRE and PAC alone would not be able to form a majority, with 52 votes. But they could make it much less simple for the Partido Nacional to pass its legislative agenda, even if they did not have formal support from the Partido Liberal.

Which more or less means that the husk of the Liberal Party, presided over by Mauricio Villeda, may have more power as a losing party than Villeda would have had if elected president with a minority of the national vote.

Proving Electoral Fraud Takes Time

We just had a twitter exchange with Alberto Arce, reporter for the AP. Here it is:
  1. ¿por qué los periodistas tenemos esa mala manía de pedir pruebas de las cosas que la gente denuncia?.
  2. Honduras Cult Politi@HondurasCultPol 8m
    why do proofs have to be provided faster than the TSE counts the vote? Maybe press could consider giving people time to respond
  3. albertoarce@alberarce 36s
    I am not reporting fraud if those who claim it dont show the evidence. LIBRE said they won with 2.8% of the vote counted.
this is what I do. Report the findings of the intnal observers, the official results and wait.

As we added: we are fine with you waiting. Not so fine with the press setting the timeline for action.

Here's the issue for us: the TSE should be providing accurate counts. The international community is acting as if the TSE is providing accurate counts. So the approach is: prove these aren't the real numbers.

There are ongoing efforts to do just that. We are doing our own analysis, and have found that there are discrepancies with at least 500 actas so far.

Whether these errors result in a systematic undercount of LIBRE and/or PAC votes, or systematically add votes to the Partido Nacional, is not clear yet. Getting this kind of convincing, systematic documentation takes time.

We don't expect Alberto Arce, or any other reporter, to claim fraud. We just would hope that the international press could be a little more nuanced in reporting this story. If you are used to European or US electoral systems, it is hard to give credence to how things are done in Honduran elections-- to the essential fragility of the vote count system.

The TSE needs this long to tally part of the vote; demanding that the proof of inconsistencies be presented faster than the TSE counts can seem like taking sides to those frustrated by the process itself. And yes, that will make people in Honduras suspicious and critical of the press.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Anonymous and the TSE

Early Thursday Tiempo published a story headlined Anonymous enters the database of the TSE.

At the top of the screen is an image with the following caption:
Anonymous Honduras publicó esta imagen en su cuenta de Twitter en la cual demuestra que el Tribunal Supremo Electoral no contabiliza en el informe oficial 80 votos obtenidos por LIBRE, según el acta que registra los datos del centro de votación de una urna de la Escuela Ramón Amaya Amador de La Lima, Cortés.
[Anonymous Honduras published this image in its Twitter account in which it shows that the Tribunal Supremo Electoral did not count in the official results 80 votes obtained by LIBRE, according to the acta registering the data from the voting center of the polling place at the Escuela Ramón Amaya Amador in La Lima, Cortés.]

The lead paragraph is blunt:
Los hackers han puesto en tela de juicio la seguridad de la base de datos del Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) y han afirmado por medio de las redes sociales que si hubo fraude electrónico en estas elecciones.
[The hackers have cast doubt on the security of the TSE database and have affirmed by means  of social networks that there has been electronico fraud in these elections.]

Tiempo quotes Anonymous of Honduras saying there were "thousands" of pieces of evidence of this fraud on a blog they established where
los seguidores de esa organización cibernética que actúa bajo la clandestinidad colocaron imágenes de actas y las tablas oficiales de resultados que no concuerdan con los datos.
[followers of this cybernetic organization that acted clandestinely placed images of actas and the official tables of results that do not agree with the data.]

Separately, Tiempo reports that another hacker published details for accessing the database. They quote their own IT specialist, José Carlos Ramos saying that
the hackers are trying to demonstrate that the system of the TSE doesn't have the necessary security measures. "If it is the way the hackers say, the data base can be accessed from any place in Honduras or the world... It could be consulted and modified by a user that had access privileges from someplace outside the Tribunal."

Needless to say, this is not good news for those who would like the TSE count to be accepted as official and accurate. And it is not good news for Hondurans in general who turned out for this historic election.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Honduran Congress will be Transformed

Like many others, we have been waiting to hear what the effects would be on the Honduran Congreso Nacional would be from the high voter turnout and extremely split voting evident in the presidential election.

According to El Heraldo, the Partido Nacional has lost control of the congress, retaining only 47 seats. While that is the largest delegation, it is nowhere near a majority of the 128 seat body.
Even though some results have not been tallied, and the Partido Nacional delegation may grow, it is not projected to have a majority. If Juan Orlando Hernández intends to govern, he and his party will have to work with others.

And if others don't want to cooperate, they can form their own coalitions and control congress-- the body which, ironically, has concentrated power continuously under the leadership of Hernández.

The Partido Liberal, traditionally the other powerhouse, will end up with 26 congress members.

But it is the two new parties that have made a really astonishing showing. There was no necessary connection to be assumed between the presidential and congressional elections; ballots for each are separate, and it could easily have been the case that a voter would reject the traditional party candidate for president (as a majority did reject Hernández) and still give their votes to the congress member of that party.

So it reflects a broader strength of LIBRE that it has the second largest congressional delegation, with 39 members. And, as El Heraldo notes, the real surprise was the strength of the Partido Anti-Corrupción, which will participate in the new congress with 13 members.

Three other long-established small parties, the Christian Democrats, the left-leaning Partido de Unificación Democrática, and PINU, each are projected to have a single delegate in congress.

We can do no better than to quote the conclusion drawn by El Heraldo:
The results of the 2013 general elections break with the hegemony that has been maintained in the last 32 years of democracy by the Partido Nacional and Partido Liberal, and LIBRE and PAC have converted themselves into two new political forces that will have a counterweight in approving the laws and decisions that the new Congress will take.

While it may seem like little consolation to the myriads of LIBRE voters who truly think they won at the polls, only to see the TSE count emerge otherwise, having such a strong presence in Congress has put LIBRE, in its first foray into national politics, into a place from which to argue for changes in the direction the country has been headed.

That makes Honduras worth continued international attention as the new government takes over in January, and for the rest of the four year term until the next election.

TSE Vote Counting Errors

The OAS audit of the TSE's software was accurate in its concerns: the vote counting part is turning out to be less than perfect.

Observers have noted several anomalies, some of which have been corrected, and others of which have not.  Here's an example that was still visible in the system as of this morning.

Consider the following screenshot (from the TSE's website here) taken at 1:19 pm today.  Click on the image for a larger version.

This shows the scanned Acta for MER 3311 of the Escuela Leonardo Aguilar Oseguera school voting site in San Pedro Sula. On the left is the scanned Acta; on the right are the vote totals that the TSE credited to each candidate for this MER.

Precisely how those vote totals enter the system is unclear from TSE-provided information.  Are the handwritten Actas submitted to an automatic optical character recognition system (ReadIRIS was mentioned in one TSE story about the vote counting system) or are the tallies entered by someone reading and entering the values for each candidate?

In either case, the vote total listed for Nasralla on the TSE website is only 3 votes, not the 103 votes listed on the tally sheet.

We are not alleging any mischief here (although that's possible). Rather, this is precisely the kind of sloppiness the OAS audit of the software used led us to expect.

This Acta should have failed the software confidence checks (because the number of votes in the tallies does not match the number of votes allegedly cast in this MER). But it either wasn't flagged by the system supposed to catch such inconsistencies (it should have detected as an under vote), or else a human intervened and OK'd the result: human error.

In either case the erroneous numbers were submitted to the vote tallying system with these inconsistencies and were tallied, giving Salvador Nasralla of the PAC party 100 fewer votes than he actually received from this mesa.

These are all officially approved tallies, officially approved errors, not the Actas sequestered for inconsistencies. An Acta does not appear on the website if it hasn't been included in the vote totals, so the TSE thinks there's no problem with this one.

We beg to differ. 

This is just a single example of the kinds of errors we are seeing in the vote totals publicly provided by the TSE.  The sad part is that it is not unique. There are many similar kinds of errors visible in the Actas posted on the TSE website.

The software audit by the OAS said the vote totaling system did not meet international standards for such systems and needed a lot more work (and a reimplementation) to do so.  It looks like the TSE went ahead and used this poor quality software, which would mean it should independently audit all of the Actas and vote totals for consistency and sanity (meaning, are the numbers reported consistent with the number of voters in a specific mesa) before declaring anyone a winner.

Other errors that were apparent earlier are now systematically being corrected, so it will not surprise me if by the time this blog entry is published, the errors I know about (including the one above) have been made to disappear.

But it is these kinds of failings, and silent corrections without acknowledging the failings, that reduce public confidence in the TSE and its official results, leading people like Salvador Nasralla and Manuel Zelaya Rosales, ask for a public, open, recount of the official Actas before the TSE declares a winner.

A public recount of the Actas would go a long way to providing confidence that everyone is adding up the same numbers to get the same vote totals, which frankly would improve public perception of the TSE.

Without that, no matter how many international observers say the process on Sunday was legitimate, there will remain large segments of the Honduran people who believe that the process after Sunday was not.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Two-thirds into the tally...

Actually 61.72%, to be precise-- according to the TSE in Honduras.

(I will admit to a bias here: as a sometimes-quantitative social scientist, two places to the right of the decimal point on things like this always make me think: false precision! and never more so than when we are dealing with a deeply problematic process of adding numbers from, essentially, emails.)

The margin between the reported leading candidates got a little closer (in percentage) and a little wider (in votes): 98,881 votes now separate Juan Orlando Hernández and Xiomara Castro, with his percentage now closer to 34% and hers almost up to 29%:

Partido Nacional 631,079 votes: 34.19%
LIBRE 532,198 votes: 28.83%
Partido Liberal 383,203 votes: 20.76%
Partido Anti-Corrupción 287,747 votes: 15.59%

There are reports, sometimes garbled in the English language coverage, that cite the fact that the TSE is concealing or suppressing the numbers from 20% of the tallies. This can be traced to the statements of Enrique Reina, the designado of the LIBRE party, last night, contained in LIBRE's press statement:
The data that the TSE has released are not sufficient to indicate a trend, owing to the fact that more than 20% of the total tallies in its power have not been counted owed to supposed anomalies.

In other news coverage, Reina elaborated:
there exist differences of more than 20% that do not coincide with the [counts] announced and that could change the outcome... they have slowed the sending of the official counts in which LIBRE is winning to set back the count to their advantage ... the TSE does the same by not counting talleys in which we won and that strangely have been scanned with the end turned over to hide the number and they are those that are being sent for auditing...What we know is that the tallies of the departments in which our numbers indicate a great advantage have not been counted or are being detained for reasons that we do not know.

The same points were reiterated by José Manuel Zelaya today, speaking on behalf of the party.

It may seem to outside observers that these objections are simply sour grapes. But the reality of elections in Honduras makes it imperative that all the votes are tallied, because manipulation of results in counting does occur.

In 2009, the original reported turnout was widely hailed as a major victory. In the end, the numbers came down, as the TSE completed counting. A few English-language media corrected their original, hasty stories (which were accurate reports of what the TSE was saying) but most did not.

With a reported 20% of ballot box summaries having "anomalies" requiring them to be validated before being added to the total count, all it takes is for those ballot boxes to be systematically skewed to have official results not match real voting.

Everyone should hold on before pronouncing this process is at an end.

Can it be true that Nasralla is winning Cortés?

The Tribunal Supremo Electoral has tallied approximately 54% of the national vote, they told us last night before suspending work until later today.

Their website-- not always accessible-- is posting preliminary numbers by Departamento (state, for North Americans).

Looking over those numbers, albeit preliminary, we are struck by the report for Cortés-- the Departamento in which is located San Pedro Sula, second-largest city and industrial capital of the country.

These show Salvador Nasralla of the Partido Anti-Corrupción leading with 35.1% of the vote.

LIBRE is in second place, with 23.46% of the votes.

The Partido Nacional is in the third place with 22.15%.

The Liberal Party is down at 18.8%

That strikes us as very, very odd. There was at least one report from an electoral mesa yesterday that said LIBRE votes were being reported as PAC votes. But that would take a lot of votes to be shifted: PAC is said to have 122,362 votes to LIBRE's 81,796.

The total for Cortés is only up to about 350,000 votes. Only 168,863 of those votes come from San Pedro Sula, so there is obviously room for change here.

But it still calls our attention to see PAC seeming to lead, not only in Cortés, but in San Pedro Sula itself (with 36.42% of the counted votes).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Exit polls and partial vote counts

As promised, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral broadcast some official results at 9 PM Sunday.

Their summary, with only 24% of the vote counted: 34% Juan Orlando Hernández, 28% Xiomara Castro, 20% Mauricio Villeda, 15% Salvador Nasrallah.

The margin dividing the two top candidates is quite small: 249,660 to 202,501-- so less than 50,000 votes separate LIBRE and the Partido Nacional. The eligible electorate is 5.3 million.

Does this tell us who will win? no, it does not. We do not know which results are included; there is no way to project from likely voting patterns in areas already counted to other similar areas.

Long before the TSE broadcast these partial counts, the Honduran press owned by supporters of Hernández was calling the election for him, based on exit polling by Ingenieria Gerencial. This is the same firm that did polling for the Partido Nacional, those private polls that were alluded to during the campaign but never published.

Meanwhile, LIBRE, relying on other exit polls, saw its candidate emerging as the winner. Without a newspaper ready to declare Xiomara Castro the winner, this would only matter if you were someone (like us) who expects exit polls in Honduras to be inherently unreliable-- and thus expect contradictory results.

Before the TSE circulated their preliminary counts, Xiomara Castro announced that she has been elected; on twitter, the statement read
Con los resultados que he recibido de boca de urna de todo el país, puedo decirles: Soy la Presidenta de Honduras. [With the results that I have received from the edge of the ballotbox from throughout the country, I can say to you: I am the President of Honduras.]

This at least should serve to prevent all the Honduran press from prematurely calling the election for Hernández. Of course, it also has opened Castro up to critique from pundits nationally and internationally.

Meanwhile, Bloggings by Boz tweeted
I analyzed the exit poll data with an adjusted turnout model and got 31.5% to 31% in favor of Hernandez, well within any margin of error.

Except for the absolute number (we were kicking around 34-35% in discussions internally) that sounds about right to us: two diametrically opposed candidates separated by a threadbare margin. Not 6%-- this election should turn on 1-2% of the final vote count.

Unfolding Election News

You really should be on Twitter following @hsnelection.

But since you are not, here are some news notes:

Two newly trained election participants belonging to the Carbon Cooperative of the National Council of Rural Workers were shot and killed last night in Cantarranas, returning from election training:
Maria Amparo Pineda Duarte was the elected President of the Cooperative. Julio Ramon Maradiaga was an active member. The community is the site of an ongoing land struggle in the area, and both victims were active members in the LIBRE party.

The broadcasters at Radio Globo (to whom we are listening) are reporting that their transmitter has been surrounded by the military. Anyone who remembers 2009 should find that worrisome: direct attacks on the media facilities to stop them from transmitting were part of the strategies of the Michelletti regime

Honduras Resists is reporting this now as well:

The announcer is quoted: “We have not requested this [military] presence. They want to use this to pressure us and shut us up, but Radio Globo will be on the air, whatever it takes…”
HSN Note: Radio Globo was one of the few media outlets to refuse to sign the “Media Pact,” in which major media outlets essentially gave up their right to contradict government pronouncements on the election. ...

They have a partial transcription (see below) that can be translated as follows:
 Radio Globo denounces at this moment, on the point of 6:20 AM, that military authorities arrived beginning last night at the Cerrro de Canta Gallo, where the transmission equipment for Radio Globo and Channel 11 is installed, media that did not agree to the media gag that the TSE tried to impose on the country.
Since last night the military has taken the installations where the transmission antennas of Radio Globo, Globo TV and Channel 11 are. We cannot be silent in the face of this new outrage by the Armed Forces of Honduras.
A sad reminder of how on the 28th of June of 2009 the military assaulted the installations, throwing acid, breaking cables and gates in order to leave Radio Globo off the air.
[Radio Globo denuncia en este momento, al filo de las 6:20 am, que autoridades militares llegaron desde anoche al Cerro de Canta Gallo, donde se instalan los equipos de transmisión de señales de radio Globo y Canal 11, medios que no se sometieron a la mordaza mediática que el TSE pretende imponer en el país

Desde anoche los militares se han tomado las instalaciones donde se ubican las antenas de transmisión de Radio Globo, Globo TV y Canal 11. No podemos callar frente a este nuevo atropello de las Fuerzas Armadas de Honduras.

Un triste recordatorio de como el 28 de junio de 2009 los militares asaltaron las instalaciones, lanzaron ácido, rompieron cables y portones para dejar a Radio Globo fuera del aire.]

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"The image of openness"? Election Observers Harassed

The normally open borders of Honduras with its neighbors are only partly open this week.  Venacio Cervantes, head of Immigration,  said yesterday that the borders are open, but that foreigners must justify their trip into Honduras at this time.  "All entrances will be controlled," said the retired General.

Actually, he said a lot more:  "All hotheads and national and foreign agitators who promote boycotting the election will be neutralized".

Today, he was ordered by Porfirio Lobo Sosa to stop, after two separate incidents of harassment of foreign election observers were reported by domestic and foreign press.

Cervantes reportedly said that he was
not going to permit disorder from [those] that come to slow down the electoral process, and those hotheads who want to protest and make unrest and confusion;  the armed forces will proceed in accordance with all that's legal and we shall be forceful in the application of the law.

Unfortunately, the "hotheads" he thought would be slowing the electoral process included duly accredited election observers-- on whom any hope of this election being seen as transparent rests.

The earliest incident happened Friday, Nov. 22.  ERIC, the Equipo de Reflexión Investigación y Comunicación, a Jesuit organization long established in Honduras, had its offices in El Progresso, Yoro, raided by Immigration police from the town. They entered a room where over 100 foreign election observers had just finished receiving training from a Tribunal Supremo Electoral official, and demanded that the Guatemalans, Salvadorans, US Citizens, and Canadians that made up the group present their TSE accreditation documents.

They also ordered the leader of the group, Alexis Lanza, to bring everyone down to the nearest Immigration office for unstated reasons.

Honduran Immigration police have no authority to enforce the election law, nor have they been formally asked to do so by the TSE.  They have no legal power to ask for a foreign election observer's TSE accreditation documents. The only thing they can legally ask someone to produce is their passport or other immigration documents that identify them and authorize them to be in the country.

Then on Saturday, November 23, military police entered the Aurora Hotel in Tegucigalpa, and ordered everyone in the hotel to leave their rooms, interrupting a meeting of LIBRE activist Eduardo Enrique Reina with his duly assigned and accredited foreign election observers.  All were asked to identify themselves and were threatened with explusion from the country.

That was too much for David Matamoros, president of the TSE, who ordered Immigration to stop following and harassing foreigners, saying
They told me they were following two people who had entered the country 10 days ago, but at this moment we cannot have any discussion of the act of going to a place where we have invited foreigners, because we must maintain the image of openness, the image of peace and tranquility which we want to have, not only for the Hondurans, but also for the international observers.

Matamoros says he went directly to President Lobo Sosa to ask that Immigration, which is part of the executive branch, be ordered to cease its operations following foreigners in the country.  Matamoros also issued instructions to the police and Armed Forces pointing out that they, in support of the election, were supposed to protect, not harass, election observers.

Anything to preserve the image of openness and tranquility.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Auditing the Vote-Counting Software

The OAS got a chance earlier this month to see a snapshot of the Sistema Integrado de Escrutinio y Divulgación Electoral (SIEDE).  They found the system worked-- sort of. Citing "poor performance" in key steps, the OAS reports that Honduras still needs to finish the last bits of code to ensure "verification of results".

These conclusions were translated by the Honduran press into headlines like "The system to transmit the vote tallies can work well" and "The OAS discards [the possibility of] fraud in the elections in Honduras and the electoral entity [the TSE] asks for respect" and "The OAS certifies that the equipment to transmit the electoral results is trustworthy".

Not quite.

The report is an audit of the software that's going to be used to count votes for things like security, accuracy, transparency.  El Heraldo posted the PDF of the report here.

SIEDE is designed to do the following tasks.  First it scans the vote tally sheets, printing copies for each of the political parties, and then it digitally signs them and sends them via HTTPS to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral's (TSE) data center in Tegucigalpa over a cell phone network.  Computers in the data center receive the scanned tally sheets and verify the digital signature, forwarding copies to the political parties and the international auditors, then analyze the internal consistency of the transmitted tally sheet.  Next the data center computers transcribe the tally sheet using Optical Character Recognition software and verify the data on the tally sheet, monitoring it for inconsistencies.  Finally SIEDE, in the TSE data center, accumulates and integrates the votes from this tally sheet with others already entered into the system, generating vote totals and sharing the results.

SIEDE is a combination of off-the-shelf hardware and software, some of it from vendors, some written for the TSE. 

The hardware at each polling place consists of a laptop, wireless modem for the wireless network of CLARO or TIGO (two of the large phone companies in the country), and a multifunction ink-jet printer and scanner.  Each polling place runs software which will digitally sign, then upload, the completed vote tallies for President, Congress, and Municipal office to an off-site data center in a hotel, set up by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral.  The data center has systems that act as web servers to receive the signed tally sheet images over HTTPS, in a Microsoft SQL Server database to store the images and record information about their processing, and Readiris OCR software to read the numbers from the scanned forms for later validation and processing. 

All of this commercial software is held together both in the polling station and the data center by automation code written by TSE programmers.

During the one month audit period, the OAS observers got to witness three tests of the SIEDE system by the TSE, each with increasing load.  The audit was complete on November 20 with the release of the report

Key findings are the following:
The findings refer, fundamentally, to the behavior of the system during the simulations,  which were carried out without all of the functionality and with test data that was smaller than the defined objectives for this audit.  For that reason, the conclusions refer to the behavior of the system as of the dates mentioned without a possibility to predict its behavior with the volumes of information and expected loads on election day...

In general terms, and under the technical functional conditions observed, the operational modules that bind the system together are functional, complying with the established parameters of the SIEDE process.  But, because of the gaps in the load testing during the simulations and that the system must process on election day, the part that consolidates and integrates, and discloses the data is of special concern [since in each simulation] we saw poor performance in the systems that accumulate the results and schedule tasks.  Because of this it is a priority to optimize the mechanisms used in the processing of the information and to finish the code to do the work of verification of the results.

Now, there is much the TSE deserves credit for here.  Building this kind of voting system in-house, from scratch, to international standards is admirable, and from the OAS checklist, many of the parts they completed they did well, and the OAS had few concerns about much of the completed code.  But the TSE wrote no specifications detailing how the software should behave, and was slow to purchase the hardware and software on which to build the standardized infrastructure.  That makes it difficult to say the say the system is doing what it should, since there are no specifications to check it against.

The OAS found the code for everything up to tallying the results and sharing them with the political parties to be up to international standards, and that each stage to that point provided correct and verifiable results to pass along to the next. 

But that's where their praise stopped.
In relation to the module that consolidates, integrates, and shares the results, the audit detected failures that gave evidence of a failure to follow international standards of quality required for this type of program.  It is important to note that aspects like correction, trustworthiness, and efficiency have not been complied with in these modules up to the finalization of the simulations.

Translation?  The code that counts the votes and accumulates the results and then shares them with the political parties, is incomplete, nor does what is there meet the international quality standards the OAS deems ordinary and proper for this kind of code.

To be eight days out from the election and not code complete is asking for trouble. The OAS indicating that changes to the existing code base still needed to be made before the election is also asking for trouble. 

I managed enterprise level software projects of comparable complexity in a former career, and I can tell you you don't make these kinds of major, unproven,  changes to a system in the last 8 days before you roll it out unless rolling it out as it is will be a certain disaster. Why?  Because you're inviting things to go horribly wrong by making late changes, and they almost always do.

There is one last simulation scheduled for November 23, the day before the election, and it is supposed to be a full scale load test.  If anything goes wrong, there won't really be any time to fix things. 

Luckily the TSE has 30 days to declare the winner, just enough time to do a hand count of the ballots if necessary.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Making Sure? Votes Count

For the last few weeks of the Honduran election, no surveys of the electorate can be published. But really, the only poll that matters will take place this coming Sunday, November 24. According to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, 5.3 million Hondurans are eligible to vote.

Throughout the country, people in five thousand election centers will place their ballots for president, congress, and municipal mayor in three separate ballot boxes.

What happens then? What ensures that the ballot cast is counted and reported accurately? How reliable should we expect the numbers to be? In part, what you think the answer is depends on how you assess the procedures set in place by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral.

Each individual ballot for president has a Mesa Electoral Receptora number, the name of the voting center, and the department printed on it.  Each of these ballots also has a unique number, with the name of the municipio preprinted on it.

The Presidential Ballot looks like this:

Each Mesa Electoral Receptora has a custodian. In previous elections the churches, through the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church Association, supplied the custodians. Most of the custodians this time around are students from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras (UNAH).

Each Mesa Electoral Receptora has one representative, and an alternate, from each political party.  Each has a president, secretary, watcher, and members, all appointed to office by the TSE. All procedural votes are by simple majority, with the president of the Mesa abstaining unless there is a tie.

The charge to the MER technical custodians is
  • to make sure there is adequate access by voters from the starting hour to the ending hour of voting.
  • to observe the rights of the citizens
  • to maintain order in the voting centers
  • to be yourself transparent and responsible, absent of any authoritarianism.
  • to respect the popular will when counting the votes and inscribing the results on the tally sheet
  • to return the voting boxes with the tally sheets to the TSE.

Those tally sheets are key to linking the count made at the Mesa and the outcome the TSE reports.

A separate manual for each department of Honduras has detailed instructions including how to count and record the votes from each of the ballot boxes. Observers, both national and international,  may be present but must not reveal any results nor advocate for any candidate. The members of each Mesa fill out and sign an opening form that records how many ballots they have for each office (in numbers and written out in words).

To prevent voters selling their vote, cell phones and cameras are newly banned from voting booths. The voter is given a ballot for the presidential vote, congress, and municipal mayoral election, signed on the back by members of the Mesa. The voter folds each of the three ballots in half to obscure their vote, then brings them back to the Mesa where members verify they have the required signatures on the back.

Counting of the votes begins with checking the ballot for the required signatures and stamp, then the voter's markings are evaluated. Each ballot has a photo of the candidate, the party flag, and a space to mark the vote. But a mark anywhere on the candidate or the flag counts, as long as most of the mark is in the space of a single candidate.

Vote counting is done in public. Anyone can watch, but must remain silent. 

First the President takes an inventory of the leftover supplies, stamps each as "left over" and records the counts on the Accounting form. The president then hands the sealed ballot box to the Examiner who opens it and extracts a vote.

The examiner qualifies the vote as valid, null, or blank and indicates to which party (if valid) it belongs.  It is shown to the members of the Mesa, then passed to the President, who ratifies it. The secretary records it on the appropriate tally sheet with a tick mark for the party, null, or blank.

The president sorts ballots into piles by party, null, or blank, then gives each pile to the Secretary who seals them in plastic bags and puts them back in the voting place briefcase.  Once all the votes are counted, the Secretary fills out the vote count section for each candidate as well as tallying the number of citizens, and Mesa members, who voted.  This, along with the annotation of the number of blank ballots received, plus those left over, finalizes the form.  The numbers are then transferred to the Closing Tally form which is signed by the Mesa members.

Getting the vote tallies to the TSE in Tegucigalpa has been a point of potential weakness in the whole process. In 2009, the tallies were read over cell phones, and entered into the computer in Tegucigalpa based on the phoned-in counts. The results were, to be charitable, incredibly inaccurate.

This year, the TSE is trying a new approach, used successfully in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. Completed Closing Forms for president, congress, and the municipal election will be scanned, and sent to the TSE either through a wired internet connection or through a wireless modem across the cell phone network. 

500 voting centers lack electricity or an internet connection, so those votes will not be counted until opened more than a week later in Tegucigalpa. 

In addition to scanning and transmitting the Closing Form, each custodian will print out a copy for the representative of each political party, and for any member of the Mesa that desires a copy.  Once sent, the original Closing Form will be stamped by the custodian with a stamp indicating it has been transmitted (all copies will be stamped).

The president of the Mesa will then aggregate all the oficial forms into an envelope to close out the polling place.  All papers will be returned to the briefcase, sealed for return to the TSE.

In the past, the TSE then recounted every ballot box, and entered the data into a new computer file. The TSE has said it will not announce results the night of the election, only "trends". Meanwhile, Hagamos Democracía, an NGO that produced exit polling that was more accurate than the TSE in 2009, will be operating again this year.

A fairly fragile system for such a consequential election.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Political Pragmatism?

It was surreal to read an Agence France-Presse interview with Adolfo Facussé, one of the vocal supporters of the coup against Manuel Zelaya Rosales in 2009, saying Xiomara Castro could represent real change in Honduras, whereas none of the other candidates does.

Facussé, who is president of the Asociación Nacional de Industriales (ANDI), said:
We have businessmen from all the parties.  Libre has something that appeals to me and that is the promise of change. The country definitely needs to change.

How exactly the nation needs to change is pretty clear: Facussé went on to characterize the Lobo Sosa government, and especially its economic policies, as a disaster.  Of Juan Orlando Hernandez, the National Party candidate for President, Facussé said "he has the characteristics to become an autocratic president."

Aline Flores, president of the other leading business group in Honduras, Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (Cohep), made it clear she didn't agree with Facussé about LIBRE.  She said:
He (Facussé) has always had his own opinion and I respect him a lot, but we don't share some ideas.

Facussé did get support in his criticism of the Lobo Sosa government. Oscar Galeano, a former president of COHEP, said
Some businessmen will prefer the right, some the center, and others the left.  What is certain is that Honduras cannot continue depending on irresponsible governments that don't promote investment and development, because (with Lobo), we have lost much time; we have a high rate of unemployment.

Facussé said he was not afraid of leftist ideas, though he's not enchanted with Castro's call for a Constitutional Assembly:
I'm not afraid of the ideas of the left, the intelligent left (....) they have not done badly in El Salvador; in Nicaragua the businessmen are content.  We, without having a leftist government, have an idiotic government.  For businessmen it is not good to have a populace dying of hunger, poor people.

That seems to fly in the face of Facussé's support for the 2009 coup, but he clearly thinks that political intervention made a point that will limit what even a LIBRE president does:
If Doña Xiomara is elected, Don Mel Zelaya will have the intelligence to manage things [the government] without confronting the rest of society.

It is shocking to see a Honduran businessman call the government "idiotic". But increasing social inequality, impoverishing the populace, is exactly what the last two National Party presidencies have done.

A recent study by The Center for Economic Policy Research , "Honduras Since the Coup: Economic and Social Outcomes", authored by Jake Johnston and Stephan Lefebvre, points out that
Economic inequality, which decreased for four consecutive years starting in 2006, began trending upward in 2010. Honduras now has the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America.

Only three countries in Latin America have seen their GINI coefficient, a measure of how unequal the distribution of income is in the country, increase since 2009.  The rest have seen decreases of 1 to 7 percent.  Honduras had a 12.5% increase in its GINI coefficient, from .50 in 2009, to .59 in 2011, the latest year for which there are records.  That's the greatest increase of any country in Latin America, and the highest absolute value for a GINI coefficient in Latin America.

In fact, since 2001, inequality has consistently increased under Nationalist governments, declining only during the four years of the Zelaya administration. Under Zelaya, Honduras had about the same level of economic inequality as Costa Rica in 2009.

And as the Honduran businessmen speaking out note, poverty is bad for business. The rich may get richer while the poor get poorer, but eventually, you run out of customers.