Monday, December 2, 2013

There's Going To Be a Recount (Of Sorts)

This morning Xiomara Castro and the LIBRE Party filed a formal set of complaints about the vote counting process and its lack of transparency, documenting errors and discrepancies in the formal counting of the tally sheets of the over 16,000 Mesas Electorales Receptoras (MER). 

LIBRE representative Ricki Moncada then read the document to the assembled press.

The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) head David Matamoros agreed to a public recount of the Actas: not the votes themselves, just a recount of the votes as recorded on the tally sheets.

This, of course, is a compromise.  Ballot boxes will not be re-opened; individual votes will not be recounted. 

It's a vexing compromise because some of the problems that LIBRE alleges include alteration of the Actas themselves, which they say they can document. 

Remember that the election procedures gave the political parties a number of ways to get copies of the scanned/reported Acta at each step.  The party representative at every MER was supposed to be given a copy of the scanned Acta to take back to the party. Once the scanned Acta hit the TSE's computers, a copy was supposed to be sent to each party, and to the foreign vote auditors.

LIBRE says it has Actas sent to them by the TSE with scan dates of the early morning hours of the election day, bearing data that looks like the test data used to validate the system in earlier runs.  LIBRE also says they have copies of Actas that don't match the Acta image in the TSE central computing database, with different signatures and vote tallys.

Since the election itself on November 24, there has been a public recount of the scanned actas going on at this site:  In addition, there has been a Facebook-coordinated effort to identify Actas that contain problematic information or were mis-recorded in the TSE's vote counting system. 

Through these independent projects, more than 1600 problematic Actas had been identified by Saturday, November 30.

There is a further 2000+ Actas which the TSE has "sequestered" because of unspecified problems, for which vote counts, and images, have not been released.  Then there are a series of MERs for which vote totals are recorded, but no Acta image is posted.

I have been involved in the public recount of the Actas, entering the values from the scanned images of the Actas into a system that then recounts the votes once 3 separate reviews of the transcription agree that the data are correct. I also have reviewed Actas flagged on the Facebook page as problematic.  I can say first-hand that I found inconsistencies in more than 500 Actas I've reviewed over the last week. 

Some of the inconsistencies were transcription errors: the TSE had an enormous problem going from the hand-written numbers to recording those numbers in their MS-SQL database.  Over time, the TSE seemed to be correcting these transcription errors, though in a non-transparent fashion since they never acknowledged a single one of them.  Many still remained as of this past Saturday.

More troubling, though, is that the vote totals on far too many Actas added up to more than the number of people who were reported to have voted in that particular MER. 

Each Acta contains a field "Ciudadanos que votaron", which the TSE training manual documented as being calculated by taking the total number of ballots at the start of voting, and subtracting the number of blank ballots remaining at the end of voting.  The starting number of ballots and the calculated "Ciudadanos que votaron" are recorded on the official tally sheet.  The total number of votes being reported on the tally sheet should add up to the number of "Cuidadanos que votaron" but very frequently it does not. Based on my experience of trying to review the results, minor errors of 1, 2, and 3 over-votes are common, while over-votes of 50 or more happen less often. 

Reviewing and recounting the Actas alone will not correct these over-votes.  They merely become  enshrined in the result.

The public vote count shows results that differ from the TSE count, though not enough to change the outcome of the election.  But there are still 4.4% of the Actas which cannot be validated because the TSE released no image of them. This is enough to affect the margin between the two leading candidates, which might reflect the tighter race that most observers expected.

Then there's the issue of database security.  Anonymous Honduras has twice penetrated the vote counting center, and currently (late afternoon on December 2) has replaced the TSE's main web page with their own.  Their penetration made it clear they could have easily, and invisibly, changed the results in favor of any candidate they wanted to.  From details like their ability to show administrative tables, it seems that they had complete control over the database, and the TSE was apparently none the wiser.

So, there will be some sort of a recount of the Actas, with representatives of the political parties present to agree that the data entered into the system is what is on the Acta. The TSE has no idea what the procedures will be, or how they will do this, but something will happen. 

It's a step in the direction of transparency. But not the kind of recount that would put to rest, ultimately, the kinds of doubts that have been raised.

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