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).

Registered voters (millions)
Participation rate
Total electorate

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:

vote share
change from 2 AM
up 13,000
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.

Registered voters (millions)
Participation rate
Total electorate

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.

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.

The TSE reports... the Alianza is in the lead

It took them until almost 2 in the morning in Honduras, but finally, the TSE has made an official statement.

Not calling the election: they will continue to count votes until they are finished.

But with 59% of the votes counted officially by the TSE, the reported proportion of votes is:

Salvador Nasralla             45.7%
Juan Orlando Hernández 40.21%

A couple of things to note:

The TSE also said it may be Thursday before they get to some of the votes. They have yet to post the vote totals on their website, which will allow us to assess which parts of the country have been counted, and see whether the votes not yet counted could change the outcome.

At the same time, to come out with such a strong and marked difference in favor of Nasralla might suggest that the TSE thinks this pattern is likely to hold up; otherwise, we would expect them to maintain a more cautious approach, perhaps reporting a lower proportion of the counted votes with a tighter field.

The next few days will be tense and it is critical that international observers keep watching.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

With 68% [updated] of the vote counted...

Alianza candidate Salvador Nasralla just held a press conference in which-- drawing on data that parties receive from the TSE-- 78% of the actas (reports of votes from individual districts) have been counted-- and they show him with almost a 5% lead over Juan Orlando Hernández.

NotiBomba has tweeted that the US Embassy is trying to persuade Hernández to concede (not clear what their source would be).

Meanwhile, the TSE itself maintains its silence.

UPDATE: Proceso Digital covered the Nasralla press conference. They quote what he said extensively; here's our translation:
"It's the first time in history that the Tribunal Supremo Electoral hasn't provided results [by the time he was speaking, midnight], but we have our own computing center and it says that with 68.4% of the actas, that is, 4,259,107 of the 6 million that the Tribunal said could vote, the actas are there”, said Nasralla.
He added that “of those that represent 68.4% of the actas, I have 45.4%, against 40.6% the the current president has, that's a difference of 4.8%, that represents 106,000 votes difference”.
Nasralla explained that two hours ago it said that there was a difference of 30,000 votes and that in the passing of the hours that progressed to 106,000.
“In light of the fact that this tendency has not changed, I can say to you that I am the new president of Honduras. I want to thank those that defended the vote”, he said.

Exit polling for the National Party...

NotiBomba has just identified the company that did exit polling for the Partido Nacional-- polling on which Juan Orlando Hernández based his claim of re-election. It apparently is owned by Arturo Corrales, former member of Hernández government. Not a company with any track record in this kind of work.

While widely reported in the English language media, the claim by Hernández was seen by Hondurans as an affront to their system which calls for waiting for results from the Tribunal Supremo Electoral.

The early announcement by Hernández is widely viewed as a strategy to make it harder for people to accept eventual results which might show a closer race, or even a win by his opponent.

The fact that the exit poll was produced by a party apparatchik will hardly give those skeptics greater confidence.

Statement from the Tribunal Supremo Electoral

Although the audio quality on our feed was bad, comparing what we heard to Twitter, it appears the TSE has announced that it has counted more than 40% of the vote, but that they have not counted enough to be confident in projecting the trend (that is, projecting a victor).

They say they will hold another press conference at midnight.

Meanwhile, this is actually quite important. If the kind of margin that sources had been predicting for the National Party (without, we emphasize, any reliable basis) was being seen, the TSE would historically have indicated what they call the "trend".

So we have to assume that the results are emerging closer than the rumors that were spread in pre-election coverage, and that continue to circulate in media quoting Hernández's claims of victory based on (again, unspecified) exit polling.

Reports from Honduras have cited heavy turnout, apparently unexpected. While the TSE has not provided any numbers, based on these on the ground reactions, it appears that more voters were motivated to participate. Certainly, high turnout would account for the TSE not having better counts six hours after the polls closed across the country.

The situation in Tegucigalpa

On Twitter, sources associated with the coalition Alianza are reporting that the Tribunal Supremo Electoral has cut off their access to vote counts. UPDATE: The TSE, on Twitter, says they have not cut off data provided to the parties.

The TSE has announced that they will be making a statement soon-- but the deadline has passed.

Meanwhile, Juan Orlando Hernández has declared himself the winner, based on exit polling.

He has mobilized the armed forces to guard the entry to the capital city and deployed them in the Tribunal Supremo Electoral center in Tegucigalpa. He has said he won't tolerate any protests.

The Honduran news source NotiBomba is reporting on Twitter numbers they say they received from the TSE that show the Alianza candidate, Salvador Nasralla, in the lead, with 44.5%, to Hernández 41.3%. They are not clear on when they received these numbers. We do not know how much of the vote has been counted, but the number of votes reported by this source-- 3 million-- implies about 50-60% of the vote has been counted.

Partial Official Results in

With 5,146 election table results counted (about 30%) the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) released the following vote counts:

Juan Orlando Hernandez     388,086
Salvador Nasralla               406,510

Both men have declared themselves the winner of the election.

The TSE will hold a press conference in 12 minutes.

Electoral coverage: Part one

At the New York Times, Elizabeth Malkin continues to provide some of the best informed coverage of Honduras in the English language media. Her story on the election lays out clearly the reasons many Hondurans are unhappy with this election, and think it is already stolen: the approval of re-election by a Supreme Court a majority of whose justices owe their office to the current president's actions when he was head of Congress; "reforms" of election processes that give that president's party more control over ballot counting; and the public and notorious evidence of corrupt practices by the same party in the last election.

Meanwhile, Reuters provides what purports to be a simple comparison of the proposed policies of the National Party and Alianza candidates for president. It's textbook example of how to make a selective case without seeming to have an opinion. Start with the characterization of Juan Orlando Hernández as US-friendly and approved by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The implication would be that Salvador Nasralla and the Alianza are somehow anti-US. That's not really the difference between the two parties: Honduran political parties all want good relations with the US. What the National Party provides, though, is a willing partner in militarization of policing in Honduras that some US policy makers think is a key to ending drug trafficking (or at least diminishing it). Hernández also has accepted US characterization of undocumented migration to the US as his country's problem, leading him to militarize the borders to stop people fleeing violence in the cities and drug-dominated areas.

Reuters pairs the pro-US characterization of Hernández with a description of the Alianza as supposedly dominated by former president Mel Zelaya, saying "many believe" Zelaya is the "true force" behind the Alianza. This echoes the line taken by the National Party in an attempt to discourage voters in Honduras from supporting the opposition. It ignores the reality that Salvador Nasralla is the Alianza candidate because his insurgent party, the Partido Anti-corrupcíon, ran strongly in the 2013 election. Nasralla leads his own political movement, and the fact that what were competing parties in 2013 have now joined forces is a testament to the common goals of Libre and PAC: removing power from the traditional parties seen as corrupt bastions of an oligarchy.

Reuters also reports that polls show Hérnandez leading. They don't identify the polls, or give a link. Three polling companies were approved to do polls by the Honduran electoral tribunal, a new practice that narrowed the data stream when compared to 2013. One of the approved companies is the consultant used by the National Party. Legally, none of them are allowed to poll after September, so any polls from these official sources would be stale. Private polling done by the parties might be available, but legally, they also cannot share any such information.

One effect of published claims that Hernández has an established lead, of course, is to give his election an aura of inevitability. That could hamper efforts already promised by both the Alianza and the Liberal Party (the traditional opposition, depleted in the wake of the 2009 coup and fourth in votes for presidency in 2013) to contest any hint of fraud.

There are already reports from Honduras of intimidation of poll watchers. Some international observers have been refused entry into the country.

TeleSur has a worthwhile infographic showing voting results based on exit polling. So far, Hernández is getting fewer votes than the last published polls, while the Liberal party candidate is drawing significantly more votes.

Obviously, we have no idea which parts of the country this exit polling reflects. But the present numbers show, again, the National Party falling far below a majority, with the number of votes going to the Alianza and Liberal parties together surpassing the National Party vote.

Because of Honduran law, a plurality of votes, no matter how low, will win the office. It will be important to watch how international media report the results: a minority win should not be portrayed as legitimating the National Party. And equally, the international press needs to cover what happens after this election, how complaints are treated, and not accept the deterioration of public trust as somehow inevitable.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Election Sunday

In Honduras, national elections are held on a Sunday in late November, every four years. Even in 2009, following the coup that removed the president, the national election process went on.

This year will mark the second presidential election after the coup. Two things emerged from that rupture that make this an unprecedented election day: viable opposition parties emerged; and the ruling party overturned the very part of the constitution that was claimed, however falsely, by supporters of the 2009 coup to be the cause of their actions, the constitutional bar against presidential re-election.

Two new national political movements, Libre (coming out of the coalition of resistance to the coup), and the Anti-corruption Party (led by a political outsider with substantial public visibility) ran candidates in the 2013 presidential election. Their officially recorded votes were more than the votes recorded for the candidate for the National Party that had regained power in the 2009 election. Because Honduras does not require any specific level of votes to win an election, the leading candidate from the National Party, with his minority of votes, was installed as president in 2014.

Of course, that doesn't take into account the widespread suppression of election workers, and the ensuing doubts about the validity of even the slim electoral victory the National Party gained. Since the installation of the current president, more and more details have come out about electoral corruption, and disclosures are rumored to involve family members of the sitting president.

Libre and the Anti-corruption party did not gain a majority of seats in the Honduran Congress in 2013, and the fourth major group, the Liberal Party, refused to join them in opposition.

So the National Party president has been able to pursue his aims for the last four years. While some reported decline in murder rates gets positive attention from international governments, on the ground, the level of violence in the cities is still high, and targeting of activists for the environment and human rights is just as much of a problem.

One of the most significant moves made by the current ruling party is the second feature that makes this year's election more significant than any since the current Honduran constitution was ratified, less than forty years ago. That was gaining the approval of the Honduran Supreme Court for presidential election. The Honduran Supreme Court justices are selected by the Congress, where the current president was previously head of Congress. The court whose composition he influenced then over-turned that part of the constitution.

So in this election, the sitting president is his party's candidate for election, with the ban on re-election removed, despite reports that almost two-thirds of the population oppose re-election.

Libre and the Anti-corruption Party have made a pact for the current presidential election, supporting a single candidate under the banner of alliance, Alianza. This candidate, the head of the Anti-corruption party, Salvador Nasralla, is also supported by one of the small parties that fill out the Honduran political landscape, PINU.

Unlike in the last election, when we were able to track multiple polls published in Honduras, we have little official polling data to draw on. The Honduran press landscape has changed: Tiempo, the one source we could count on for news that was not distorted to support the party in power, exists only as a shadow of its former self following the politically motivated prosecution of the family that owned it.

The last polling data published in Honduras in September, before a legally-mandated quiet period when no polls can be published, was sharply contested by the other parties. It reported the incumbent leading, again without a majority, drawing 37% of the vote. While there are more recent reports in newspapers in Mexico citing other polling companies, we have no information that would cause us to trust the polls they report. One was working for the National Party itself. The second came nowhere close to accuracy in the last election. None of the polls we have been able to review were published with sufficient information about methodology or margin of error, and we couldn't track any single poll over time as we did previously.

Private polling from Honduras that we have seen says that the National Party candidate is running behind the Alianza. So might common sense: Honduras has not been united by his presidency, trust in public institutions is no higher, the average Honduran is not materially better off, the country's GDP per capita has declined. The current president doesn't even have the support of all his party, many of whom continue to believe that the bar on re-election should be observed, even if it is legally not required.

And of course, the National Party candidate didn't actually gain the most votes last time. As long as the Libre voters and PINU voters from last time join the Anti-corruption voters, we would expect a plurality of votes for the Alianza. The role of spoiler will continue to be played by the remnants of the Liberal party, which could drain off enough of the voters opposed to re-election, ironically, to ensure a National Party victory. But we don't see it as a clear outcome, nor do Hondurans with whom we are in contact.

Which is why people in Honduras are convinced that there will be electoral manipulation. There are disinformation campaigns, like one this week claiming "Venezuelans" have entered the country to disrupt the election.

Venezuelans play the role of scary outsiders to raise echoes of ALBA, repudiated after the coup, to try to tar the Alianza with the ties of the Zelaya administration. The rumors that armed Venezuelans will commit violence also form a convenient pre-made cover story for any violence that might happen.

We also know of campaign workers for the Alianza who have been killed, as happened in the last election, when poll watchers for the opposition parties were not able to serve in all electoral venues.

But the main route to stealing this election that all Honduran observers expect is the same thing that occurred last time: manipulating the count of the votes at the level of the local ballot box. Stuffing of the ballot boxes was suspected last election from over-votes, when more people are reported to vote than are supposed to be registered. Intimidation of ballot watchers aided this, and there were notable correlations between over-voting and control of districts by drug families who supported the National Party.

The Alianza also suspects the possibility that the vote counts will be manipulated in some way at the level of the National Electoral Tribunal. The fear exists that software will somehow be open to corruption. One software vendor, owned by a National Party activist, was eliminated, but the lack of trust in the highest electoral authorities is palpable.

Sunday will mark a major turn in Honduran history. Either we will see the first re-election of a sitting president since the long dictatorship of Tiburcio Carías Andino ended in 1949; or we will see the election of the first president from a new party, formed in opposition to the political hegemony enjoyed by the Liberal and National Parties for most of the twentieth century, in between military dictatorships.

There will be international observers. How much they will see, how much they can watch, is questionable. The Alianza intends to have poll watchers at every electoral mesa, the local voting venues where votes are counted, the most likely place for false tallies to be introduced.

And we will be watching as well.