These Elections Were Won by Both Fraud and Theft
The VCE’s general secretary
explains the technical nuts and bolts of how
the electoral fraud was committed in
last month’s municipal elections,
especially in the capital.
We’re wondering whether we committed the sin of ingenuousness by agreeing to participate in elections so plagued with anomalies, because throughout this electoral process, from the very start when the electoral calendar was published, we detected major irregularities and the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) never responded to the complaints and petitions we filed in accordance with the law. We particularly insisted on the need for suitable national and international electoral observers, protested against violations of the electoral law (such as the participation of three Electoral Police, one of them authorized to be inside the voting center) and brought up irregularities in the manual provided to party monitors, and even in the election call and the calendar. Despite all of this, we trusted in the civic right to vote for democracy and decided to participate.
The difference between fraud and theftWe unequivocally state that there was fraud in these elections, but there was also stealing of votes. Theft is a harsh word, but it’s the only one that fits. What’s the difference? Fraud refers to the chicanery and stratagems that can accompany elections and are implemented to provide an advantage to one party. Theft is something more brazen. It’s simply taking away from a party the votes that legitimately belong to it and were freely deposited by citizens.
We always assumed Ortega’s followers would try to skew the elections in their favor. For example, the delivery of voter/ID cards benefited FSLN sympathizers while cards were denied to those identified as the opposition. I’m specifically referring to Ortega followers here, and not to Sandinistas, because we consider them to be two completely distinct political realities. In this electoral process we achieved a de facto alliance, not a legal one, with the Sandinista Renovation Movement, and we know they are Sandinistas committed to democracy in Nicaragua. We also know that many Sandinistas in the governing party’s structure are ashamed of what has taken place in these elections.
Our party monitors held firmWe reached November 9 with a lot of concerns, yet trusting, perhaps naively, that the right of citizens to freely elect their municipal authorities would be respected. We knew we were at a great disadvantage in the electoral tables, since most were dominated by members of the FSLN or parties close to it, and in the majority of cases there was only the FSLN monitor and our PLC Alliance monitor. The three other parties that participated (the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, the Nicaraguan Resistance Party and the Alternative for Change), all now close to the FSLN, didn’t have the capacity to put people in all voting centers. The quality of our monitors was demonstrated precisely by their recovery of the counting tallies, which now provide irrefutable proof of the fraud.
Although the CSE members in some of the voting centers tried to expel our monitors, they didn’t succeed. There were specific cases involving different kinds of pressure: their credentials weren’t recognized, they tried to impede or complicate their participation in the voting process… Problems also arose when table members tried to close voting centers early, aided by the Electoral Police.
Some of our monitors received offers of money to turn their tallies over to the FSLN, but we learned of only two cases where they actually accepted. With all the pressures they received, it was a real feat that our monitors kept so many of the tallies. Without their conviction and commitment, we wouldn’t have this proof of the fraud today.
We had some difficult situations. In one voting center in Managua’s District III, alleged members of the Councils of Citizens’ Participation (CPC) surrounded the center at about 7 pm, with our monitor still inside. They destroyed the vehicle that was supposed to take her to the PLC Alliance headquarters with her copy of the tally and tried to terrorize her into giving it up. She called on her cell phone and with great courage told us; “I’m not moving from here without my tally.” And she didn’t. She stayed there until we were able to get her out and take her to our campaign offices.
Another difficult case was in a Villa Venezuela voting center in Managua’s District VI, where the table members arbitrarily decided to close at 12:30 in the afternoon when the law stipulates that the doors close at 6 pm or even afterward if there are still voters in line. The National Police officers there were indifferent to this violation of the law and even witnessed the physical aggressions to which our monitors and sympathizers were subjected when they asked for the center to be reopened. In that case, we had to get in touch with higher police authorities, who finally managed to prevent the center from being closed. We have one voting day video in which a table member explains that they closed a voting center early “because we received instructions from above.” When asked, “Who’s above?” the reply was, “Well, the FSLN! Who else?”
The nuts and bolts of the voting processThere was fraud in many municipalities. In Managua, where I personally have more information, there was both fraud and theft. To understand this better I should explain that there are various levels in the vote counting and ballot review: the voting center, where the count is actually done; the Municipal Computation Center; the Departmental Computation Center; and the National Computation Center, which answers directly to the CSE magistrates.
When the voting is over, the ballot boxes are opened in each center, the votes are counted and the totals added up for each candidate. That’s where table members can annul ballots that they don’t think meet the established norms. The party monitors watch the whole process to be sure it’s done correctly, and once there’s agreement the tally sheet is filled out and signed by everyone. Each monitor receives an original tally, which they then turn in to their party. The table president packs up the electoral material, including his or her copy of the tally, and transfers it all to the Municipal Computation Center, where the CSE authorities receive the tallies, classify them, separating out any that have been challenged, and begin the arithmetic review, after which they transmit the results to the Departmental Computation Center. There the challenged tallies are analyzed and resolved by a CSE “tribunal” table. All this is done in the presence of monitors from all participating political parties.
The case of Managua: 600 tallies went missingLet’s analyze the case of the municipality of Managua. In its case the Municipal Computation Center is the National Baseball Stadium, which is traditionally fitted out for this purpose. We argue that the electoral theft in Managua occurred in the National Stadium. The tallies in which Alexis Argüello, the FSLN candidate, had a clear advantage were transmitted without delay to the Departmental Computation Center, while those that gave a substantial victory to the PLC Alliance candidate, Eduardo Montealegre, were sent to the Archive section, where our monitors were not allowed to go. That’s why the CSE’s first announcement of “preliminary and provisional” results didn’t reveal a trend but a sizable lead for Argüello.
What happened next? I imagine the FSLN electoral authorities began to add up the more than 600 tallies that had been sent to the Archive, and realized that if all these tallies were transmitted as they were, Montealegre would win the mayoral seat in Managua. Under pressure from the FSLN, we assume those authorities opted to brazenly alter some tallies, putting a one before the figure for the FSLN, for example, or simply publishing another tally with other results. In a couple of cases there were 400 votes for the FSLN [the maximum number of people allowed to vote in one voting center] and 0 for the PLC Alliance. That’s when the theft took place.
When these tallies were brought out of the Archive to undergo Arithmetic Review, our monitors began to kick up a fuss. The tallies were altered and the results published on the boards were different from the original results. Our monitors called us at the Managua campaign headquarters to compare the results that were appearing up on the boards with the genuine results reflected in the tallies we’d recovered, and none coincided; they were all different. Given the pressure and complaints by our monitors, the electoral authorities threw them all out of the stadium, paralyzed the counting of tallies at the Managua municipal level, packed all the electoral material into containers and went off with it. That was as far as the counting of votes and tallies in Managua ever went.
There was no sum-up tallyWhat’s the difference between what happened in Managua and what happened in the other municipalities around the country? In most cases the tallies were reviewed or recounted at the municipal level, and then there’s a municipal sum-up tally, which is prepared to determine the exact number of valid votes after reviewing any challenges, annulling original tallies and adding up the totals. In the case of Managua, that municipal sum-up tally was never made. Or if it was, we never saw it and our party monitor never signed it. Of course we sent appeals to the CSE demanding the completion of the municipal review process, but we never received a reply.
Nor did the CSE ever published results on its web site for over 600 tallies corresponding to the municipality of Managua. We’ve called for the law to be respected, for them to present the tallies and publish all the results, so we can compare them with the tallies we have. We’ve also asked the CSE to compare the original tallies in the possession of each party in the presence of observers and the media, but it hasn’t accepted this request either. Nor will it, because doing so would reveal the electoral theft.
Our tallies are originalsThe governing party claims we don’t have original tallies, but we do, because each carbon copy of the tally issued in a voting center is considered an original. The PLC Alliance recovered 98% of the Managua tallies. We also have many original tallies turned over to us spontaneously by ALN monitors when they realized they had been manipulated by the FSLN. This means we have two original tallies for some voting centers.
It should be mentioned here that the tallies have various signatures: those of the table president and first and second member, and those of the monitors of each party. The majority of the tallies were only signed by the PLC Alliance and FSLN monitors, since the other three parties didn’t have enough people to cover all the electoral tables.
A suspiciously hasty reviewOn November 12, three days after the elections, the CSE magistrates suddenly announced a national-level review of the tallies that same night and requested that only two monitors per party attend. Was this realistic? How did they think it would get done if just reviewing challenges at the departmental level requires two shifts of ten people per party for several days? Nonetheless, the next day, the CSE announced that the review process had concluded in five or six hours, with eight work teams, and that all the parties signed. Not very likely, since we didn’t participate.
The evidence of the fraud is in the tallies and we have them. And nothing can counter this evidence. Why doesn’t the CSE present its missing tallies? We’ve asked for the tallies to be compared, for experts to be contracted to review them. If the FSLN had won, it would show the tallies; it’s that simple.
The CPCs scuttled our On November 17, we invited the CSE, the diplomatic corps, civil society and all the media to a meeting in the auditorium of the Monte Tabor Church to show them the original tallies. But the activity didn’t have the desired effect, because the CPCs stopped the invitees from entering. The FSLN clearly didn’t want us to show the tallies.
presentation of the tallies
More to the point it wanted to get them back. In those first days after the elections we had to be really careful with those tallies. But we now have three or four copies certified by a notary public, and anyone who knows the law knows that they are as valid as the originals. Now it doesn’t matter, we can share them with anyone who wants them, and if we have to go from door to door showing them we’ll do it.
There’s no one pattern to the fraudThere’s irrefutable proof of the fraud at a national level, not just in Managua. That doesn’t mean we’re saying the PLC Alliance won all the country’s mayoral offices; of course the FSLN won a number of them, but we calculate that the fraud affected the results in at least 90 municipal races. The evidence of fraud varies in each municipality, and it can’t be proven with absolute certainty where and how it happened in each one. In the majority of cases it occurred during the municipal sum-up count, while in some it occurred at the national level, in that the CSE first published preliminary results in favor of the PLC Alliance with 100% of the votes tallied, yet gave the mayoral seat to the FSLN in the definitive results, altering the figures. That’s what happened in Masaya and Jinotega, for example.
There was no single pattern to the fraud. In the pre-electoral period it could be identified as the refusal to issue voter/ID cards, the issuing of duplicate voter/ID cards and the moving of voters from one municipality to another or from one voting center to another. All these stratagems make up the fraud. But during the actual voting, when the FSLN realized it was losing, I think the instruction must have been: do what you have to do to win! And each group improvised, some altering tallies, others tearing them up, others throwing them in the trash, anything to change the results…
After learning what happened, the affected citizenry has felt powerless and the candidates who won legally are indignant. Where do you turn? To whom do you appeal? Who can you even talk to? What can be done in a country where the law isn’t respected?
Abstention and annulled ballotsThe CSE hasn’t published abstention or ballot annulment figures, but based on our tallies abstention wasn’t a determinant factor in these elections. To do a more exact calculation you have to remember that the voter list hasn’t been cleaned up. It has an unknown number of deceased people and people who live abroad and don’t vote, so you can’t take 100% of the voter list to calculate abstention. In Managua we calculate that there are half a million people with voter/ID cards who are actually alive, living here and can vote, and in these elections approximately 435,000 people voted. If that calculation is right there was minimum abstention.
The null votes, on the other hand, were a determining factor in the altered results, because according to the electoral statistics it’s normal to have some 2.5% of the ballots annulled. But in Managua there were more than 22,000 null votes, which is over 5%, and the percentage of annulled votes around the country reached 7%, so the annulling of ballots was definitively a component of the fraud.
Are we Nicaraguans capable of making the changes that Nicaragua needs following this fraud? We know it’s a difficult task but we can do it. We have to look for a way to transform the institutions responsible for the electoral process, the CSE structures, so that they’re made up of honest professionals who can guarantee electoral transparency. And we have to join forces with all democratic sectors in the country to annul the published results of these elections and thus restore our citizens’ right to have the mayors they elected with their votes running their municipalities.
Kitty Monterrey is the General Secretary of the We’re Going with Eduardo Movement (VCE) and the PLC Alliance’s Legal Representative for the Department of Managua.