ByJuanSebastiánLobo, EL ESPECTADOR, March 17, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Alejandra Barrios Cabrera, Director of election oversight work, was talking about the signs of possible election fraud. Although she discounted them for the moment, she did question the irregularities in the voting for the winning party.

The MOE warned that there were 28,466 tables in which Historic Pact received no votes at all.

Historic Pact was one of the big winners in Sunday’s elections. They won 16 seats in the Senate, and more than 20 in the Chamber of Representatives. However, a few days later, there started to be doubts about the result, as more than 25% of the tables, one out of every four, had no votes at all for the leftist convergence. With such a high number of total votes, it was almost impossible to believe such a statistical anomaly. Then they started noticing E-14 forms with strike-throughs, erasures, and errors in the counts. Gustavo Petro’s group then issued an alert for possible voting fraud. Two days after the alert and half way through the communications, Alejandra Barrios Cabrera, Director of the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) talked about the issue and tried to clarify what might be going on, since the National Voting Registry had made no announcement.

The questions that the whole country is asking right now are whether we are really talking about election fraud . . .

Right now, what we can say, is that there has been a very large number of errors on the forms where the initial vote counts were recorded on the day of the election, and possibly in the transmission of the results. It’s much easier to see the errors on the E-14s that are used to transmit the vote numbers, and that has been going around on social media. What has to be pointed out is that the canvassing process has begun, and that’s the process that has legal significance.

What we saw on television on Election Day is a transmission of data that just gives us some news about how things are going, how the Congress may be made up. It’s different from other procedures in which we were able to identify a lot of errors. That’s why we are saying that we have to wait and go through the canvassing process by the political organizations and their candidates. We have to stay calm, because they are correcting some of the errors that are seen on the E-14s. What we expect is that the corrections will permit us to have some assurance that the votes are being counted correctly.

Gustavo Petro has said that there shouldn’t be preliminary results. What would you say to those comments?

Preliminary results are announced in every country, not just here. The workers are citizens and they are acting with honor and good faith. We have to start out with confidence in the different people who are poll workers to guarantee a legitimate process. The errors that have shown up are because of the lack of training or understanding of the election system. Sadly, in some cases there have been poll workers of poor character, and don’t understand the role that they play in the credibility of the Colombian election process. There is no way to eliminate the role of the poll workers in obtaining preliminary results. If we did that, we would be talking about a voting process that would take much too long, and would demand much more effort on the part of the canvassers, who are the judges and the notaries.

In 2018 there was also talk of irregularities in the E-14 forms. Why do we continue to rely on them?

That is the center of the discussion about improving the process. It’s completely absurd that after what happened in 2018, when the forms were actually converted into memes; that has resulted in a lack of confidence in the information they furnish. We don’t need three E-14s, each with different information. Instead, we need a single form where you can see the information in the same form, to be used to share information to those that publish it on the web page, and those who will do the canvassing. That way we can avoid the problems that are taking place with the E-14s. That is a system that should be used in the presidential election. It’s illogical that we know this is generating credibility problems with the results, and we still persist in the error.

Does the MOE have information that would indicate that this was not an error, but a fraud instead?

Right now we don’t have enough information to allow us to indicate that we are seeing voter fraud orchestrated by an election authority or by third parties. A major fraud would have to have a major criminal conspiracy, and the MOE has not been able to prove or identify that. Up to now we find ourselves with an awful lot of errors that ought to be purged in the canvassing commission process. That means that the citizens should remain calm, and that the political organizations must be rigorous with their election witnesses to monitor the verification.

How can we understand what’s going on with the Historic Pact organization, which has no votes at all in 25% of the tables, in spite of receiving the most votes?

We are indeed finding a behavior that is completely unusual in the voting results for Historic Pact, with regard to the large number of tables that reported no votes at all for them. What we did was to take out the number of tables that showed zero votes for all of the political organizations, and we showed that one out of every four tables reported no votes for Historic Pact. That is extremely unusual. We need a review that is very serious, judicious, and minute. This error could show a poor design of the E-14 form, where Historic Pact appears almost like a footnote on sheet No. 10 of the form. That could have been because the poll workers didn’t see the name and didn’t count those votes. That could have happened to the poll workers in good faith, or it could be an error in the transmission of the voting results. That was noted to the election oversight commission by Historic Pact officials themselves. We share that observation, and we regret that the technical tables didn’t check to see that there were no design issues that could lead to errors by the citizens.

How do we understand why both sectors are talking about fraud? Are we facing a loss of confidence in the electoral system, like what has happened in the U.S.?

Right now there is a loss of confidence that can be repaired by modifying the results, more assertive communication by the Registry, and transparency by making public the complete data base of the E-14 forms that transmit the information from the Registry, so that anybody can see the collection of forms, and analyze the election from table to table.

What’s the difference to be seen in the forms published by the Registry?

The form in which we are delivering the information allows a better understanding of the results, as it lets you see which is the department, the municipality, the area, and table for every one of the forms. It permits analysis and identification of possible errors.

How much did the Registry have to do with this crisis of credibility?

There needs to be an effort to make information available, to make the information furnished by the Registry more consistent, and above all, there needs to be a dialog that includes the technical tables with the national political organizations and oversight groups. If these decisions are made, we will mitigate the risk of fraud and any concern about election fraud or manipulation of election results. These actions are not difficult. and they would allow recognition of the fact that electoral contests must be organized to include all of the actors.

The Election Observation Mission from the European Union has already furnished its first report and it described the operation as transparent. Do the events of these days contradict that?

No, the findings don’t contradict the findings of the OEA missions, nor those of the European Union, and not our findings either. We carry out the work in different ways and use different approaches to electoral procedures. The MOE begins its observation beginning a year earlier, and we do that from a year of oversight. They bring some specialists, but they are only in the country for a month or 15 days before the election, and we, on the other hand, are here. Because we have the ability to be in the country, we are able to collect different information. That doesn’t mean one is better and one is worse. They are different and complementary.

Some of the poll workers have admitted some irregular activities on social networks. What are the procedural implications of that?

We profoundly regret that this kind of activity has taken place, especially because it means that they don’t understand the impact of that type of action. We are talking about election crimes that have administrative and criminal penalties. At minimum, we are talking about voter fraud, changing voting results, and falsifying a public document. With respect to that, we are asking for specific actions by the Registry and by the canvassing commissions. Of the Registry, we are asking that it amend the certifications for those tables, and of the commissions, we ask that they conduct a recount of those tables to be sure that the vote count is correct. But there is a harm that is irreparable already, and that harm is to the voter to whom they furnished the wrong ballot, or to the voter whose vote was cancelled. That is a harm that is entirely irreparable and that generates a failure of confidence in democracy in this country.

How should the poll workers know what to do when first Uribism tells them not to include anybody supporting Fecode, the Registry responds to that, and now there are young people that admit to possible manipulation of votes against Petro?

What happened there could be solved with the new Electoral Code, that we hope will take effect after the election. What was approved is that the poll workers won’t be selected according to quotas turned in by sectors of the parties themselves, universities, and other groups. What it tries to do is to have them chosen from the universe of citizens in general. That would guarantee that there would be diverse poll workers that don’t all have the same positions, that don’t know each other, and that don’t represent the interests of contractors or businesses. However, this change won’t work if we don’t have citizens who are honest and are ready to accept the people’s votes and political differences absolutely.

Should there be some kind of follow-up or special training for poll workers?

In this election it became clear that there was not a sufficient process of instruction, and that could be because of time, and of the method that was used. The Registry ought to do an evaluation in order to provide better assistance, better training, and many more tools. But that’s not only the job of the Registry. It’s also a job for all Colombians. No matter how hard we try to train someone adequately, if they refuse to do it, we find ourselves up against it. For that reason the call in the coming presidential elections, which will be very competitive, is to have the poll workers be conscientious in the way the ballots are filled out, the forms, and how to do the work correctly.

One of the earlier worries was about the software. How is that going?

Right now we don’t have any information that would put us on the alert. It’s important to point out that we are just now starting the canvassing process, and the process of transmitting the data to the area canvassers. The test will be when we check to see that the E-14, E-24, and E-26 forms match. That will be done by randomized testing.

What adjustments should be made in the three months between now and the presidential election, so that these things don’t happen again?

First, we need a lot of information about how the first round and second round of the presidential election procedures are going to take place: the rules that govern, the ballots, the counting procedure, how the forms are filled out, where the canvassing is done, the problems that could arise, how the transmission of information will function. There ought to be some training to understand how the procedures are going to work, and not just talking from agencies that sounds like slogans and are not useful to create a critical mass of understanding of  happens in elections.

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