Colombia is experiencing one of the worst legitimacy crises in the electoral process in decades. A week after the legislative elections and the inter-party consultations, the National Electoral Council met on Tuesday to debate whether to recount the votes, something unprecedented in Colombia. The national registrar assured on Monday that he would formally request a new scrutiny, an idea that President Iván Duque also endorsed, but that does not have legal support. The registrar retracted hours later, but the controversy was already served.
These are the keys to what has happened since Election Day:
The Historical Pact denounces that 400,000 votes do not appear
On the morning of Monday, March 14, the first alarms began to go off. Members of the Historical Pact, a leftist coalition led by presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, disclosed on social networks that there were 29,000 polling stations in which the Pact appeared with zero votes.
The coalition had been talking about a possible fraud for months, so they designed a surveillance system with volunteer witnesses and a computer tool with which they analyzed in real time the information that was transmitted from the polling stations to the Registrar’s Office. This is how they found irregularities in the pre-count of the votes [los datos que se ofrecen la misma noche de las elecciones]which were later confirmed by the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) that identified “atypical behavior in the results of the votes on the Historic Pact.”
The coalition’s lawyers made the legal claims and a preliminary scrutiny was made that identified that nearly 400,000 votes had not been initially counted. Several political leaders promoted the idea of a “historical fraud” against the left, but other political forces from different spectrums also identified irregularities and asked their voters to enter through a link to the registry’s website to see if their vote had been counted at the table where the ballot was deposited.
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Design and transmission errors
While the networks continued to be flooded with accusations of fraud, the MOE and Gustavo Petro himself identified where the error could be that led to the votes not being reported both by the Historical Pact and by other political forces such as the New Liberalism and the Green Party.
The design of the E14 forms, a novelty in this electoral appointment, put the Historical Pact in one of its last pages, as if it were a footer after the list of another party. “That makes it easier for human error to exist and that when the data is dictated by telephone, the numbers in that box are skipped,” Diego Rubiano, coordinator of the MOE’s Electoral Political Observatory of Democracy, explained to this newspaper.
The official scrutiny collects the votes not initially counted
After correcting the errors, the results of the Historical Pact were better than those announced on Sunday night, going from 2.3 million to almost 2.7 million votes – and from 16 to 19 seats in the Senate. “At this time, 486,000 votes have been recovered for the Historical Pact to the Senate that were not reported. We are approaching three million votes for the Senate list,” Petro said. Despite this, the left maintained its claim of fraud.
The right stirs up the idea of fraud
Once the data of the pre-count, which is known at the end of the electoral day, was crossed with those of the formal count, which is the one that has legal validity, from the right the messages of electoral fraud intensified. Former President Andrés Pastrana was the first. “The official figures of the Registrar reek of fraud in favor of the Historical Pact. The Government must hire, with the approval of the actors of the election, two independent international firms for the forensic analysis of the processes of the Registry last Sunday, ”he said.
He was followed by former President Álvaro Uribe, founder of the Democratic Center government party, whose political force lost power in Congress and went from being the first to the fifth force in the Senate. Uribe said that he had forms with erasures and amendments and invited not to accept the results.
Since the beginning of 2022, voices from Uribism have been talking about an alleged hack Russian and suspiciously suggesting that Petro had met in Spain with officials from Indra, the Spanish company chosen by the National Electoral Council for official scrutiny.
Duke calls to recount the votes
With political tension at its highest levels and voices from all parties doubting electoral transparency and criticizing the irregularities of the registrar Alexander Vega, President Iván Duque initially requested that the electoral guarantees commission meet. This Monday he said that it was “recommended to consider, by the National Electoral Council, moving forward with a general recount in the Senate election.” Vega joined that same request, who highlighted “the paranoia of fraud of all political forces” and blamed the irregularities in the pre-count on the voting juries. Vega is criticized for having changed the way voting juries were chosen, which caused inexperienced people or young people who had never voted to take on that task.
The decision to open or not the ballot boxes generated new debates. “What the registrar does today is now called fraud. The chain of custody of the votes ended on Saturday. At this time they may be filling the ballot bags. They disobey the decision of 5,000 judges. We are facing a true coup promoted by Uribe,” said presidential candidate Gustavo Petro.
Meanwhile, Álvaro Uribe insisted on the recount. “It is one thing to recognize that the party has regressed, to accept the impact on my reputation, to recognize what the government (of Iván Duque) has lacked, and another thing is to ask for a recount for the good of democracy.”
The National Electoral Council met this Tuesday to make a decision. During the meeting, the registrar retracted and announced that he would not officially ask for the recount, but the doubt was created and electoral confidence was broken.
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