In the 2011 referendum, the OAS reported that 63.61% of the voting tally sheets had numerical inconsistencies. The ruling party covered the obvious electoral fraud with a scandal involving signatures that managed to divert public opinion.
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It happened on May 7, 2011, when the referendum and popular consultation took place, promoted and won by the government of Rafael Correa in order to amend the Constitution and “get its hands” on justice. It also got the public’s license to create a system to muzzle the press and restrict freedom of expression.
Since that day, every organisation that was registered as a political subject to participate in the consultation has denounced irregularities. These allegations became certainty on August 12, 2012 (one year later), when thePermanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued a final report on the elections of May 2011.
The OAS report noted that 63.61% of the tally sheets for that election, nationwide, had numerical inconsistencies. An inconsistency occurs when the total of votes does not equal the total of voters. This was an acknowledgement that the votes of 17,703 tally sheets were incorrectly recorded. That is, in specific terms, that mistakes were made when counting the votes of more than 7 million Ecuadorians.
That was the reason why no Ecuadorians could determine, at the time, what were the results at their polling stations and much less get an immediate results map. In fact, the results were only made official two months later.
Two weeks before the OAS’ final report was issued, the scandal of the false signatures broke out. Every political organisation that was engaged in the process of re-registering was accused of submitting false signatures of their members or adherents. The case took hold because thousands of Ecuadorians confirmed that their names had been recorded in the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) computer system as members or adherents of political organisations to which they did not belong. There were arrests, there was talk of trafficking in databases, political organisations were accused of operating outside ethics by seizing the names of Ecuadorians to register them in their parties or movements.
Everyone followed the CNE’s logic and instead of demanding a comprehensive inspection of the electoral body’s computer system, they began collecting signatures again, to prevent their parties from being left out of the electoral game. In this way the political organisations that a year earlier had protested because of the irregularities occurred during the consultation, were unaware of the OAS’ final report.
At 17:00 on May 7, 2011, as the polling stations closed, pollster Santiago Pérez appeared on the screens of seized TV station Gamavisión to report the figures of the exit poll that his company, paid by the government, had carried out. Pérez said that the Yes vote had achieved a clear victory with a margin of at least 20 points for every question. Each figure read by the pollster caused President Correa to guffaw on the TV screens.
Telesur relayed this information in its first international transmission. The first question: “define under the Criminal Code private unjustified enrichment as an autonomous offence”, was said to be approved by 64 percent of the population while 36 percent opposed it.
The question on the creation of a Regulatory Council to control the contents published by the media, was approved by 61% and opposed by 39%.
The victory predicted by Pérez’s exit poll could not be corroborated by the CNE’s official information. In fact, hours before beginning the count and the registration of the first information on the tally sheets, the CNE’s page had collapsed.
Correaísmo’s celebration was immediate. Los Shirys Avenue in Quito, where the headquarters of Alianza PAIS movement are located, was a mess of protest music and rejoicing. All that was left to do was to wait for the results of the quick count.
But the quick count failed. Omar Simon – who is the current Secretary of the Presidency of the Republic – had persuaded the CNE’s plenary to approve – in April 2011- the quick count in 3091 Polling Boards (Junta Receptora del Voto – JRV) to obtain results and announce them quickly. Then, one day before the elections, Simon backtracked and decided that the CNE itself would be in charge of the quick count. The announcement caused concern among the OAS’ observers.
PAIS’ party ended when Simon, faced by the evidence, had no choice but to accept that something was wrong. The computer system was programmed to reject any tally sheets with numerical inconsistencies, which were supposed to be an exception, but the fact was that the votes of at least 7 million Ecuadorians had been wrongly counted.
Correa called an emergency meeting at the headquarters of PAIS with vice president Lenín Moreno and Galo Mora, the movement’s coordinator.
The various opposition political actors began to collect the first pieces of the puzzle at that moment and realised that in the Polling Board tally sheets the questions showed different totals. Some tally sheets were lost and in several places more people had voted than the allowed number of 400.
These facts, which initially seemed to be a focused problem, started looking like fraud when explained in the OAS report a year later: “The difficulties in completing the tally in the Polling Boards (JRV) generated numerical inconsistencies in 63.61% of the tally sheets nationwide”.
“This caused an overall delay in the process of transmitting the results from the provinces to the capital, as the results of the tally sheets received by the Intermediate Scrutiny Boards (JIE) and Provincial Electoral Boards (JPE) were not ready for immediate transmission to the CNE’s computing center in Quito”, stated the OAS in its report.
In the early hours of May 8, Simon appeared in public with the “validated” results. At a press conference he said the process had been normal but he began to stutter as he was about to read the results of the quick count. He just read them, there was no screen with numerical data for immediate or later analysis. He just read the results from a single sheet of paper and exclaimed as he ended: “The sample has been stabilised and what we have are real results with real margins of error from the Polling Boards”.
What was really happening was the abrupt interruption, in the early hours of Sunday, of the quick count due to numerical inconsistencies in the tally sheets. The tally sheets were not validated and, therefore, could not be entered into the accounting system.
Article 138 of the Democracy Code establishes that: “The Provincial Electoral Board may only order the number of votes in a ballot box to be checked to establish whether it corresponds to the figures given in the Polling Board’s tally sheets in the event of numerical inconsistency”.
That is, the only way to solve these irregularities was to count the votes again. The CNE decided to consider the tally sheets with inconsistencies as “having variations” but the concept of “tally sheets with variations” did not exist in any electoral regulations.
On that note everything was described as a “variation”. The OAS report said: “Throughout the night, from the first moments when the tally sheets started to arrive at the Intermediate Scrutiny Boards and Provincial Electoral Boards, there were some that were marked as having “variations”. It was possible to corroborate that the variation was due to: Deficiencies in the legality of the tally sheets because of the absence of the mandatory signatures of the polling stations’ president and secretaries. Inconsistencies in the results of the votes counted by the Boards compared to the numbers recorded on the tally sheets. Deficiencies such as the failure to register on the heading of the tally sheets the number of votes corresponding to the polling station’s roll”.
The next day, Simon played a key role
On May 8, faced by the obligation to open the ballot boxes and count each and every vote to correct the tally sheets that were not validated, President Omar Simon devised a misnamed manual “to proceed to recount the votes”.
The contents of this guide were developed to avoid opening the boxes. An example: “If the numerical inconsistency is due to the fact that the total of votes cast for the options: YES, NO, BLANK and VOID, is greater than the number of voters, we will use the second copy of the tally sheet or auxiliary ballot to verify that information”.
That is, compare the original tally sheets, stored in the ballot boxes, with the copies submitted for registration by the scrutiny boards. But that did not solve the problem because the number of inconsistencies was too large.
In view of these facts, another question arose: How did the computer system accept so many inconsistencies? CNE advisor Marcia Caicedo stated that the software was reprogrammed to accept inconsistencies in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas.
The events led the political parties to present a formal complaint to the OAS’ observers including this anomaly and the request that all non-validated tally sheets should be treated as pending and every vote counted again.
The OAS report stated: “The provinces with the highest number of tally sheets with variations were Los Ríos, Manabí, El Oro, Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo, and it took them seven days to complete the process of counting the votes and transmitting the data. It is important to highlight that the provinces of Pichincha and Guayas needed to request an exceptional extension after having gone over the legal limit for the presentation of results, which they transmitted to the CNE on May 18 and 19. The number of tally sheets with errors in these two provinces reached 74% and 72%, respectively”.
Bearing all this in mind, how did the CNE dare give results of the quick count in the early hours of May 8, six hours after the polls closed?
The error in counting the votes at each of the 17,000 polling stations was allegedly caused by a lack of training of their members.
The OAS report stated the CNE distributed a guide for members of the Polling Boards, which showed the methodology for counting the votes for every question. “It was observed that certain Polling Boards (JRV) used their own system because of the volume of votes to count, failing to comply with the CNE’s instructions. Furthermore, the design of the tally sheet lacked a box in which to write the total number of votes for each of the questions that would enable one to compare numerically the number of options for each question (YES, NO, VOID or BLANK) against the total number of voters. The lack of preparation, the tally sheets’ design, the number of ballots and number of questions to be scrutinized, were factors that contributed to the slowness observed in the counting process”.
Also, the training processes were only attended by 33% of the members of the Polling Boards (JRV). “In the provinces with the greatest number of voters (Azuay, Guayas, Pichincha, Manabí and Los Ríos) the training averages were lower still, around 25%,” stated the OAS.
All this information was never established as part of the public debate, the media were not able to understand the gravity of the events, the major complainants, therefore, were silenced.