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I just saw this blog coming up. I loved the way the guy wrote everything.. still the message is sad
How Teustepe was won - Election fraud in Nicaragua
During Sunday's municipal elections in Nicaragua, groups of young men and women voted multiple times with the help of Sandinista election authorities. I know that because I stood at a voting center and watched it happen. I can say with near certainty that the election in the municipality of Teustepe was stolen by the FSLN and I'm confident that similar irregularities in other municipalities nationwide added up to tens of thousands of fraudulent votes for the governing party. Additionally, many opposition voters were prevented from exercising their democratic rights due manipulations of the voter lists and intimidation at the polling location. I've studied and written about elections in Latin America for almost 15 years. This was the first time I watched in person as fraud was committed.
I volunteered to travel with several people from the US embassy to the department of Boaco, where we visited 17 voting centers containing about 50 JRVs, the mesas where people vote on election day. Though traveling with a US embassy team, what I write here are my own independent observations and opinions and do not represent the views of the US embassy or government (the US government statement on the elections is here). Also, I was not an accredited observer with Nicaragua's CSE. I could enter most of the voting locations, speak with officials and voters outside, and watch the lines because those were public areas. However, I could not enter the JRVs, observe the actual voting or speak with the officials and poll watchers from the parties inside the JRVs.
In general, my impression was that voter turnout was very low. Election officials at each site claimed they had been very busy all day except the moment that we showed up. In the morning, election officials said "You know how Nicaraguans are, they all wait until the last minute." At noon it was, "They must be having lunch and will come vote afterward." Later in the day I heard, "You know how Nicaraguans are, they all showed up first thing in the morning to vote." I heard different excuses throughout the day of why the lines were virtually empty even while officials insisted turnout was strong.
However, in spite of low turnout, I consistently saw voters struggling to find their names on the voting rolls. At small sites, often one of the few voters present couldn't find their name on the "padron" list of voters. When visiting the larger sites, I saw numerous voters going from list to list looking for their name after they learned that they had been moved from the location where they had voted previously. I also met several voters who said they appeared on the list posted on the wall but not on the list inside the book at the JRV, meaning they could not vote. The civil society group IPADE estimates that 20% of voters did not appear on the padron. Even one FSLN official indicated that about 10% of the voters who showed up at his small voting location couldn't find their names. Opposition observers said many of their voters were unable to vote due to names being moved, something they call "raton loco" because voters are forced to go from location to location looking for their voting spot like a rat in a maze.
Throughout the day, I saw election irregularities as well as things that just struck me as strange.
In the city of Boaco, the 11 JRVs I visited early morning all opened up 30-60 minutes late. People in line said that the officials from different parties inside were arguing over the blank ballot counts and the presence of accredited or non-accredited poll watchers. Low turnout meant the lines never got longer than about 15 people, even where they opened an hour late.
At a location in Camoapa, the voting center coordinator, someone who was likely to have voted that morning, had no ink on her thumb. "Did you vote today?" She initially answered, "No." Then she backtracked, "Oh, I did vote this morning, but the ink rubbed off my thumb due to the rain and all the paperwork I've been handling." It was an odd exchange.
In two voting locations in San Lorenzo, the voting booths were turned so that election officials could all watch the voter mark his or her ballot. It was a clear violation of voter privacy in a location where people may gain or lose jobs based on whether they vote for the ruling party. At another location in San Lorenzo, I watched a young woman vote around 2PM when it was fairly clear she had been sitting there for hours hanging out with the Sandinistas keeping a tally sheet of voters.
In a majority of the locations visited, groups of young men and women who were almost certainly Sandinistas stood around. I speculated throughout the day as to what they were up to. Were they monitoring which people voted? Were they there to "defend the vote" if violence occurred? Were they meant to be intimidating or threatening to opposition voters who appeared? Was it just a good place to hang out with friends on a day off?
Then we arrived in Teustepe.
It was immediately apparent something was wrong when I walked into the voting center at the Instituto La Amistad in Teustepe around 2:30PM. The location is a school where five classrooms were serving as JRVs. JRV number 4 was packed with 10-20 voters and more voters kept joining the line, keeping it quite busy. Meanwhile, the other JRVs were practically empty of voting lines, the same low turnout seen at other voting sites.
Authorities there initially said it was an anomaly, lots of people just happened to show up at the same time we arrived. Then they indicated they were using an anexo rule at that JRV, allowing voters to be added to the padron election list if they had a valid excuse, but which took extra time slowing the line.
About ten minutes after I arrived, a member of the electoral police, a position controlled by the Sandinista party, walked up to a young man standing near me, handed him an ID card, and pointed to the back of the line at JRV 4. This surprised me because I had already seen that same man walk into the JRV and vote just a few minutes before.
I watched for a bit longer and saw more ID cards distributed by electoral police and more young men and women who were still rubbing ink off their thumb from previous voting get back in line to vote again. Over the next 30 minutes, I personally saw at least five more people vote twice at JRV 4, one guy vote three times, and several others vote in spite of having ink on their finger from voting prior to our arrival. Other young men and women appeared to hang around after voting, wiping the ink off their thumb and looking for the signal from the authorities at the voting center that they should get back in line. While the biggest problem was JRV 4, which had a long line that never subsided, I saw at least three cases of young men voting multiple times at other JRVs at that site. Judging by their actions, many of the young men and women standing around that voting center appear to have been there for a lengthy period of time voting.
This wasn't a small abuse by one or two people. What I witnessed was a systemic electoral fraud that involved the voting site coordinator, the electoral police and over a dozen Sandinista activists who were standing around the voting center. The electoral police high fived several of the men as they walked in an out of the JRVs to vote and kept tally sheets on their desks of how many "jovenes" and "adultos" had voted (all of those voting multiple times appeared under 20 years old). The voting center coordinator handed out cigarettes to the voters while they waited to vote again. As I was not an accredited observer, I could not enter the JRV to see how or why the authorities allowed these same people to continue voting, but I assume that the people inside JRV 4 must have recognized the same people walking in their door to vote more than once and were part of the fraud.
To be clear, I did not hide the fact I was watching them vote. I was standing fifteen feet from the line of voters and I'm a big conspicuous gringo who nobody is going to mistake for a local voter. At one point, the voting center coordinator, a Sandinista-appointed official, walked up to me and asked, "Are you here observing?" wanting to know if I had credentials from the CSE to be an international observer. My response, as it was elsewhere during the day, was, "No, just watching and learning about the process." He nodded in approval, then stepped away. He walked back a minute later with an Army solider and pointed at me indicating the soldier should watch me. Nothing else intimidating was done and they never asked me to leave. The fact the election authorities and Sandinista activists continued to cheat while I was standing right there suggests they really didn't care if they were seen breaking the rules.
The next morning, we stopped by the Instituto La Amistad to see the results. Nicaraguan law says all the JRVs must post their results outside the door. When we arrived, the results had been torn off for JRV 4, but remained posted for the other JRVs. With the other results combined with data from the CSE website, I was able to figure out the numbers from JRV 4. Here are the numbers for the main parties at the five JRVs at that site:
JRV 1: FSLN 50, PLI 26
JRV 2: FSLN 98, PLI 89
JRV 3: FSLN 105, PLI 96
JRV 4: FSLN 238, PLI 135
JRV 5: FSLN 108, PLI 122
Even if I hadn't seen the multiple voting firsthand, the numbers here should tell you that fraud occurred. The likelihood of a single JRV in an opposition-leaning area having overwhelming turnout for the FSLN so different from the other JRVs at the same site is almost statistically impossible. Considering that JRVs have a maximum of around 400 voters, the fact JRV 4 had over 90% turnout while most others were below 50% is also quite improbable. Meanwhile, I also saw some of the multiple voters enter the other JRVs, meaning the FSLN totals are likely inflated in the other JRVs as well.
Having seen the fraud and multiple voting in Teustepe, other things I saw on election day began to make more sense - the voting center coordinator in Camoapa who had the ink rubbed off her thumb and lied about it, the Sandinista girl in San Lorenzo who voted at 2PM even though it was clear she had been sitting at that site for several hours, the dozen young men at a site in rural Boaco who were standing around the voting rolls looking at names but seemed to be waiting for us to leave and couldn't answer whether they had voted, the young man in urban Boaco who was rubbing his ink-stained thumb into his jeans while he scanned the voter rolls as if looking for his name. While I didn't personally witness those people vote multiple times the way I did in Teustepe, it's very likely that they and many others did. When you combine multiple votes by Sandinista activists with the opposition voters removed from the voter lists, it points to elections that were stolen.
Perhaps the most surreal moment of election day occurred at the second voting location we visited in Teustepe. Having watched the voter fraud at Instituto La Amistad for long enough, we drove to another voting location across town, which was mostly empty of voters. Coincidentally, two of the young men who I had seen vote twice at Amistad had biked over and were hanging out in front with some of their friends. We recognized them; they recognized us. "So, how many times did you vote today?" The first one said "5". After a pause, the second one said, "13." There was no hint of shame or concern that they were admitting to fraud. They seemed proud. The second guy gave a thumbs up and smiled. The ink from his previous round of voting had already been rubbed off his thumb. There were still two hours to go before the polls closed.
Posted Yesterday by boz
At the bottom of each page are the result of the races for mayor in each town where the winning party percentage is hi-lighted in red. Look at RAAN. The top three towns listed - Waspan, Puerto Cabezas & Prinzapolka - indicate the winners are Sandinistas, but the highest percent of total votes belong to the YATAMA party. Is it just a typo, or aren't they allowed to win?
The only 'departments' (beyond RAAN & RAAS) that really gave the Sandinistas competition was Jinotega, Nuevo Segovia & Chontales. All those areas are home to more than a few old Contras.
It seems that everywhere the final vote count was close, the edge went to FSLN. Thanks to the CSE, I suppose.
Thanks for the linkage Juanno!
Elsewhere on the web they confirm that the indigenous peoples party Yatama won in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous region in Bilwi/Puerto Cabezas, Prinzapolka and Waspan.
I think the operator was so used to highlighting the FSLN victories in red that he got carried away.
San Nicolas results are interesting. When you look at the numbers by voting location you see what one would think is totally crazy but, living here, they make sense.
My standard joke here is that everyone north of the road into the finca is PLC, everyone south is PLC. The reality is that it is close to the truth. There really are small communities with very different politics here. While there were less than 4000 votes in total, you see amazing differences in vote percentages from location to location. The most radical was 85.03% for the FSLN in Escuela La Libertad (354 votes total) and 83.05% for the PLC in Escuela Madre Teresa de Calcutta (295 total votes).
Then, for amusement, we have the PC vote count. One vote total, placed in Escuela La Laguna. At least that person will know his vote was counted.
"When you give food to the poor, they call you a saint. When you ask why the poor have no food, they call you a communist."
— -- Archbishop Helder Camara