I promised comments when the April-2 presidential election in Ecuador was over and done with on how the loser could have improved his campaign. Both had grave problems, believe me.
The problem is that today, 3 days after the election, the election is still undecided.
Yes, the official count is in. It was announced yesterday. With 99.65% of the votes tabulated:
5,057,149 for Lenin Moreno or 51.16%. A self-proclaimed "revolutionary," he is the choice of the party in power.
4,827,753 for Guillermo Lasso or 48.84%. He is a multi-millionaire conservative banker from Guayaquil.
Guillermo Lasso is refusing to accept the official results. He claims that a massive "fraude electoral" took place in which, among other things, vote totals in precincts he won were reversed and his votes were attributed to Moreno.
Lasso says he has solid proof that he won the election and will legally contest it. Awaiting Judgment Day, his followers are holding massive street demonstrations demanding a vote-by-vote recount.
(1) Forget percentages. The hard vote total separating the two candidates is almost 230,000. That means if 115,000 were taken from Moreno and given to Lasso, there would be a tie. In politics, all things are possible; not all things are probable. I can tell you from experience that a switch of over 100,000 votes is not probable.
(2) The Gallup-affiliated CEDATOS polling firm in Quito conducted exit polls. The results were broadcast moments after the election was over; they showed Lasso won with 53% of the vote. Needless to say, uproarious celebrations broke out at Lasso headquarters; he was even interviewed on TV as the probable president-elect.
The reception by Lenin Moreno supporters of the CEDATOS announcement was slightly less than cordial.
In 20 years of political polling, I never conducted exit polls. My methodology for election- night reporting for the media and candidates was based entirely on what people DID, not what they SAID.
Sidebar: I personally felt, and still do, there was something indecent about asking somebody I knew -- much less somebody I didn´t know -- how they voted.
As for what people DID:
There is a second technique for knowing quickly who won an election. It is the technique I used and is infinitely more reliable than exit polls.
(i) You develop a sample of precincts and send observers to them on election night.
(ii) After the voting ends, the results are publicly posted on the precinct wall.
(iii) Your observers phone in the results to a center -- mine was a TV station or campaign headquarters -- where they are added up. In half an hour I announced the results. We were never wrong.
With the precinct-sample technique you know not only who won and by how much; you also know if an election was too close to call. In our case a "too close to call" election was defined quantitatively, as one in which less 3,500 votes separated the candidates. Our sample of 34 precincts statewide was stratified, not random, i.e., over a 20-year period it had called every statewide election -- primaries and generals, from president and senator to secretary of state and appeals court judge -- correctly to within plus/minus 2.6%.
Various organizations in Ecuador employ the sample-precinct technique or "conteo rápido." The organization in which I have the most confidence declared the Lasso-Moreno race too close to call.
Finally, in contrast to CEDATOS, two polling organizations called the election narrowly for Moreno.
You get the picture. The word "turmoil" describes election night in Ecuador.
(3) With great pride, the CNE -- the government agency responsible for elections in Ecuador -- has the practice of announcing at 8:00, three hours after voting ends, the results with 90% of the votes tabulated. One problem, gentlemen: your early announcement is tipping off election crews in the field. If your publicly-declared results are close, the crews can spring into action and set in motion a fraud. (In Mexico they are called "mapaches" -- raccoons. In a house somewhere they steal with style, with dainty fingers falsify signatures, wash and clean ballots). On the other hand, if the results show the winner is out of reach, the crews shrug, go home.
No early official announcement, then, is better than a partial one of 90%. CNE, you are playing with fire.
(4) The all-time expert in election fraud techniques was Hoyt Clifton, state elections supervisor in a Secretary of State´s office. I had the privilege of working with Hoyt as an expert witness on three political cases in federal court. I ate lunch with him many times at the local political watering hole 200 yards from his office.
I will never forget our first discussion of how to rig an election It was back in the days when voting machines were the mechanical hand-crank type:
"This is all you need to fix an election," Hoyt said. He held up a paperclip.
This blog has revealed various election fraud techniques. See in particular our posts of February 13, 2013 ("Election Fraud 101: Look Out, Ecuador") and February 19, 2013 ("Election Fraud 101: Ecuador Watched out.") For Americans who think it "can´t happen here," think again: our post of December 30, 2010 ("You Be The Judge") showed how the Florida presidential election of 2000 was probably stolen. This blog has published the "Judge" article 6-7 times; the mainstream media continues to censor it.
I see no need to elaborate further the tricks of the election fraud trade. Let´s just say there are people out there who can cheat you out of your wallet, shoes and the shirt on your back without you seeing or feeling a thing.
* * *
I do not know if last Sunday a massive election scam was pulled off in Ecuador. I do, however, know three things:
(i) Lasso can make his case easily, quickly. His party CREO has every one of the hand-counted precinct and their tables totals (over 4,000). All he has to do is compare those totals with the ones officially certified by the CNE.
Put-up-or-shut-up time for Lasso is rapidly approaching.
(ii) If in fact the election was stolen by switching precinct vote totals, all I can say is the criminals were babes in the woods in the election fraud game. For the reason just given, their work will be easily, swiftly and incontrovertibly detected.
(iii) For those who favor recounts in close elections:
Should recounts be (i) legally-required and (ii) automatic? If so, under what circumstances? Most importantly, how "close" is close? Who can institute a recount -- any voter or group of voters? Who should pay for a recount?
There is a forest of issues in the recount question. I definitely favor an automatic, legally-mandated and publicly-financed recount if the margin of victory is less than 1%. What about 1 1/2%? 2%? For statewide elections only? If a candidate who lost pays for a recount, and the recount proves he won, should he get his money back? Such questions must be answered locally.
To acquire a preliminary idea of the issues which spring up and must be addressed in electoral recounts, see this article.
* * *
A concluding note on Ecuador:
What happens if
(i) Lasso convincingly shows fraud occurred and he won the election -- and
(ii) nevertheless, the CNE will not allow a vote-by-vote recount?
In that case, better use your imagination, dear reader -- and quickly.
UPDATE, April 6. Lasso claimed today he won with 50.5% of the vote.
Alianza País, the party in power and of Lenín Moreno, petitioned the CNE today to have a recount; they say they want to prove no fraud occurred. Under the circumstances, their petition is the reasonable and responsible thing to do.
Beware, however, of a possible kewpie-pie ga-game known in the trade as "Secret Letter Bill":*
(i) Alianza País publicly announces it wants a recount to clear up any doubt about a fraud. (ii) Alianza País secretly sends a letter to the CNE telling it to forbid the recount.
(iii) The CNE, which constitutionally is an independent body, announces: sorry about a recount; no can do.
(iv) The AP goes on TV. shrugs, mumbles gosh what a shame...oh well, we tried...
AP, if you think that ploy will fool anybody, run it by your friendly neighborhood 14-year-old. He or she will be happy to set you straight.
The media reported yesterday that the Escuela Politécnica Nacional, which conducted the precinct sample-based ("conteo rápido") election night report, used precinct data furnished by the government (CNE). Needless to say, it is preferable for election-night reporting organizations to have their own people in the field to provide precinct vote totals. I never did it any other way, and would refuse to do so now.
UPDATE, April 15. The CNE has announced that it will perform a recount next week; however, the recount will only be partial. 1,275,450 will be recounted out of almost 10 million cast.
Sorry, CNE, any recount that is not 100%-complete is not acceptable. Here is why.
A candidate who is behind could demand a recount ONLY in precincts that, based on prior elections, were (i) favorable to him but (ii) less favorable than anticipated. The candidate could also include in the recount (iii) favorable precincts where the turnout was lower than expected.
If the recount occurs ONLY of those precincts and the loser candidate wins, he may have stolen the election. It is always possible the precincts NOT recounted could tell exactly the opposite story. In Ecuador´s case, those precincts are the vast majority.
What we are recommending for all recounts everywhere: all or nothing.
*"Secret Letter Bill" was a college professor who, when asked by any student for a recommendation to graduate school, would cheerfully comply -- only to send a secret letter to the recipient of the recommendation telling him to ignore it; the student was a jerk, etc.