Above photo: Juan Karita/AP.
UPDATE: 12:48 p.m. ET: De facto president Jeanine Anez has posted a message on Twitter congratulating Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca on their apparent victory in today’s election.
Aún no tenemos cómputo oficial, pero por los datos con los que contamos, el Sr. Arce y el Sr. Choquehuanca han ganado la elección. Felicito a los ganadores y les pido gobernar pensando en Bolivia y en la democracia.
— Jeanine Añez Chavez (@JeanineAnez) October 19, 2020
UPDATE 12:12 p.m. ET: Just after midnight, Unitel reported results of its quick count, conducted by Ciesmori. These are unofficial results from a private company, the official results are still processing and will take days. Nevertheless, the results of the quick count show Luis Arce of the MAS party receiving 52.4 percent of the vote and Carlos Mesa of the CC party receiving 31.5 percent of the vote.
#AsíDecidimos2020 | Conteo rápido al 95%
CC: 31.5 %
Datos no oficiales. pic.twitter.com/Us2QKfy5KU
— Unitel Bolivia (@unitelbolivia) October 19, 2020
UPDATE 11:47 p.m. ET: Still no release of quick counts, which has generated expressions of concern from MAS leaders and some observers, such as Fernando Lugo, the former president of Paraguay and head of the COPPPAL observer delegation. Former presidential candidate (and official in the de facto government among many other titles) Jorge Quiroga expressed his own frustration with the lack of results. The official results are still progressing, albeit slowly (as anticipated). At the time of this update, 3.6 percent of tally sheets have been counted. Again, it could be many days before there is anything close to a definitive result. Meanwhile, Bret Gustafson tweets:
A bunch of young men are in the streets around the departmental electoral commission in Santa Cruz – saying they want the results now. Some are representatives of the Union Juvenil Cruceñista (right-wing) saying they are guarding the vote. Cops say go homehttps://t.co/7AkfnhqWCP pic.twitter.com/uL0Qt6zb3v
— Bret Gustafson (@bretgustafson) October 19, 2020
UPDATE 9:12 p.m. ET: Private quick counts have yet to be released (though many fakes one have been circulating). At the time of this update, just over 13,000 valid votes have been processed in the official results system (available here). Those numbers are moving quickly, however, and TSE president Salvador Romero just told the press that the processing will pick up pace after 9:30 p.m.
Most of the earliest votes counted are from abroad, but the first domestic tally sheets have begun appearing in the system. In the 2019 election there were more than 33,000 valid votes counted in Argentina – with MAS obtaining 75.9 percent and CC 14.3 percent. Just a small fraction of that has been processed tonight (almost 1,900 so far), but the early returns are looking similar. On the 15 tally sheets processed at the time of the update, MAS obtained 79.4 percent and CC 14.6 percent. It is, however, far too early to read too much into any results.
UPDATE 8:40 p.m. ET: There are reports of an increased security presence outside the MAS campaign office in Sopocachi. Local press reported that some in the neighborhood began banging pots and pans in opposition to MAS candidate, Luis Arce. Ana Vanessa Herrero of the Washington Post tweets:
A local TV broadcasted the deployment of dozens of cops in front of the MAS campaign headquarters in La Paz.
According to the reporter, Luis Arce was asked to leave the facilities, ,while more cops arrive to block the roads around the house. https://t.co/xIl7QigTwL
— Ana Vanessa Herrero (@AnaVHerrero) October 19, 2020
UPDATE 6:58 p.m.: An observer in Santa Cruz reported at 6:02 p.m.: “In Barrio 4 de Noviembre, we noted an almost complete absence of MAS delegates at the tables … We just saw a vote counter leave his hand paused on the tally sheet and not record a MAS vote, but a person watching spoke up and the vote was recorded.”
UPDATE 6:46 p.m. ET: An observer reported at 5:56 p.m.: “In Santa Rosita, there was a table with one too many votes and a long debate on what to do. In the end they decided not to annul the vote, but to remove one at random and send the acta to the TED with an explanation of what they had decided. No MAS delegates present. I did not stay there for the count.”
UPDATE 6:07 p.m. ET: The official results system is now live here. Vote totals will be posted as each tally sheet is processed in department electoral tribunals across the country. In general, tally sheets from urban areas will arrive earlier. Full results will take days, not hours.
UPDATE 5:49 p.m. ET: Bolivia Verifica notes that information circulating about pre-marked ballots for the MAS in Santa Cruz is false.
UPDATE 5:34 p.m. ET: Ombudsperson Nadia Cruz released data from her office’s electoral accompaniment work throughout the day. The data come from 624 voting centers in 43 municipalities. Despite long lines and disorganization, Cruz noted the overall calm atmosphere of election day. The analysis showed there was no police or military presence in just 3.4 percent of voting centers visited; 13.6 percent did not have an informational point; 11.6 percent did not have a list of eligible voters posted; 4.7 percent did not have an electoral notary present. The full note is available here.
UPDATE 5:16 p.m. ET: Observers on the ground are relaying anecdotal reports that MAS delegates are absent from a number of voting centers. In Santa Cruz, one observer notes “the fear of being identified with MAS in some neighborhoods is strong” after visiting a voting center without any MAS delegate present. Voting has now officially come to a close.
UPDATE 4:48 p.m. ET: Juan Carlos Núñez, the director of Fundacion Jubileo, which is planning to release it’s own unofficial quick count this evening, reports difficulties in taking photos of tally sheets especially in rural areas. Notes confusion after the TSE’s decision not to use the DIREPRE preliminary results system.
Voting in Bolivia will be coming to a close shortly and the all-important counting process will begin. The TSE noted that voting centers with lines will remain open. Tally sheets are produced at each voting table at the conclusion of the count, copies are provided to party delegates as well as the notary present. There is no problem with taking photos of tally sheets.
UPDATE 4:20 p.m. ET: As polling centers abroad close, a number of fake images of vote total have circulated on social networks, Bolivia Verifica notes. A reminder that the TSE has scrapped the DIREPRE preliminary results system. Official results will begin being processed this evening, but expectations are that it will take at least a couple of days until all votes are counted.
UPDATE 3:58 p.m. ET: Thomas Becker, Supervisor of the University Network for Human Rights, Tweeted from Senkata, site of an infamous post-coup massacre in November:
Almost a year after the military shot dozens of people in Senkata, vecinos went to the polls. After the government deployed thousands of soldiers last night, a fear of more violence pervades the streets. #Bolivia pic.twitter.com/LSrYRVFHiN
— Thomas Becker (@mrtommybecker) October 18, 2020
UPDATE 3:48 p.m.: An observer reports from the Bella Vista center in La Paz: “Two people (one a senior citizen) reported they had been purged from voting list. They complained bitterly, since they voted in this place last year. They are very distressed because since voting is mandatory they need proof that they voted to carry out basic bank transactions.”
Code Pink observer Leonardo Flores Tweeted “So far, I’ve seen two people turned away from voting centers, as they had apparently been disqualified. Both were senior women, one indigenous.” (See his thread on this here.)
UPDATE 3:31 p.m.: Ombudsperson Nadia Cruz told the press that there were some 200 individuals deployed across the country to monitor the human rights situation in the context of today’s elections. Cruz also said she had reported last night’s mobilization of the military to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. Cruz held a press conference earlier today, available here.
UPDATE 2:35 p.m.: The Progressive International’s David Adler recorded an update on its team’s observations at eight voting centers so far today:
Half-way through Election Day, the @ProgIntl delegation has visited 8 voting stations across El Alto & La Paz.
— Progressive International (@ProgIntl) October 18, 2020
UPDATE 2:23 p.m.: An observer in Santa Cruz reported at 1:39 p.m.: “Just observed vote by candidate Brenda Segovia [was detained last week, and her campaign office was attacked]. There were people in white laying in wait for her who dispersed when I came in.” He writes, “They were inside and went out when I came in. I waited from inside and they yelled at her as she approached, but only from a distance.”
UPDATE 2:04 p.m. ET: TSE head Salvador Romero announced that the counting of votes from precincts abroad will begin at 5:00 p.m. ET, with counting of votes from departmental precincts to start at 6:00 p.m. ET.
UPDATE 1:40 p.m. ET: The TSE says that voting has now ended in Spain, and presumably elsewhere in Europe. Voting is also over in Asia, where the day’s first votes were cast.
In Bolivian elections, eligible voters living abroad must vote on election day.
UPDATE 1:28 p.m. ET: Long lines are being reported by journalists and observers at some locations in La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Potosí, Tarija, and elsewhere. El Deber reports that TSE president Salvador Romero has said that people who were unable to vote in the morning, due to long lines, will be able to vote in the afternoon. As El Deber reports, voter cards indicate whether voters should vote in the morning or the afternoon, but Romero says this is only a recommendation.
UPDATE 12:50 p.m. ET: An observer in Santa Cruz reports a “Military presence outside voting place in Plan 3000.” On Twitter, La Razon noted the presence of armed members of the military in various voting centers in La Paz:
En varios recintos de votación es común la presencia de militares con armas de reglamento, como en el caso del colegio San Martín, en la zona de Villa San Antonio de La Paz. Video: Óscar Capriles-La Razón pic.twitter.com/sHELsO6oxu
— La Razón Digital (@LaRazon_Bolivia) October 18, 2020
UPDATE 12:29 p.m. ET: An observer on the ground met earlier with the Asociación Pro Derechos Bolivianos. The rights group expressed three main concerns at the moment: 1) general confusion, e.g., voting places being changed; 2) lack of organization, which they attribute to TSE; 3) issues of security, as nothing is being done about threats coming from shock or paramilitary groups.
UPDATE 12:15 p.m. ET: An observer in Santa Cruz reported at 11:57 a.m.: “Military presence outside voting place in Plan 3000. Inside delegates are wearing armbands, not caps, including Creemos.” He reports he had previously been told that “the delegates should be wearing armbands, not caps, at the polling place, but should not vote with their armbands on.”
UPDATE 11:35 a.m. ET: Los Tiempos reports that leading conservative candidate Carlos Mesa is urging calm and patience. “We are going to act with great prudence, knowing that any declaration can generate unnecessary conflicts,” he told the media at the voting center where he cast his ballot. These sentiments echo a statement from his CC party regarding the TSE’s announcement last night that the preliminary count would be scrapped: “it is not ideal, but we understand it, we are going to be patient and we ask the population to be the same.”
UPDATE 11:05 a.m. ET: An observer in Santa Cruz reported long lines at the Colegio San Martín in the 4 de Noviembre neighborhood at 10:26 a.m., where there are 33 voting tables. “Only police at the door but Creemos delegates are wearing party caps at the tables, and the MAS is objecting.” Media outlets have reported long lines at many polling centers this morning.
UPDATE 10:37 a.m. ET: Just before 10:00 a.m. ET, journalist Ollie Vargas Tweeted from Miraflores in La Paz:
First tensions break out in Bolivia's elections. In the middle class area of Miraflores, La Paz, where Luis Arce just voted. Coup supporters targeted Arce and even journalists, I was called a 'criminal' for filming their aggressive & violent behaviour. pic.twitter.com/BsFzfaTDCO
— Ollie Vargas (@OVargas52) October 18, 2020
UPDATE 10:28 a.m. ET: Observer David Adler, of the Progressive International observers’ delegation, Tweeted a half hour ago from Ciudad Satélite in El Alto:
Here is the scene in Ciudad Satélite the morning of the elections in Bolivia. Peaceful, orderly, and hopeful. pic.twitter.com/JSJielPqpf
— David Adler (@davidrkadler) October 18, 2020
UPDATE 9:24 a.m. ET: Voting began abroad last night. In Japan and China, the vote has already come to a close — though there were only limited numbers of registered voters. In Barcelona, Spain (the country is home to one of the largest Bolivian populations) El Deber this morning reported a delay in opening and that some were unable to vote. There had been concerns in recent days that some countries had yet to provide authorization for the opening of voting centers. In Chile, home to more than 32,000 registered Bolivian voters, voting is only due to take place in Santiago as much of the rest of Chile remains under strict coronavirus lockdown. Some 28,000 Bolivians in Chile reside outside of Santiago. There will be no vote in Panama today.
UPDATE 9:18 a.m. ET: Last night, the president of the TSE, Salvador Romero, announced that, in order to avoid confusion and focus on the official results, there would not be a preliminary results system as in last year’s election. The surprise announcement came after CEPR expressed concern earlier in the week about changes made to the preliminary results system, known as DIREPRE (concerns that were echoed by US Senator Ed Markey, among others).
The TSE had planned to only release partially disaggregated data with the preliminary results, which would have made it difficult to determine how representative those initial results were. In the 2019 vote, initial results provided through the preliminary results system (then known as TREP), appeared to show the election headed toward a second round. However, as additional votes came in, the MAS party continued to extend its advantage – eventually securing more than a 10 percentage point lead in the official results.
There was a concern this year that parties would again seize on those partial and non-representative results to claim a definitive result before all votes were actually counted. Now, without preliminary results, the country will have to wait for the much slower, but more thorough, official results (which are processed through the Computo system). The decision to scrap the DIREPRE received support from many international observer groups, including the OAS, Carter Center, and UN. The parties of the three leading candidates all released statements last night following the announcement, expressing various levels of concern over the decision.
It is interesting to note that allegations of electoral fraud in last year’s vote focused predominantly on the non-binding preliminary results system. In the OAS’s audit of the election, the vast majority of findings related to the TREP. In March, CEPR published an 82-page report detailing myriad errors in the OAS’s audit. One critique was that the OAS focused on a legally non-binding preliminary vote count. That the OAS would now ratify the decision to stop the preliminary system all together is yet another indication that allegations of fraud in last year’s vote were unsubstantiated.
While the decision to stop the DIREPRE may help avoid confusion, the lack of a preliminary results system is an overall blow to electoral transparency. In 2019, the TSE released detailed results data in downloadable Excel documents as the preliminary system tallied votes and also released photos of each tally sheet. Having two records of the results, processed in distinct manners (as is the case with the preliminary system and the Computo) can serve as an important check against potential fraud as the results from the two systems can be compared against one another.
While there will be no preliminary results announced by the TSE today, a number of exit polls are expected this evening. Given the problems of sample bias and the wide margin for error in these polls, it is vital that all actors, especially international observer missions, avoid reading too much into these early snapshots and wait for all the votes to be counted. It is also important to keep in mind that votes processed through the official Computo system are physically transported from voting centers to department electoral offices for processing. The first votes to be processed will therefore most likely be from more urban areas and will not be representative of the overall results. In 2019, the MAS party consistently increased its overall vote share as the official tally progressed.
UPDATE 9:09 a.m. ET: Election observers were alarmed to see a large presence of combined military and police forces in the streets last night in La Paz, Cochabamba, and elsewhere — an unusual occurrence for a Bolivian election. The Cochabamba-based Andean Information Network noted on Twitter: “Bolivia’s electoral law states that the National Electoral Court commands the security forces on election day (Art. 148). Forces must be confined to their bases until voting ends. (Art. 149). Añez/Murillo’s militarization of the streets is a clear violation of Bolivian law.”
Áñez says the presence of security forces in the streets will ensure that the elections are “transparent, free, and without pressure.”
Bolivians go to the polls today, Sunday, October 18, in the first general elections since the last democratically elected president, Evo Morales, was forced out in a military coup last November, two months before his term had ended and despite election results showing he had won another term in a first-round election victory. Today’s elections had been postponed twice: first from May to September, and then from September to October. While Jeanine Áñez, whose party had received just 4 percent of the vote last year, had taken office vowing to be a caretaker president until new elections were organized, her government enacted significant policy reforms and Áñez herself was running as a presidential candidate until she dropped out in mid-September.
The leading candidates in these elections are former economy minister Luis Arce of Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party; and Carlos Mesa of Comunidad Ciudadana (CC), a conservative former president who ran second to Morales in last year’s elections. The only other candidate anticipated to receive more than 3 percent of the vote is Fernando Camacho, a businessman and right-wing activist from Santa Cruz. A dispersed field of candidates has narrowed in recent weeks as pressure built to consolidate behind Mesa as the only option in defeating the MAS.
The Organization of American States (OAS) is being tasked with again determining the legitimacy of the electoral process and results, despite its role in arbitrarily delegitimizing the results of last year’s elections and paving the way for the coup that followed. The OAS is joined by delegations of election monitors from the European Union, the Carter Center, the Grupo de Puebla, the Progressive International, Parlasur, COPPAL, Code Pink, academics with expertise on Bolivia and Latin America, and others.
Human rights leaders in Argentina, including Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, have filed a complaint against Almagro and the OAS Electoral Observer Mission before the UN’s Office of the High Commission on Human Rights. This year’s OAS observation mission is led by the same individual that led last year’s.
This time, the OAS is calling on everyone to respect the results of the election as reported. This despite Almagro raising the possibility of another MAS “fraud” after meeting with de facto interior minister Arturo Murillo in Washington DC last month. The OAS — and other international entities — however, have said little about the worrying pre-election atmosphere.
For example, in an incident seen by many as political persecution, MAS legislative candidate Brenda Segovia was arrested in Santa Cruz on Monday, October 12, following a far-right group attack on a MAS office in her neighborhood. The de facto authorities have also slapped various MAS leaders, among them candidate Luis Arce, with charges that include “sedition,” “terrorism” and “corruption” that are seen by many as a form of political persecution and harassment. Human Rights Watch has examined other cases of charges against former Morales officials that “appear to be politically motivated.”
De facto government officials, in particular Interior Minister Arturo Murillo, have denounced the MAS party and stoked fear in deeply concerning ways that call into question the fairness of the electoral process under its control. On Friday, October 16, the Minister of Justice accused the MAS of planning to “kill people” if it loses the elections.
They have also singled out some independent international election observers, referring to them as “agitators,” and warning they could be jailed or “put on a plane.” Members of the Code Pink delegation were stalked en route to Bolivia, with photos of them posted online along with incendiary messages describing them as “terrorists.” On October 16, state security detained a member of an officially accredited observer delegation from the Argentine congress when they arrived in La Paz.
Partly in response to the threats, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, “Everyone should be able to exercise the right to vote in peace, without intimidation or violence. These elections represent an opportunity to really move forward on social and economic fronts, and to defuse the extreme polarization that has been plaguing Bolivia over the past few years,” and added “It is essential that all sides avoid further acts of violence that could spark a confrontation.”
Once voting is finished, it will likely be days before the results are known. This is because in a surprise last-minute announcement, Bolivia’s electoral authorities, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), said that there will not be a preliminary count on election night. This follows alarms raised by CEPR and others after the UNDP office in La Paz stated: “Disaggregation level of the results will be at Polling precinct level (recinto electoral) and most probably there will not be a excel [sic] sheet for public download.” As votes were processed in the 2019 election, analysts were able to download Excel sheets of disaggregated results data. Analysis of this data allowed them to show that there was no statistical basis for the Organization of American States’ claims questioning the validity of the results showing that President Evo Morales had won a first-round victory.
The official results will begin being processed on election day but are not expected to be finalized until at least Wednesday. Considering the uncertainty around what is likely to happen today — i.e., whether a candidate, such as Arce, will win a first-round victory, as many polls suggest is possible, or whether the elections will head to a runoff on November 29 — it remains to be seen whether the decision to scrap the quick count will defuse tensions, or contribute to them.