TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- In response to the invitation of the government of Honduras and in accordance with Chapter V of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) deployed a long-term mission to the country made up of 82 technicians and observers from 23 member states and the OAS to attend the general elections held on Sunday November 24, 2013. To lead this mission, the Secretary General José Miguel Insulza appointed Enrique Correa, former minister secretary general of the government of Chile.
The Election Observation Mission of the OAS (EOM/OAS) has maintained a continuous presence in the country since July, when it observed the process of candidate registration and the process of certification of the census.
During the pre-election period, the Chief of Mission also monitored the campaign and preparations for the election by making two preliminary visits to the country, where he held meetings with electoral and government authorities, candidates and other political leaders, and representatives accredited by the international community in the country. In addition, the agreements that established the foundations for ensuring the independence of the work conducted by the Mission were signed.
Since October, the EOM/OAS installed a mobile group of observers who were deployed throughout the country to monitor the electoral calendar and the political campaign, and maintained a permanent presence in the country until the electoral process was completed.
The Mission was formed by a base group of specialists who conducted a substantive and detailed analysis of the process in terms of electoral organization, technology, political analysis, campaign finance, and gender, among other issues. The mission also included a group of coordinators and international observers who were deployed in the 18 departments of the country, and directly observed the process in areas such as the delivery of materials, training for polling station members and election day from opening to closing and vote counting at polling stations.
Moreover, the EOM/OAS also maintained a permanent presence in the post-election period, throughout the entire stage of special vote counting located in the INFOP, which ended after the proclamation of the results by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on December 11 for the presidential election and on December 13 for the provincial-level and municipal elections.
Registration of Candidacies and Certification of the Census
On 23 May 2013, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) called general elections and established in Article 25 of the Regulation the deadlines for registration applications for those political parties who did not participate in the 2012 primary election process. The Mission was present in the registration process, observing the work carried out in the INFOP, where the six political parties that did not hold primaries presented their candidacies.
The Mission acknowledged the efforts of the TSE in designing and implementing a new software application to expedite the registration process. In addition, the Mission observed that the personnel assigned to this task were properly trained.
The EOM/OAS found, however, that although the electoral law provides rules relating to applications, it does not clearly establish a procedure for processing and presentation, which is why the TSE was regulating the process by issuing resolutions during the process, hinting at a clear need to strengthen this process normatively.
Furthermore, the Mission observed the period of preparation and certification of the census conducted by an international audit firm. As established in the Electoral Law, for the development of the National Voter List, the National Registry of Persons shall provide to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, in a constant, timely and free manner, all the information about the citizens, by department, municipality and voting center, to whom it has issued an identity card.
In this process the EOM/OAS became aware of inconsistencies encountered in the process of statistical analysis and verification, among which were problems related to birth dates, names and surnames.
The Mission specially recognized the National Registry of Persons (RNP) which, following the recommendations arising from the report of the Electoral Observation Mission of the OAS for the primary elections of 2012, took actions to carry out a more organized and personalized delivery of identification documents to citizens through mobile brigades and local registry offices without the intermediation of political parties.
Electoral Organization and Logistics:
Regarding the figure of trustees and electoral operators, the Mission recognizes the efforts of TSE in the design of their duties and training, aimed at providing greater organization to the process. However, the EOM/OAS noted that this specific area was one of the areas that presented the most major problems in terms of organization, due to the short time frame and limited control by the Court in its recruitment. Problems such as a high volume of absences and desertions by staff that would perform this work threatened to put the process at risk, delayed the training and involved the operation of contingency plans designed on the fly.
Regarding the formation of the Polling Stations (MERs), once again, blank credentials were given to movements within the parties, leading to accusations of trafficking in credentials and eventually cast a shadow over the process. On this issue, and as was stated in the final report of the observer missions of the OAS for the years 2008 and 2012, it is imperative to undertake reforms that will prevent such incidents from happening again, allowing the incorporation of the complete data of the citizen in the credentials.
On the other hand, some delays were observed in the installation of the Departmental Electoral Courts (TEDs) and the Municipal Electoral Courts (TEMs ) which, according to law, are shaped by the political parties themselves. This delay was caused by the lack of staff available, especially in the case of smaller parties, and the lack of training of representatives of the parties on how to organize the electoral process.
Audit of the System of Transmission of Results:
The Mission acknowledged the efforts of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to make the transition from a system of voice transmission of results to an electronic one, following one of the recommendations of the final report of the Electoral Observation Mission of the OAS for the primary election of 2012. Although the design of the Integrated Vote Counting and Disclosure System (SIEDE) helped to modernize the transmission of results, the implementation process began late, limiting opportunities to rehearse and make the necessary corrections to its application.
Under the SIEDE design, and in response to a specific request from the TSE, the Mission conducted an audit of THE system. The audit formed part of the "Commitment to minimum guarantees of electoral ethics and transparency," and had as its main objective the verification of two key characteristics of the transmission system: quality and transparency.
A team of computer experts and technicians carried out the audit work from October 24 to November 16, a task that ended with a final report on November 20 that the mission made public. The report submitted to the TSE presented the results, findings and recommendations of the analysis, which included the survey and validation of information related to the functional development of the system, as well as observation of the three simulations carried out by the TSE in order to determine the conditions of quality and transparency.
The findings related mainly to the behavior of the system during the simulations, which were carried out without all of the features provided with loads below the defined objectives for this audit test. The report placed on record the technical aspects that should be addressed by the TSE and fixed prior to election day.
The Mission conducted a follow-up on issues of political and electoral financing. The Law on Elections and Political Organizations of Honduras establishes a set of accountability mechanisms, including a body in charge of party finances, accounting and the presentation of financial reports.
The Mission noted that the current legal framework on issues of political campaign financing in Honduras does not meet the necessary conditions to enable fair and transparent elections. This is because the rules governing access and use of resources in election campaigns are unable to address the current needs of the new political spectrum. As a result, the TSE does not have the powers and tools to ensure the state control that is needed, which allows political parties and candidates to act with discretion and replicate practices that promote imbalance in competition.
On transparency, faced with the absence of legal powers and resources of the Court to audit the financial statements of political parties, accountability is sporadic, partial and discretionary. State control by the Court is minimal and no verification or audit of financial information is performed. As a result, the existing sanctions regime does not function.
On the positive side, the EOM/OAS wishes to emphasize that for this election, thanks to the agreement on minimum guarantees between the Court and the political parties, all parties had equal access to state media for free.
Political participation of women and men
The Mission acknowledged the progress in the implementation of the quota of a minimum of 40% women in the lists of candidates for election to public office. The relevance of this measure is reflected, among other things, in the expectation that these elections would elect a greater number of female candidates than previous elections. The adoption of this measure represented a percentage increase in female candidates elected. The Mission also recognized as a positive aspect of this rule the policy of directed financing, forcing politicians to use 10% of the public funding they receive in activities aimed at the training and promotion of female leadership within the parties.
In addition to these reforms that are key to ensuring the effective participation of women in public office, the 40% quota for management positions of political parties was also approved. Given that the parties are the options on which the electorate decides, this share represents an important tool in the first place, to help ensure a basic representation of men and women, and secondly, to promote gender equality within political parties and organizations, and therefore in the electoral competition. However, the Mission noted that several parties do not apply this quota and there are no government agencies that monitor its fulfillment.
The reform of the Electoral Law made possible the greater participation of women as candidates for elected office, and this is reflected in the increased number of female candidates presented on the lists of each party. However, the application of the quota for those parties that participated in past primaries, did not guarantee compliance with the minimum number of women on their lists for the general election because several of their candidates were not elected in the primary and therefore did not participate in the general elections.
In this context, it would be appropriate to take into account that certain actions such as alternation in lists and implementation of closed lists would help to bring about a more effective quota. Also, the regulation of access to media by candidates, could promote affirmative action to promote access to a specific candidate.
The Election Observation Mission congratulated once again the citizens who came with conviction and peacefully on election day to cast their votes.
The EOM/OAS emphasizes the civic engagement of the Honduran people, which could be observed through a high turnout throughout the day in which they peacefully exercised their right to vote. The Mission noted that the vote took place in an atmosphere of calm and with a significant influx of voters which, according to official data, represented 60% of the electorate , far exceeding the percentage of the vote in recent elections.
The Court, for its part, carried out an efficient organization of the process, which was reflected throughout election day. At the opening of the polls, most stations had all the material ready for voters according to the time established by law.
The Mission considers it important to emphasize that in the pre-election period elements were identified which contributed to the transparency of the process and which confirm the reliability of the final results declared by the TSE. In this context, the Mission appreciates the efforts of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to ensure an organized process and to open spaces for the oversight of the stages of the electoral process by political parties and Honduran citizens.
Also during the day, it was observed that the different political forces had a large number of representatives at the tables. The Mission noted the presence of representatives of the main political parties in at least 95% of the polling stations observed. This presence was maintained at key moments of election day: the opening, operation and closure of the polling stations, and the completion of records. In particular, once again the OAS mission noted the high number of women who joined and chaired the polling stations (MER).
The presence of political parties at the time of vote counting and completion of records added an additional element of transparency to these elections. Coupled with this, the existence of public scrutiny, and even televised in some cases, was noted by the EOM/OAS and considered an important factor contributing to the transparency of the process.
While the system of transmission of electoral results operated on election day broadcasting 64.14% of records, and reporting 50.88% of results on the presidential election, human errors in the completion of records in the polling stations determined that approximately 24% of records were sent for special counting and that, although they were duly corrected, typed and released by the TSE following election day, this delayed the delivery of the final results.
While the data center and disclosure of results were being reported continuously, the TSE website was somewhat delayed in relation to the results that were being reported in the data center.
Post Electoral Stage
The Mission maintained a permanent presence in the country during the stage of special counting conducted in INFOP and during the stage of the resolution of records with inconsistencies and 143 objections received by the TSE. During this stage the EOM/OAS also confirmed the presence of representatives of the various political movements, as well as national and international observers.
Throughout this process, the EOM/OAS observed the following of a protocol designed by the TSE that had to be adjusted as the special counting process moved forward. Although the EOM/OAS found a functional process, it also found some issues of organization that made the identification of material difficult and involved delays in the special counting process.
During the post electoral stage, and through the work of the international audit commissioned by the TSE, inconsistencies caused by incorrect manual keying of data in a small number of records were detected. While these inconsistencies were duly corrected by the TSE, the EOM/OAS considers that in the future verification measures with more powerful filters should be used to detect such inconsistencies before the disclosure of the records.
The Mission noted the various pronouncements of the TSE on the outcome of the election before the official declaration of results. The EOM/OAS respectfully recommends that in future elections the Court refrain from declarations on final results until all acts have been recorded and all challenges exhausted, as it is particularly important in an environment of high political polarization.
Finally, the Mission appreciates and recognizes the efforts of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal by providing the necessary conditions of supervision by political parties during this stage that ended with the announcement of the results on December 11 and 13.
In order to strengthen institutions and electoral processes in Honduras, the Electoral Observation Mission of the OAS in Honduras kindly suggests the following recommendations for consideration by policy makers and Honduran society:
In Terms of Electoral Organization
• It is recommended to consider an amendment to the partisan composition of the electoral body at all levels of hierarchy, namely, its judges, its body of officials and members of the polling stations in order to move towards a professional civil service in the institution.
• In relation to the integration of the polling stations, and as had been recommended in the primary elections of 2012, consider making the necessary reforms to the law on elections and political organizations to “citizenize” the MERs so that they are made up of unaffiliated citizens, trained and selected at random and under the direct supervision of the TSE itself.
• In relation to the credentials for members of the polling stations, it is suggested that parties make a greater effort to deliver the lists of composition of the tables to the TSE according to the times established by law and, as was recommended in the primary elections of 2012, reforms be made to ensure that the credentials contain the true information on each citizen. The current practice of delivering blank credentials does not meet international standards and casts a shadow over the management of election day.
• Provide TEDs and TEMs with the tools and training necessary to enable them to better carry out their functions in a timely manner.
• Improve the planning process of the election in order to anticipate and meet the requirements for the organization of the process in a timely manner.
In terms of electoral roll
• Conduct an audit of the electoral roll to identify in a detailed way areas for improvement, and to allow actions aimed at having an accurate electoral roll for the next elections.
Regarding Transmission of Results
• Continue to improve the new SIEDE system in its design of process, programming, logistics and security.
• Redesign the SIEDE process to include quality control, including the incorporation of additional steps to detect errors that may occur in signature verification, transcription and data verification of the closing records.
• Test the application earlier and with a thoroughness to detect weaknesses in the system and have enough time to correct if necessary.
• Conduct thorough testing of the image of the vote, testing the greatest possible number of caseloads and analyze the behavior of the system in such situations to evaluate corrections.
• Improve the presentation of results via the web site. The results should be as current as possible, in relation to those in the datacenter.
• Improve telephone coverage from polling stations and to this end, consider other means such as satellite, fixed lines or being able to move to another station where transmission is possible, to ensure a higher percentage of records on election day.
• The process of recruitment, training and coordination of technical traders by transmission and scanning results should be substantially improved for future electoral processes, including being done under the direct control and supervision of the TSE.
In Terms of Financing
• Consider amendments to the regulatory framework for political and electoral financing according to the needs posed by the new configuration of political forces in the country to establish in a clear way the rules of participation for political parties, and the necessary powers so that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal can exercise functions of control and supervision.
• Empower the TSE to regulate the verification and audit of the periodic financial statements by political parties and encourage the use of public funding to the regular activities of political parties, as well as special financing for election campaigns. The latter, as a mechanism to correct asymmetries of access to financing for new political parties.
• Create the necessary instances of electoral justice for processing, research and application of the penalties provided for violation of the rules.
• In order to ensure that the quota is effective, especially now that the minimum holding percentage increased to 40%, consider incorporating into law sanctions for parties that do not meet the gender quota.
• Review existing mechanisms in the law to ensure that the implementation of the quota law is more effective, including consideration of closed lists.
• On the other hand, it is also recommended that the law should regulate access to the media, and stipulate affirmative action to improve the visibility of the candidates.
To help improve the elections in Honduras, in particular, and the strengthening of its democratic system, the Mission reiterates its commitment to carry out a post-election visit in order to follow up the recommendations with the relevant authorities, and to provide the technical support of the OAS in the improvements to the electoral system that are prioritized.
In the coming weeks, the Chief of Mission will present a report to the Permanent Council of the OAS with the results of this work of observation and recommendations on the electoral process.
Finally, the Mission noted the announcement of the presentation of claims that may be in progress during the next few days. With this, the claimants make use of their rights. The EOM/OAS trusts that the competent courts will resolve these claims in accordance with Honduran law.
In conclusion, the Mission congratulated the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the various political parties and especially the Honduran people for their commitment to democracy demonstrated throughout this electoral process.