April 03, 2017
Lenin Moreno of the governing Alianza Pais party has been declared the winner of yesterday’s presidential election in Ecuador. With more than 99 percent of the votes counted, Moreno secured 51.1 percent of valid votes compared to his competitor, banker Guillermo Lasso, who received 48.9 percent.
Soon after polls closed yesterday Lasso declared his victory, and began the celebrations, based on the results of an exit poll. Hours later, as official results began to show a different result, angry Lasso supporters took to the streets alleging fraud. Exit polls, which are often wrong by much more than the margin of this election, are a non-credible basis for challenging an electoral result, but those weren’t the only numbers that raised the ire of Ecuador’s opposition last night.
As official results from Ecuador’s electoral council were being posted online, the NGO Participacion Ciudadana (PC) held a press conference and announced that their “quick count” showed a “technical tie” between the two candidates. The difference was just 0.6 percentage points, the NGO said, and it refused to disclose who was in the lead. The statement added fuel to the fire and emboldened those eager to discredit the official results.
English-language media has been quick to cite the “technical tie” finding, but few seem to have tried to understand it. The Miami Herald, Washington Post, Associated Press and others all cited the “respected” NGO and its determination of a “technical tie” in their coverage of the election results, for example. So, what did PC actually find and what was it based on?
As they have in prior elections, PC conducted a “quick count” based on hard copies of voting records at thousands of locations across the country. In its press release last night, PC noted that some 2,000 volunteers helped with the count. By its very nature the quick count is an estimate, and as PC itself noted in its press release, the findings are not official. PC “will await the official results” the press release stated, though few heeded the advice. And when PC was making its “technical tie” announcement, the official results were already pretty far along, and showed Moreno up by about two percentage points. In this context the PC announcement only served to cause greater confusion.
Though PC didn’t disclose any information on its actual quick count results last night, today PC representatives clarified that the quick count showed Moreno with 50.8 percent of the vote and Lasso with 49.2 percent. Rather than casting doubt on the official results, the quick count seems to confirm it.
So if the quick count showed a 1.6 percentage point victory for Moreno, why did PC say it was just 0.6 percentage points and refuse to disclose who was in the lead? The quick count, like any estimation, comes with a margin of error. In this case PC reported it as +/- one percentage point. The PC quick count provides an upper and lower bound of support for each candidate and given the margin of error, it was possible that Lasso could emerge ahead of Moreno. But by saying the difference was just 0.6, and refusing to disclose who was leading, PC appears to have misrepresented its own findings, artificially making the result look closer than it was.
A PC representative said today that given the margin of error, the decision to not disclose who was in the lead or the actual results of the quick count was in order to not generate confusion. But PC’s actions did exactly the opposite. If they had simply said that a quick count, based on 2,000 voting records, showed Moreno up by 1.6 percentage points, but that Lasso was within the margin of error, observers and voters could contrast that with the official results and reach an educated opinion: that PC’s quick count was completely in line with the official results.
Already today the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has pointed out that PC’s list of funders includes such entities as USAID (part of the US State Department), the National Endowment for Democracy, National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, the World Bank, and Canadian and UK embassies, among many others. Given those ties, many will likely question the motives of PC, since all or almost all of these entities have long histories of intervention in Latin America.
The idea that PC was seeking to avoid confusion by giving misleading and non-complete results of its quick count, which, contrary to its statement last night actually appears to confirm the official results, would be laughable, if it wasn’t so dangerous. And that’s because Lasso and Ecuador’s opposition is grasping at anything that may bolster their claims of fraud and the findings of a “technical tie” were broadcast widely last night and today.
The opposition has presented no evidence of any sort of fraud that could have changed the results of the election – though has said it will soon, and if it’s compelling, it should be properly investigated. Instead, however, last night Lasso cited the exit polls which showed him winning as proof the election was stolen.
It is true that three exit polls showed Lasso winning the election, two by a small amount within the margins of error (technical tie?). The third, Cedatos, which is generally referred to in the press as the most trustworthy of Ecuador’s pollsters gave Lasso a 6 percentage point victory. Another exit poll showed Moreno winning. But as noted above, conflicting exit polls alone cannot serve as a basis for challenging election results.
Neither can quick counts, and especially when the quick count, based on official voting records and conducted by the “respected” NGO PC, actually seems to confirm the official results.