A highly troubled scrutiny of Legislative Assembly votes

In El Salvador's Adolfo Pineda National Gymnasium, 300 work tables have been set up to tabulate  results for the election of seats in the Legislative Assembly.  Boxes of ballots from all over the country are brought to the facility, where ballots are reviewed and the results "digitized" to produce election results through a process called the "escrutinio final" or "final scrutiny."    

However, election observers, the press, and opposition party representatives have been denouncing a wide variety of anomalies and discrepancies in the process.      

Each position in the gym works to tabulate the results from individual votes placed into the ballot box at a "Junta Receptora de Votos" or JRV.   Citizens throughout the country were assigned in groups of 700 for each JRV to cast their votes.   (This does not apply to voting from abroad for the diaspora which was a different process, and for which we do not know how those votes are going to be verified).

Some of the problems being identified include:

Vote reviews which reported a JRV having 800 ballots rather than the 700 maximum:

At table 104 in Room B, the package of ballots contained 800. Political party watchers state that the record did not contain this observation.

JRVs where more ballots were voted than the number of voter signatures on the election registry.

Long night at the counting tables. More complaints from the tables. JRV 1913, Ciudad Delgado: 643 valid votes, of which 454 are for Nuevas Ideas, but the signature registry shows that only 423 people voted and also that there were 234 leftover ballots. Case was sent to TSE.

Ballots appearing with no traces of having been folded to fit through the slot in a ballot box.

Ballots which appear to have been marked with a marker rather than the crayon which is given to each voter to mark their ballot.

Now these ballots come out very “clear and marked in favor of @nuevasideas with marker and not with crayon. Can you explain this?

The director of one group of international election observers, the CIS, wrote on X:

An audit should be requested from the OAS of excess ballots, matching votes with the signature register, of ballots marked with markers, ironed. An investigation should be requested from the FBI, others about the short-out of the 4 FEB system [on election night] and the disappearance of security paper for the vote tally sheets.

Throughout the process, the Nuevas Ideas party of Nayib Bukele has been inserting itself everywhere. Officials from the Bukele government have been seen in the ballot counting zones, and the cyan colored vests of party workers are everywhere as this video illustrates:

On Thursday of this week, there was a notable increase in the presence of uniformed police officers at the National Gymnasium.   Fifty or more members of the PNC ringed the rooms where votes were being tallied, which some viewed as a form of intimidation.   

The counting of ballots for the 2024 legislative vote in the department of La Libertad, in room C, began in the presence of almost 50 PNC agents. In previous days, the agents remained at the door of the room.

Some reporters stated they were being blocked from their work to monitor the development of the final scrutiny.  The Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES) issued a statement directed towards the TSE which included the following:  

  • We reject the constant blockade of the work of journalists at the counting tables of the legislative vote, taking place in the Adolfo Pineda Gymnasium, while people without any accreditation enter the premises without any restrictions and even influence the count, as as the press has documented.
  • We denounce the physical monitoring to which journalists from Focos, El Diario de Hoy, Factum and La Brújula have been subjected in the scrutiny areas of the Adolfo Pineda Gymnasium by security guards from the official Nuevas Ideas party. These episodes have occurred after journalists have documented and reported signs of anomalies in the counting of voting ballots. In all cases, the monitoring has ended with the expulsion of the journalists from the counting table area, which reflects that the TSE does not seem committed to the transparency of the electoral process.

The TSE responded in a tweet, claiming it had "guaranteed" complete coverage to the media and content creators.

The pending question is whether the TSE or the courts will do anything to resolve the doubts created by these anomalies.  One of the members of the TSE, Julio Olivo, issued a letter to his fellow magistrates on the Tribunal stating that the TSE should take steps to review and rule on the problems being identified.

To guarantee adherence to the legality of the final scrutiny process, I have presented the following considerations to the entire body.

Olivo called for the TSE to meet as a full body to discuss each "report of data manipulation" or "interference" or "alteration" made by data entry operators, vigilantes or others.

But it is not clear at this point whether the TSE will act as Olivo and the opposition parties have requested.   The TSE seems more interested in preserving its image of competence and rejecting the idea that it might not have overseen a clean election.   It will face intense pressure from the Bukele regime not to undercut the legitimacy of election results which favor Bukele and Nuevas Ideas.

In 2015, the TSE also faced a situation where discrepancies were found in the process of tallying votes for the Legislative Assembly.  In that year, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Judicial Court looked at evidence of anomalies in the vote count and ordered the TSE to do a ballot-by-ballot recount of all votes cast in San Salvador, prolonging the election process for weeks more.  

But that was a much different Constitutional Chamber, independent of the political parties and other branches of government.   The same cannot be said of that court in 2024.

In my next post, the winners of seats in the Legislative Assembly being announced by the TSE, and why the real manipulation of this election actually happened months ago.