Is Fraud Possible in the February 24 Referendum?

The suspicion of a possible fraud has a demobilizing effect among the promoters of “No” in the Constitution referendum. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, January 2, 2018 — The possibility that some type of fraud could be committed to distort the results of the constitutional referendum, which will take place on February 24 in Cuba, is one of the most frequent worries in conversations among activists.

The suspicion of a possible fraud has a demobilizing effect among the promoters of “No.” The most effective antidotes to cancel out this paralyzing pessimism are: assume that possibility as a reasonable risk or trust that fraud will not be committed.

The most effective vaccine to keep this threat from dissuading voters from visiting the ballot box to vote “No” is arriving to the understanding that little is risked and much can be gained.

After all, what is being risked (in addition to wasting a few minutes in vain at the ballot box) is that the Government is able to show the massive participation of citizens as a great success and that the “No” vote remains defeated in face of the crushing majority of the “Yes.” But those who propose abstaining, in order to not play into the hands of the feared fraud, should reason that it is much simpler to doctor the figure of participation than the number of negative votes.

Articles 116 and 117 of the current Electoral Law introduce an element that favors the lack of transparency in information of voting results. In both paragraphs the law obligates the members of the electoral tables, after finalizing the count, to place in the public view “a sample ballot” with the result of the vote count that exhibits how many votes each candidate received. The ballot does not have space for other information.

It is at least as striking that in a country where models and plans proliferate for any procedure, it has never occurred to anyone produce a document to dump all the information resulting from the suffrage. As a consequence of this “paper saving,” the data about how many voters attended each polling place and how many abstained did not remain in public view, nor did the number of canceled or blank ballots.

Only those voters who are present at the moment of the vote count in each polling place will be able to know those numbers. But after that process it is no longer possible to visit all of a municipality’s polling places with the intention of collecting data and being able to contrast it with the official information that is usually offered at the end of the process, broken down by municipalities and provinces. Those who do it will only find a ballot put up, probably on the door of the place, with the numbers obtained for either “Yes” or “No.”

The possibility of manipulating these data at the provincial or national level thus remains in the hands of a reduced group of people of the utmost trustworthiness to the Government.

In the electoral processes carried out for district representatives and members of the National Assembly, it’s unlikely that the result of the vote count will be the product of a fraud committed in the polling place.

The image of members of an electoral table shamelessly marking blank ballots, or changing what the will of voters reflects in the presence of witnesses, is difficult to believe. The massive complicity necessary to carry out an act of this nature in the almost 25,000 voting sites that could be authorized on February 24 requires a number of discreet and absolutely trustworthy persons that the Government does not currently have in its ranks.

The citizens who carry out the work at the election sites at a basic level can be docile, obedient, and absolutely convinced that socialism is what is best for the country; they can be “Fidelistas” and vehement admirers of the current president, but that doesn’t automatically make them into a multitude of inveterate cynics lacking ethics and decency.

That type of fraud does not seem to have occurred to date in the elections for representatives and assembly members, among other reasons, because it has not been necessary. For this something more sinister was invented: pre-fraud consisting of the intimidating nomination process which is carried out by a public show of hands for candidates for district representatives and the existence of the Candidacy Commissions that make up the list of names that will appear on the ballot for members of Parliament, with one name appearing for each open position.

When those tricks were not sufficient, then the activists of the neighborhood met to discredit “uncomfortable” candidates and, if persuasion was not enough, then the agents of State Security came out from their quarters to arrest the most dangerous.

The Government’s propagandists contrast these elections, guarded by young pioneers — that is elementary school children — with those from before 1959 which, they say, had to be guarded by armed men to prevent a party from assaulting a polling place with its supporters and stealing the ballot boxes.

If in the next referendum the results of the count are put up outside each polling place using one of the remaining ballots, the real number of absentees will never be able to be collected, nor will the blank or nullified sheets — it will only say how many votes for “Yes” and for “No.”

With a little perseverance and a minimum of organization, if the activists cover on foot or by bicycle the polling places of each municipality and leave graphic proof of public information, it will be very complicated for the Government to doctor the sum of votes obtained in each municipality. They would only be left with the ability to change the mathematics if they intended to distort the provincial and national data.

Is it perhaps impossible that fraud be committed? No, it is not impossible, but the risk that it would be discovered is enormous and it is unlikely that they dare to carry it out, even in the absence of independent observers.

It was they who created a mechanism of voting and counting practically armored, based on the popular belief that every civic act is useless and that they have it entirely under their control.

It’s enough for each nonconformist voter to have the minimum courage required to mark a vote for “No” in the intimacy of the voting cubicle. Obligating them to commit a shameless fraud would also be a victory.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.