by Sophia Mauro
Soon after incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared the winner of the 2017 Honduran Presidential Election, the Organization of American States (OAS) contacted SFS Professor and elections specialist Dr. Irfan Nooruddin requesting an analysis of the election results. Based on their qualitative observations, they had their doubts about the outcome and wanted a quantitative analysis as a second opinion. On January 31, 2018, Fr. Carnes, Director of the Center for Latin American Studies, invited Dr. Nooruddin to present his results to the Georgetown community.
I said, ‘we’d love to get you into the CLAS to talk about this process and how you can detect these sorts of patterns and the ways that the data science technology you are learning can really contribute to larger questions of democracy and democratization in Latin America.’ – Fr. Carnes
The November 26, 2017 election saw Hernandez face off against opposition party candidate Salvador Nasralla. The OAS contested the outcome, but the European Union and the U.S. Department of State accepted the results. They requested that Nooruddin conduct independent quantitative research.
Nooruddin and associate professor Joel Simmons set about analyzing the 2,771,330 votes cast. “What we had in the span of 72 hours was access to a remarkable dataset. As a result, we got very deep into the analysis of this particular election.” What they found raised significant doubts about the election’s validity.
Nooruddin highlighted the importance of both quantitative and qualitative methods to substantiate the claims of vote tampering. “While I think the analysis I’m about to show you helped convince the OAS that they were on the right track in raising significant concerns about this election, it was only because they had already come into it with really deep concerns about the election based on on the ground, qualitative observation over there.”
With 57% of the vote in, the opposition Nasralla was ahead by 5% of the vote. In fact, a member of the highest election authority in Honduras declared Nasralla the winner based on the wide margin. However, by the time all the votes were counted, Hernandez was declared the winner.
The graph of polling station level vote share for the opposition, according to Nooruddin, was “the smoking gun. Before and after 4:30 am, it shifted on a dime.” Coincidentally, a computer glitch reportedly occurred at 4:30 am, after which all of the votes were tallied by hand. The sharp discontinuity between votes tallied before 4:30 am in favor of the opposition and after 4:30 am in favor of the incumbent make a convincing case for vote tampering.
On January 27, Juan Orlando Hernandez was sworn in for a second term as president of Honduras. Read Nooruddin’s full OAS report here.