National elections are still a few months off in Colombia, but already the allegations of untoward practices are pouring in.
Charged with monitoring Colombian elections, the International oversight body Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) is denouncing potentially massive voter fraud in various states throughout the country.
“Irregularities in the inscription” process were observed in at least 200 municipalities in 23 out of Colombia’s states, according to a statement released on the MOE website Thursday.
The states of Bolivar, Sucre, Atlantico, Santander, Cordoba and Cudinamarca each had voter registrations in over 15 municipalities called into question. And as many as 51% of the denouncements MOE received via its anonymous tip service reportedly made mention of fraudulent voter registration.
In other cases, MOE is shedding doubt on voter practices based purely on numbers.
In the El Peñol municipality in Nariño, for example, there was a 958% increase in registration, as compared to 2010. Thirteen other municipalities in eight states showed increases of at least 200%, with five of the voter pools growing by 340% or more.
While the assumption within the country seems to be that imaginary Colombians are being added to voter drives, the case of registered voters in the exterior is more complicated.
MOE is calling the attention of the Colombian authorities to both noted increases and drops in voter registration statistics for ex-pat Colombians.
Normally, the statement explains, Colombians abroad vote at extremely low rates. In 2010, there was an 89% abstention rate, for example, among foreign-based voters. This is a pattern that has been observed steadily over the past several elections. And indeed, Argentina is the only country in past elections to see an increase in voter percentage.
This year, however, there has been a 256% increase in registration in Peru and a 60% increase in Panama. Additionally, countries like Canada, Spain and Venezuela, which typically maintain high numbers of Colombian nationals, have seen drops of 61, 41 and 9% respectively. MOE did not make clear what it suspects is accountable for the drops, though in the case of the rises, fraud is again a concern.
According to the MOE statement, the relevant authorities in the Colombian Registrar’s Office have already been provided with detailed reports of these questionable patterns. The government, however, has yet to announce any plan of action, and election officials could not be reached for comment.
Vote buying and voter intimidation and repression have typically been the chief concerns heading into Colombian elections, though registration fraud has also been a concern.
The 2014 elections are seen as critical, as both the president and much of the Congress are up for reelection, and the incoming legislature will have the ability to alter the terms of any potential agreement to emerge from ongoing peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. A peace deal, moreover, is expected to be put to a popular referendum.