(Photo: El Universal)

Independent electoral observers raised the alarm last week over a sharp increase in municipalities with elevated risk for fraud ahead and during Colombia’s upcoming elections. Particularly the senate elections show increased indications fraud may take place.

The Electoral Observation Mission (Mision de Obervacion Electoral – MOE) said that almost 400 of the country’s more than 1,100 municipalities are at medium to extremely high risk for either electoral fraud or violence during either the congressional or presidential elections held respectively in March and May.

According to the MOE, indications that corrupt political sectors plan to commit electoral fraud have increased significantly for the senate elections, while the electoral fraud risk for the House of Representatives election has dropped slightly.

Also the number of municipalities at risk of violent interference in the elections has gone down; In 2010 the MOE had recognized 420 municipalities at risk of violence. This dropped 7.4% to 389 for the upcoming electoral cycle.

The number of municipalities at risk because of a lack of competence of electoral officials has dropped significantly for the House election, said the MOE. According to the observers, the number of municipalities at risk because of authorities’ lack of capacity to adequately carry out these elections went from 694 in 2010 to 320 this year.

However, the same authorities experience an increase in incompetence for the elections; The MOE registered an increase from 356 to 429 municipalities where electoral officials lack competence.

Electoral fraud risk

According to the observers’ electoral fraud risk registry, the number of municipalities at risk of fraud in the House elections went down from 407 in 2010 to 386 this year. However, for the senate elections the observers saw a sharp increase in municipalities at risk, which went from 297 in 2010 to 410 this year.

The fraud risk was determined by highlighting extraordinarily high levels or extraordinarily low levels of voter registrations compared to the national average.

The observers argue that an exceptionally high voter registration indicates that potential voters may receive some kind of illegal endorsement to vote, while a lower than average turnout may indicate voters are actively prevented from carrying out their electoral duty.

Number of municipalities at risk for fraud

Risk for fraud in both House and Senate elections

House of Representatives

House of Representatives

















The observers registered a strongly elevated risk for electoral fraud in the southeast of the country where the state traditionally lacks presence.

In the case of the House elections, the observers also alerted for suspicious voter registration behavior in the north of the Antioquia state, along the Pacific coast and along the border with Venezuela.

For the presidential elections, the MOE registered particularly suspicious voter registration behavior in the east and southeast of Colombia and in the northwestern state of Antioquia.

According to the MOE, the departments with the highest risk of electoral fraud coincide with the ones where local elites have traditionally exercised strong control over their region’s politics. The observers mentioned explicitly the departments of Antioquia, Nariño, Boyaca, Norte de Santander and Cordoba.

Violence risk

The observers created a database indicating where violence is most likely to disturb the electoral cycle in March. This was determined using a number of variables including the presence of illegal armed groups, military presence, recent combat between armed forces and illegal armed groups, forced displacement, and cases in which the freedom of speech was violated.

The number of municipalities where violence could impede voters to cast their ballot went down 7% compared to 2010. This drop was particularly visible in municipalities with either a high or extremely high risk for violent intervention.

The risks for violence are particularly high along the Pacific coast, in the north of the Antioquia department, in the southern jungle states of Colombia, and along the Venezuelan coast where rebel groups and drug trafficking organizations have strong influence.

The MOE also released alarming statistics about possible acts of political violence like attacks on candidates or campaign volunteers. According to the observers, the number of municipalities at risk for political violence went up 172%, from 48 in 2010 to 131 this year.

Violence risk map

Colombia’s congressional elections will be held on March 9, while the first round of the presidential election is scheduled for May 25.

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