Do the Numbers Add Up? Did Colombia Really Say No to Peace?
October 7, 2016
Sunday's shocking “no” vote on the Colombian peace deal may not be all that it seems because of number of potential errors in the counting process.
Colombia currently lies in limbo after the plebiscite for peace with the FARC-EP was rejected by less than half a percent. But a deeper look at the statistics suggest that a “no” vote might not have actually been Sunday’s victor.
The "No" vote won with 50.21 percent to 49.78 percent for the "Yes" vote. The "No" had 6,431,376 votes to 6,377,482 votes for the "Yes."
While there were only two options – yes and no – to respond to the plebiscite question, unmarked and nullified ballots are also extremely important to the overall count. There were 86,243 unmarked ballots and 170,946 nullified ballots, according to analysis published in The Conversation by Royal Holloway University Professor of Economics Michael Spagat and University of Miami Physicist Neil Johns.
While there was no known evidence of fraud during the process, Spagat and Johns say that “declaring a victory for the 'no' camp violates principles of statistical uncertainty, and is therefore a scientifically incorrect statement. Colombians deserve better.”
Colombia used paper to record Sunday’s votes and votes were counted by hand. Given the known research behind counting errors, around 65,000 to 130,000 votes would have been accidentally counted incorrectly, and could have easily pushed the vote to a “yes” result, wrote Spagat and Johns.
The method that the vote counters used to classify and count the surprisingly large number of blank and invalidated votes is unknown, but could have made a significant impact. While the voting papers were printed with clear “yes” and “no” options, many of the unmarked ballots may have been marked very lightly and therefore would not have been registered.
Spagat and Johns state that their analysis revealed up to 400,000 votes that could have potentially been classified incorrectly, adding that there were “270,000 voters whose ballots were rejected as blank or null must have had some voting intention that they somehow failed to express.”
Voter turnout from Sunday was very low, under 40 percent, with only 13 million of 35 million eligible voters making it to the polls, meaning that there was only around 18 percent of all eligible voters who registered a “no” vote.
On Monday the electoral commission of Colombia estimated that at least 4 million people could not cast their vote because of heavy rains caused by Hurricane Matthew.
Before the plebiscite the “yes” vote was in a clear winning position according to polls, even according to right-wing media. Many Colombians in favor of peace may have considered a “yes” result a certainty and decided to stay home as a result.
The areas most affected by the conflict have overwhelmingly voted "Yes" for peace. For example in the heavily affected area of Choco, with 95 percent of the vote counted, 79 percent voted "Yes." The Caribbean provinces have also voted "Yes."
The question posed to the population was:
“Do you support the final accord for the end of the conflict and the construction of stable and lasting peace?”