Every primary election’s goal is to define candidates who will be able to participate in the province’s general elections, selecting a sole candidate for those parties who want to unify their votes, but they can also serve ancillary purposes, such as indicating the political direction the electorate is leaning towards or, oddly, the state’s ability to legitimately process ballots.
The Santa Fe government massively failed to deliver in this last regard on April 19th, creating a scandal that outraged the entire country. Turns out that, after we all saw Miguel Del Sel celebrate his apparent victory, someone (who is now jobless) forgot to take into consideration at least 200,000 votes.
15 days passed before the Province to announce the final results. Even though the trend remained the same and Del Sel kept his place at the top, the main difference involved the fact that the leftist Frente de izquierda party got the 1.5% required to compete in the general election, something that didn’t happen after the first count.
Here’s a guide to understand why everyone is (comprehensibly) furious.
THE ELECTIONS ON APRIL 19th
Santa Fe’s gubernatorial primaries took place last Sunday and everyone thought things went down smoothly. The first results showed that PRO party candidate Miguel del Sel had come out on top, closely followed by the ruling socialist party. The ever-present colorful PRO balloons flew all over the party’s joyous campaign headquarters. Del Sel, joined by presidential hopeful Mauricio Macri, offered a speech in which he tried to sound like he’d already won the actual race, even though some political analysts like insist that no conclusions about the June 14th provincial elections are to be made based on the result of the Sunday primaries:
“Today has confirmed that among Argentines there’s a spirit of change”, Del Sel cheerfully told his supporters.
He then interrupted his political mentor, Mauricio Macri, to sing while running up and down the stage.
Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández said the election ended in a “technical tie”, since fewer than 6,000 votes separated the PRO candidate from the Frente Civico y Social in a district where over two and a half million people are eligible to cast their ballot in the June 14th election.
On Monday morning, the government’s updated official website indicated that 100 percent of the ballots had been tallied, thus finishing the temporary scrutiny. According to it, 65.86 percent of the electorate cast their votes and the final result showed Del Sel had won with 481,278 votes. Socialist Frente Civico y Social party came second with 475,785 ballots, that number being the sum of candidates Miguel Lifschitz and Miguel Barletta’s votes. Kirchnerite Frente Justicialista para la Victoria’s Omar Perotti finished in third place with 327,126 votes.
However, things took a turn for the worse on Monday after many voters went online and began realizing that their ballots had not been tallied and didn’t show on the electoral system’s website. Turns out the website said they had never voted.
Complaints began spreading like wildfire and quickly reached politicians involved in the elections, who didn’t hesitate to accuse the Socialist government of “serious irregularities”.
When consulted, authorities in charge of overseeing the results admitted the claims were true. José María Velázquez confirmed Télam 807 caches’ votes hadn’t been included because they “couldn’t be counted” for different reasons such as problems with the fax lines and telegram malfunctions. Plus, another 150 caches had to be annulled.
WHAT DID IT MEAN?
According to different estimates, around 200,000 votes were yet to be counted. This represented roughly 10% of the electorate, a massive amount of votes that could easily turn the results, especially after the PRO candidate got the first place by such a slim margin. This could also mean other changes regarding lower positions, as every vote holds greater importance when the pools get smaller.
Critics came like an avalanche from all sides of the political spectrum. Santa Fe politicians were the first to speak up. Mario Barletta, who competed with Lifschitz, claimed the government had “made a ‘Zafarrancho’ with the scrutiny”.
“If I were Governor I would’ve already asked for at least two resignations. You can’t say the results are there and then the next day say 800 caches are missing”.
On the other side, Miguel Del Sel confirmed there was information that “something odd might happen”. “I had information from a cache in Casilda (a town) where my Congressional candidate got 28 votes, the Senator 20 and I got none. Friends of mine who voted me but then the telegram said 0” said Del Sel. When specifically consulted about the possibility of fraud, he stated hadn’t crossed off the list: “Yes, the idea is in my head”, he said.
Things got bad enough that Santa Fe Governor Antonio Bonfatti had to hold a press conference on Thursday to provide some sort of explanation: “We staged an election with complete transparency and honesty, that’s why we as a government can make lots of mistakes, but honesty and transparency can never be doubted” stated the Governor, who then admitted the recount could change the result.
Miguel Lifschitz, also member of the ruling socialist party, stood by the Governor in transparency matters and indicated the scandal erupted due to “a technical functionary’s stupidity who, instead of entering 93 or 97 percent informed caches, entered 100”.
The official in charge of logging the votes submitted his formal resignation to Bonfatti due to the scandal.
DEFINITIVE SCRUTINY AND FUTURE SUPERVISION
The real scrutiny started on Wednesday, when a great number of party militants showed up to verify the votes were being counted accordingly.
People from Santa Fe showed they have no intention of letting something like this happen again. Several NGOs and political organizations called for both national and international observers to control June’s elections..
THE FINAL RESULTS
It took 15 days to conclude the process that provided the final list of candidates able to run in the general election.
In the end, the PRO candidate held on to the first place, but the already close difference with the socialist party slimmed down from 5,493 votes to 3,393. However, the main difference this remaining 10% provide is the fact that the leftist party will now be able to compete in the elections, as candidate Octavio Crivaro surpassed the 1.5% vote qualifying barrier with 39.040 ballots.
The definitive numbers, show Del Sel got 536.480 votes (481,278 before), Lifschitz 376.627 (335.808), Barletta 156.460 (139.977), Omar Perotti 365.239 (327.126) and Octavio Crivaro with the aforementioned 39.040 instead of the original 34.881. These four candidates plus Oscar “Cachi” Martínez, representative of Sergio Massa’s Frente Renovador will compete for the Province’s most important seat in less than a month and a half.
If you’re looking for a silver lining in this mess, it’s the fact that Santa Fe’s elections on June 14th will be as exhaustively controlled as a mom making sure her kid leaves the house with a jacket even though it’s 15 degrees out there and he’ll just have to carry it around all day.