NicaNotes: Nicaragua’s Election Was Free and Fair

By Richard Kohn, Ph.D.

(Rick Kohn is a Professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland. He has worked on extension and research projects in the US, Nigeria, and Nicaragua. He covered the Nov. 7 general election in Nicaragua.)

Voting Center in Bilwi, North Caribbean Autonomous Region

CNN and other mainstream media have been promoting a conspiracy theory without evidence that the Nicaraguan national election was rigged. However CNN and other corporate media did not send anyone to cover the election.  I was one of the 170 international witnesses and 67 international reporters who witnessed the Nicaraguan election first hand. We found the election to be very fair and extremely secure.  After watching the elections and vote tallying closely, I am completely confident in the election results.  Most Nicaraguans voted in support of the incumbent Sandinista government.

There is no evidence supporting the conspiracy theories propagated by the mainstream media.  Claims were made that there was low voter turnout and non-votes were converted to votes for the Sandinistas. However, the rate of voting we observed was consistent with the high voter turnout reported by officials: about 65% of voters voted, similar to 2011 and 2016. Furthermore, as I will explain in this article, the ballot boxes, voter sign-in, and vote counting are under constant scrutiny by members of multiple political parties throughout the process. There are many safeguards against tampering. International observers like myself found the conspiracy theories of fraud unfeasible.

Let me review a few of the security procedures that were used.  First, they do not have absentee voting or early voting. It is certainly an inconvenience, especially for the handicapped, but they do have elections on a Sunday which is declared a national holiday.  Students are given time off to get back to their homes for voting. The Voting Center staff provided assistance to handicapped voters. The reason they only allow direct voting on paper ballots is to ensure security of the process. There is no vote harvesting or mailing in of ballots. And it doesn’t leave questions about whether certain votes were valid.

National political parties do not have to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures to be on the ballot. They only have to have their own board of directors and elected boards of directors in 80% of 153 municipalities.  One of 16 parties was disqualified because the leader was a US citizen.  One party with a representative in the National Assembly decided not to run. That left 14 political parties which combined into alliances to back 6 candidates for President and 7 sets of candidates for the National Assembly. The last three parties to have won the presidency were all on the ballot.

Election Ballot in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region.

Any Nicaraguan at least 16 years of age can vote. They are automatically registered when they receive their national picture ID (like a social security card but with a photograph). There is no issue of people having their voter registrations purged. Starting last July, all voters had the opportunity to check their registration with the system and confirm their voting place, and most people (2.8 million) opted to do so.

The polls opened at 7:00 AM and lines had already formed.  First, the voter’s ID was looked up in a computerized database (offline and backed up on paper), and then the voter was sent to the appropriate room of a school to vote (polling place).  Here, there were short lines of a few minutes.  There were 3 poll workers from 3 different parties: a president, first and second member. The president looked up the person’s voter ID on a list of names with photos, and directed each voter to sign in.  Another poll worker stamped the ballot and signed it (so that it couldn’t easily be substituted), and the president explained the ballot and how to mark it. At least three official poll watchers from at least 3 political parties at a time stood behind the poll workers as observers. The voters moved to a private space to mark the ballot behind a barrier, and placed it in the ballot box.  There is no way anyone could have known who they voted for. Then the second member applied indelible ink to the voter’s thumb to prevent them from voting again, although they already had several checks against duplicate voting.  I took photographs of every step of the process. I think it is safe to say the odds of anyone voting more than once were highly improbable.

The poll workers and the party poll watchers count the votes at the end of the day making sure each used ballot is accounted for and equal to the number of people who signed in to vote. They also make sure the total number of ballots received at the beginning of the day equals the number of used ballots, unused ballots and null ballots. After counting the votes, the poll workers and poll watchers sign the minutes (summary of results) which are called in, posted outside of the voting center, and hand delivered by the poll workers and watchers with the secured ballots to the municipal office for verification. This process is repeated in each of 13,459 polling stations across the country.

Voter signs in to vote in Nicaragua while four different poll watchers (political party representatives, standing) observe the process until votes are counted.

If there were a conspiracy to alter the outcome of the count, it would have to involve people from all participating political parties in the room counting the votes, it would only affect the few hundred votes counted in that room, and it could still be caught upstream.  If ballots were added or subtracted, they wouldn’t have the right stamps and signatures and the count totals compared to sign-ins would be wrong. To substantially change the outcome of the election would require a conspiracy of hundreds of thousands of poll workers and poll watchers from different political parties in the polling stations across the country without any of them disclosing the secret.  The conspiracy theories reported in the mainstream press are impossible.

The very reliable vote tallies in Nicaragua at the end of the day showed about 65% of the eligible voters voted [very good considering there was a campaign encouraging abstention called Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) meaning no stained thumb which marked voters]. Seventy-six percent of the people voted to re-elect the President and FSLN Party candidates to the National Assembly.  Based on how many people filed past us on election day, and the vocal support for the incumbent government, there is no doubt who the Nicaraguan people were voting for.  Many people told us they support the government because of the social programs like universal health care, free public education including university and technical schools, infrastructure like roads, hospitals and schools, and advances in water and electricity.  I am very confident that the election results reflect the will of the Nicaraguan people.

The US and other colonial powers did not recognize the vote. Biden and the US press said without evidence that the election was a sham, and Biden signed a bill passed by both houses of Congress to escalate a hybrid war against Nicaragua. But more than 153 nations did recognize the election! According to the United Nations no country needs the recognition of other nations. It’s the recognition by their own people that is important.

Briefs
By Nan McCurdy

Nicaragua at 64% Vaccination against Covid-19
Nicaragua is approaching the goal of 70% of the population vaccinated, recommended by the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization authorities for protection against COVID-19. Vice President Rosario Murillo said that vaccination reached 64% of the population aged two years and older on Nov. 30; 4,060,890 citizens have had at least one vaccine. (Informe Pastran, 30 Nov. 2021)

Influenza Vaccination Campaign Begins
The influenza vaccination campaign for people over 50 years of age began Nov. 29 in all municipalities. Immunization against influenza is carried out in health centers and house to house; the health workers who are applying the vaccine against Covid-19 also carry the vaccines against influenza. (Radio La Primerisima, 29 Nov. 2021)

Government Welcomes Electoral Triumph in Honduras
President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo sent a congratulatory message to Xiomara Castro, the winner in Sunday’s presidential elections in Honduras which is roughly translated below.

Dear Xiomara and Brothers and Sisters [of the Libre Party]:

With much respect and recognition we salute the advance towards the electoral triumph in dear Honduras, where the people live the hope of better times.

In congratulating the path of triumphs, we also include our Central America, where we must continue to strengthen peace and good, in fraternal unity for the common good.

On behalf of the Nicaraguan people and women in particular, we express our joy at this historic election which once again shows the noble, fighting, and hardworking character of the women and families of this fraternal and supportive Honduras.

In our closeness and good neighborliness, we remain committed to move forward creating the future.

Strong embraces, in admiration and affection.
Daniel Ortega Saavedra Rosario Murillo
(Radio La Primerisima, 29 Nov. 2021)

La Gazeta Publishes Names of Election Winners
On Nov. 26 the Supreme Electoral Council published in the official newspaper, La Gaceta, the names of the citizens who were elected in the elections on November 7, where the alliance headed by the Sandinista Front won with 75.92% of the votes. There was broad participation of 65.26% of eligible voters 16 years of age and over. José Daniel Ortega Saavedra and Rosario Murillo Zambrana, were declared President and Vice President of the Republic of Nicaragua. (Radio La Primerisima, 26 Nov. 2021)

First Indigenous Agricultural University in Latin America
With a march from Bluefields to the Tiktik Kanú community in the South Caribbean, the Sandinista Government inaugurated the first Indigenous Agricultural University in Latin America. The University is located in the Indigenous territory of the South Caribbean Region and seeks to bring access to education to young people. The initiative is a unique one in Latin America and the Caribbean, as it will provide professional training to Indigenous people who were taught to read and write in their mother tongue through the “Yo Sí Puedo” program, and who have completed their primary and secondary education. Once the students complete the first year of study, they will receive the title of Agriculture and Livestock Promoter; in the second, Technician in this field, and in the third, Higher Technician in Agriculture and Livestock. The beneficiaries are the inhabitants of Kukra Hill, Laguna de Perlas, Tasbapone, Desembocadura del Río Grande, San Pancho, Cascabilla, Bluefields, El Bluff, and Rama Cay. (Radio La Primerisima, 29 Nov. 2021)

New Hospital Named for Dorotea Granados
The Ministry of Health announced that the new Dorotea Granados Primary Hospital will be inaugurated in Matiguás municipality, Matagalpa Department. The US$7.2 million hospital was financed by the General Budget and will benefit 80,000 inhabitants in four municipalities. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/nuevo-hospital-de-matiguas-atendera-a-80-mil-habitantes/ (Nicaragua News, 24 Nov. 2021, Radio La Primerisima, 25 Nov. 2021)

Sale of Gas and Electricity to Central America Approved
The National Assembly approved a Reform to Law No. 772, Electricity Industry and its Reforms, establishing the incorporation of effective regulatory measures and oversight for the import and export of electricity. National Assembly Deputy Jenny Martínez, President of the Infrastructure and Basic Services Committee, stated that “the reform is in response to the  approval by the Central American Commission for Electricity Interconnection (CRIE) of the New Fortress Nicaragua-Energy Development Partners’ request to connect the Puerto Sandino Central Project to the regional electricity grid allowing the export of energy to other Central American countries, providing an environment of trust, security and legal certainty for investors.” (Nicaragua News, 24 Nov. 2021)

Employment Has Returned to Pre-pandemic Levels
In Nicaragua employment has already recovered to pre-pandemic levels. The data is from the study “An Uneven Recovery: Taking the Pulse of Latin America and the Caribbean after the Pandemic”, prepared by the World Bank (WB) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), based on a telephone survey of citizens from 24 Latin American countries. Ximena Del Carpio, WB poverty and equity practice manager, said that “…there are three countries: Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, which have recovered to the same level before the pandemic, or have more employment. The survey highlights that the pandemic has increased digital transactions, mobile banking and e-commerce. (Informe Pastran, 30 Nov. 2021)

Carnival of Myths, Legends and Traditions
Hundreds of families attended the XIX edition of the Carnival of Myths, Legends, and Traditions in Leon on November 26th. Characters such as el padre sin cabeza (father without a head), la Llorona (the cryer), among others, were part of the night of terror, accompanied by the traditional dance of the gigantonas (giant puppets) with their Pepe Cabezon (a short big-headed puppet that dances). The priests in colonial times used scary stories and figures to repress the people but Arrechavala, another character, was a woman who challenged these ideas. These representations of local culture were presented in their maximum expression as part of an event that started at the plaza of Sutiaba and proceeded towards the central plaza of Leon. (Radio La Primerisima, 27 Nov. 2021)

La Gigantona and Pepe Cabezon look down on the Carnaval procession in Leon.

65,000 High School Graduates Receive Economic Prizes
The Ministry of Education (MED) will give 65,000 prizes to high school graduates who passed all their classes. 82,667 high school graduates from public and private schools will graduate in 2021. In Nicaragua education was not affected by the pandemic due to the policies implemented by the government, while in some parts of the world many children lost their school year. (Radio La Primerisima, 29 Nov. 2021)

Families Enjoy Cultural and Religious Celebrations in Downtown Managua
On Sunday, thousands of Nicaraguans visited the beautiful altars of the Purisima (celebrating the coming novena of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Maria) and also enjoyed the Christmas decorations. In the Plaza de La Fe there is a fair where artisans sell their goods; food merchants sell food, and kids enjoy the rides. Dinora Beltz, accompanied by her children and grandchildren, said that it was a joy to see so many people having fun in a Christmas atmosphere. Rosa Ugarte, another of the visitors, said, “Here we are all together as a family enjoying ourselves in a healthy way and there is a good influx of people, thanks to God and to our Government, because our Comandante promotes those family bonds. The virus has slowed down; more people are vaccinated and can go out with more confidence.” See photos: https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:123284-desborde-de-familias-nicaraguenses-en-la-avenida-de-bolivar-a-chavez  (El 19 Digital, 28 Nov. 2021)

Nearly 100% Electricity Coverage
Nicaragua surpassed its goal of 99% electricity coverage last month, and is already up to 99.054%, and will likely close the year with 99.1%, announced Salvador Mansell, Minister of Energy and Mines. He added that “We have completed almost 9,000 projects; more than 600,000 homes have been electrified and more than 3.5 million Nicaraguans who did not have energy now have it.” The government is working on the installation of a solar power plant in the most distant area at Cabo Gracias a Dios in the northeastern tip of the north Caribbean with assistance from South Korea. “We are installing solar panels, more than 5,000 in 2021. We have the map drawn up with the inventory [for Cabo Gracias a Dios]). There are more than 1,700 houses, 17 schools, nine health centers, and 34 churches,” he said.

The first transmission lines were installed 60 years ago without incorporating the Caribbean; in contrast, now the whole country is connected to the two Caribbean regions. “The electrical coverage that the North and South Caribbean Regions and the Department of Río San Juan have today is equal to the rest of the country. You see the quality electrical substations installed in the Caribbean Coast are equal to those in the rest of the country, because they are installations for the future,” Mansell said. (Radio La Primerisima, 30 Nov. 2021)

ATC End of the Year Solidarity Celebration December 11
Friends of ATC cordially invites you to their end-of-year solidarity celebration scheduled to take place online Saturday December 11th; at 11am PST / 1pm Nicaragua / 2pm EST / 7pm GMT. There will be a short program from the ATC and Friends of ATC, followed by a time for sharing and live music. Donations will be collected for the Ben Linder Scholarship Fund to support young people who want to visit or study in Nicaragua.
Register for the event (to be held on zoom) at: https://tinyurl.com/CelebrateATC21