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Honduran computer ‘geeks’ check election tally

December 3, 2013

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Four Honduran computer programmers watching their country’s dispute over the vote count in the hotly contested presidential race decided to check the results themselves, using the power of the Internet and its many users.

The tech entrepreneurs, who all have studied abroad and live in the U.S., Honduras and El Salvador, went to Honduras’ official election website and downloaded scanned copies of vote tally sheets from polling stations. They then posted the sheets publicly and recruited hundreds of volunteers through social media to help check the results.

Roberto Breve, a systems engineer, said they had two goals: “To provide access to free, public information so it can be reused, and crowdsourcing — using collective power to do projects quicker and more efficiently.”

By Tuesday, volunteers had triple-checked 11,263 or 72,03 percent of the 15,637 tally sheets that were posted digitally, and while the process is still experimental, the group’s count was close to that of the official election tribunal’s initial result, with Juan Orlando Hernandez at 35 percent and Xiomara Castro at 27.4 percent.

The electoral tribunal itself is conducting a formal recount of the tally sheets in response to Castro’s allegations of fraud.

There have been similar independent counts by civic groups in Mexico and Venezuela, but the Honduran effort is notable because “it was from the bottom up. It wasn’t led by an institution or a nonprofit agency,” said Jorge Soto, who helped create one such system in Mexico and now works for that country’s Mexico’s presidency.

The Honduran programmers, who have worked together in other ventures, say they have no political motivation or affiliation, and that each voted for a different candidate in the Nov. 24 election.

Honduras’ electoral court last week declared National Party candidate Hernandez the winner with 37 percent of the votes, trailed by Castro, of the Libre Party with 29 percent and six other candidates.

Breve and fellow programmers Jorge Garcia, Alejandro Corpeno and Fernando Escher decided to do their own recount earlier while chatting on the Web.

“We wanted to see for ourselves if there were inconsistencies and contradictions in the vote count,” Breve said.

Two days after the election, the group created the website conteo.votosocial.org and asked volunteers to sign up through Facebook and help them validate the results or point out problems.

To try to screen out partisan bias or errors, the group requires each tally sheet to be validated by three users, Garcia said. “If a person finds a mistake in the count, they correct it and close it. And, again, three different people have to validate it for the tally sheet to be accepted in our final count.”

The page also includes a section where users are reporting problems, including blank tally sheets or possibly falsified ones. The page keeps a visible log of everyone who has helped validate the tally sheets or reported a problem, Garcia said.

Ricci Moncada, who represents Castro’s political party at the electoral court, declined to comment on the programmers’ recount.

Garcia said the quartet has posted the source code for their project on the Web for anyone to check.

“We’ve applied transparency to ourselves so anyone can audit the platform, check that it works and modify if for future use,” he said.

The Hondurans’ idea is to have citizens review the vote count, opening the door to more grassroots participation in the Central American country, Soto said.

“This will definitely inspire more people, and it can generate a wave of change,” he added.

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Associated Press writer Alba Mora in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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Alberto Arce on Twitter: @alberarce.

Alba Mora on Twitter: @albamoraroca.

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