Argentina's presidential run-off on Sunday between Sergio Massa and Javier Milei has been loaded with speculation, claims of electoral fraud and polls which do not provide a definitive trend. Now, we can pose an added question: what will happen if on the night of November 19 if results of the provisional count do no indicate an irreversible trend in favour of one candidate.
In order to answer the question, it is necessary to firstly differentiate the provisional count from the final one: despite it being custom that on that night a winning party or candidate is revealed, effectively only the final count has the legal validity to confirm a winner, and it takes several more days for those figures to be disclosed. The legal answer is that if the results on Sunday night are unclear as to the definitive winner, there could be a wait of between one or two weeks to know the identify of Argentina's next president.
Experts from the Electoral Court consulted by Perfil said that the legally valid is overseen by them whereas the provisional count is a calculation organised by the Executive Branch, in this case President Alberto Fernández's government.
The authorities of the Electoral Court are in charge of sreolving all the votes which by law are not recorded in the temporary count: disputed and contested votes (where there are doubts as to whether the vote is valid or not – for example, when the ballot paper is broken and the scrutineers of each party discuss whether it should be invalid or not), ballots cast by Argentine citizens living abroad and those from prisoners. This is the main reason why the provisional count, published on election night, never fully reaches 100 percent.
In spite of these differences, spokespersons for the Electoral Court assured to Perfil that “the final result does not usually substantially differ from the temporary one, and that is why the winner is nearly always known on the same day as the election.”
Nevertheless, there have been exceptions to this statement, such as the case from the last election for mayor of La Plata/ Julio Alak won by so few votes and his rival, Julio Garro, alleged irregularities, which is why they had to wait until the resolution of the Electoral Board to know the winner, days after the polls.
However, Sunday's vote has a great advantage: there are only two candidates: Sergio Massa and Javier Milei. There are not five political parties, and no mayors, governors, etc. either. This greatly speeds up the process, which is why it is expected that, if it is a normal election day, between 9pm and 10pm the first official numbers from the provisional count will be known.
“At 6 pm, when the polling stations close, except for people who had been queueing up from before and did not manage to vote, the polling stations authorities call the scrutineers, who must not take part in the process but must be present observing everything the moment the ballot boxes are opened. The votes are counted, blank votes are separated, affirmative votes are counted and it is verified that the number of citizens in the roll who attended was recorded to cast their vote,” said the spokespersons, clarifying that “blank votes are valid, but they are not counted."
That is the moment they record contested votes, which are those that for some reason are not clear according to the standards of polling station authorities. In general, this is where scrutineers intervene the most to claim whether broken ballots cast doubt or not about their validity.
At the end of this entire process, it is all recorded in a protocol and a telegram and the scrutineers sign them. The protocol, on the one hand, goes to the Electoral Board of that district – there are 24, one per provinceB – and the telegram, is sent to the calculation centre. Every scrutineer keeps a copy of the telegram so that, during the final count, they may check that the information matches the protocol kept by the Electoral Board.
Should there be any substantial difference between those documents, the Electoral Board assesses whether to open the ballot box or not.
The day of the polls, the loading of telegrams, left in charge of the Executive Branch, is performed by double entry to do a double check and prevent any errors of data uploading.
Telegrams reading “0”, which caused some politicians to speak of “irregularities” and even “fraud” are actually telegrams which could not be made out in the calculation centre, and when in doubt, are kept to be solved in the final count.
“In the last election, La Libertad Avanza, Unión por la Patria and Juntos por el Cambio had between 1,500 and 1,700 such telegrams, and it is not fraud, because they are solved in the final count,” said the electoral authorities.
In a reportd, it was also specified that broken ballots in an envelope are not necessarily invalid, and including them in the count is not grounds for fraud either. In case an unofficial ballot has been put into an envelope, the polling station authorities will prioritise the voter’s will.
If a ballot has crossed out or added words, tears or substitutions but the heading is intact, that vote will be counted as affirmative. But if the ballot is partly destroyed and does not “fully contain the number of the political group and the category of posts to be elected”, that vote will be invalid.
They also assured that with unofficial ballots, they will analyse and prioritise the voter’s will. For this election, the National Electoral Court confirmed that the ballots of the general election, that is, those dated October 22, will also be official.
In conclusion, in order for there not be a defined winner next Sunday, the difference between both candidates should be lower than the number of votes that are left unloaded or unsolved due to all the reasons mentioned above.
In 2015, even though the result of the run-off between Daniel Scioli and Mauricio Macri was very even, making the Cambiemos candidate the winner with 51.34 percent of the votes as against 48.66 percent of Peronism, Scioli conceded his defeat after 70 percent of the polling stations had been counted. By then, the temporary results gave Macri a six-point advantage ahead of Scioli, with 53 percent of the vote. The distance between both candidates was slowly reduced over the next few hours, but there was already a final and irreversible difference.
Another close election in recent times in the region was in Brazil, when Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated Jair Bolsonaro in the run-off, with 50.9 percent of the votes. Bolsonaro obtained the remaining 49.10 percent. The incumbent refused to accept the results, did not take part in the handover and questioned the count, sparking incidents reminiscent of 2021 in the United States, when Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden and it ended up with demonstrators storming the Capitol and four dead.
Neither complaint was verified by their respective electoral courts.