TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Four Honduran computer programmers watching their country's debate 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 idea was to show that computer technology and the Internet now mean that important information which once had to be taken on faith from the government can be verified by the public.
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."
The four, who have worked together developing apps and in other ventures, say there was no political motivation. They have no party affiliation and all voted for different candidates in the Nov. 24 election.
Honduras' electoral court last week declared National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez the winner with 37 percent of the votes, while Xiomara Castro of the Libre Party was second with 29 percent and six other candidates shared the remaining votes. Castro has claimed fraud and she filed a formal challenge Monday, leading the tribunal to say it would recount the vote tally sheets.
Breve and fellow programmers Jorge Garcia, Alejandro Corpeno and Fernando Escher already were working on their recount, which they decided to do while chatting on the Web about the election.
"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.
"In our system, for a tally sheet to be counted, it has 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 for users to report 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.
By Monday, 1,200 volunteers had checked 15,514 of the 16,135 tally sheets and the group's count showed nearly the same result as the election tribunal's: Hernandez at 35 percent and Castro at 27.5 percent.
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.
Associated Press writer Alba Mora in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Alberto Arce on Twitter: @alberarce.
Alba Mora on Twitter: @albamoraroca.