Despite lack of evidence, LLA supporters push electoral fraud narrative
The National Electoral Directorate has found no indication of foul play, but they continue to make unfounded claims on social media and in marches
Diego Laguna is dressed as Spider-Man and convinced that the government committed fraud in the October 22 elections. It’s Sunday afternoon, and the 30-year-old freelance worker is part of a noisy crowd of La Libertad Avanza (LLA) supporters filling the streets around Buenos Aires’ Obelisk every time a red light halts car traffic. Only a few of them are dressed as Marvel’s web-slinger. Another one is wearing a lion costume, while others have the Argentine or the Gandsen flag tied around their necks.
They all chant “No to fraud” to the waiting cars.
Before and after the elections, far-right libertarian candidate Javier Milei, as well as some of his supporters and social media accounts linked to him, have made unfounded claims of electoral fraud. Authorities have contested those remarks, showing there is no evidence of foul play. Even Milei’s party LLA failed to present any legal complaint and its technical representative, Fernando Cerimedo, told the Herald there had been no fraud.
Marcos Schiavi, head of the National Electoral Directorate, told the Herald that LLA authorities never suggested there would be fraud in the numerous meetings they held regarding vote count.
“Our formal relationship with LLA was totally cordial in the five or six months following the confirmation of the electoral schedule,” Schiavi said.
But two pro-Milei marches protesting an alleged fraud took place in Buenos Aires over the past weekend, and there is another one scheduled for Sunday. Spokespersons for LLA said that the party did not organize them, although the Herald spoke to two former party candidates who were present, Viviana Aguirre and Sebastián Franco.
The first march on Saturday 28 only gathered some thirty people. But roughly 1,000 people were present the next day in the Obelisk — a march that coincided with a gathering of thousands of people dressed as Spider-Man who met that same day to break the Guiness world record for most people dressed as the Marvel hero in the same location.
“They committed fraud, and I am terrified they will do it again,” Laguna told the Herald through his Spider-Man mask. “I am a big, big fan of the lion,” he said, referencing the animal Milei likes to compare himself with. Like others, Laguna went to the Spider-Man event first and then joined the LLA protests. Karina, a 47-year-old housewife who chose not to give her full name, went to both events with her 19-year-old daughter, also a libertarian, who was dressed as Spider-Girl.
“I don’t understand how the media isn’t saying anything, with the amount of videos on TikTok and Instagram that prove the fraud,” she told the Herald. But some mainstream journalists have cast some doubt over the election process — one of them even spoke of “micro-fraud.” Karina said that those videos showed stolen ballots and how Milei surrendered his voting lead following a power cut in a recount center.
According to a report by Contextual, a project by the Institute for Digital Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (IDDLAC), those videos are part of a disinformation campaign. “LLA leaders’ involvement was evidently coordinated and organized,” the document concluded. Some of those involved included LLA candidates and representatives, such as former Buenos Aires City mayoral candidate Ramiro Marra and Buenos Aires deputies Agustin Romo and Nahuel Sotelo.
According to Contextual’s survey, this kind of content had already circulated on election day, even before the results were known. In a live broadcast on the LLA-supporting Break Point channel on YouTube, Milei’s social media manager Eugenia Rolón said: “Let’s make ‘fraud’ trend on Twitter. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have final results yet, fraud has already happened”.
A great power but no responsibility
“Oh, I saw the videos,” Schiavi told the Herald.
One piece of “evidence” LLA supporters pointed to and shared profusely on social media were the 1,700 voting stations where Milei got “zero votes.” Milei himself even mentioned it before the general elections. What they do not mention is that, of those 1,700 stations, in 1,544 of them, all candidates got zero votes.
“Those were voting stations that weren’t counted during the provisional tally [for any number of reasons],” Schiavi told the Herald. “That happens because either the telegram is missing, or there is a problem with the [telegram’s] picture. It’s impossible to count [all these special cases] on election night, so they get counted in the final tally, where 100% of voting stations are counted.”
The provisional 2023 presidential election tally ended with 98.6% of the stations counted, while 2019 ended with 97% and 2015 with 98.5%. The remaining stations are counted in the final tally.
Another video that circulated on TikTok and Instagram also pointed to a power shortage in a recounting center that preceded Milei losing his voting lead. Schiavi acknowledged there was a voltage drop in one Monte Grande computing center, but that it happened around 6 p.m., before any votes were uploaded, and did not affect any systems.
Missing ballots and human errors were also reported, but not by the thousands, as Milei said on October 22. “The number of complaints was in line with past elections; there was no peak,” said Schiavi, who mentioned that they also received complaints from other political parties and that the typing errors were corrected in the final tally.
Perhaps the biggest evidence that there was no foul play was that the final tally had almost the same results as the provisional count. It should be noted that the provisional tally is done by the National Electoral Directorate (part of the executive branch), while the final count is carried out by the National Electoral Justice (part of the judiciary).
“This was the presidential election with the lowest-ever difference between the provisional and final tallies,” Schiavi told the Herald.
Contextual General Director Andrés Piazza said LLA’s campaign is a “textbook operation” in line with what other right-wing figures have done — like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, or Spanish party Vox.
“There is a coordinated effort aiming at installing a discourse, even sometimes without strong presentations like we’ve seen here, that weakens democratic legitimacy,” he said. Piazza added that their leaders sometimes publicly deny those attacks on democracy and that, in the case of LLA, they did not file any legal complaints.
“But the impact of this coordinated effort in terms of visibility on social media is much greater than the denial. At the end of the day, this legal aspect has no impact on public opinion. However, this [social media] army does.”