Donald J. Trump’s voter fraud allegations have already helped inspire one South American leader, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, to sow doubt about the security of his nation’s elections, leading to a riot in Brazil’s capital this year .
Now, 1,500 miles to the south, there’s a new Latino politician warning of voter fraud with little evidence, undermining the confidence of many of his supporters in their nation’s elections this Sunday.
Javier Milei, a far-right libertarian economist and television personality, is competing to become Argentina’s next president in a runoff election. On the campaign trail, he embraced comparisons to Trump and Bolsonaro and, like them, repeatedly warned that if he loses, it may be because the election was stolen.
Milei claimed, without evidence, that stolen and damaged ballots cost him more than a million votes in the August primary election, or up to 5% of the total.
He said such fraud may also have rigged the first round of the Oct. 22 general election, when he placed second with 30% of the vote. “The irregularities were so great that they cast doubt on the results,” he said in a television interview last week.
On Wednesday, his campaign stepped up its accusations. Mr. Milei’s sister, who is running his campaign, filed a complaint with a federal judge alleging “colossal fraud” and saying that in previous votes, unnamed Argentine officials switched ballots for Mr. Milei with his opponent. They said the information came from anonymous sources.
Milei’s rise from fiery TV pundit to political leader on the brink of Argentina’s presidency has already shaken up the politics of this nation of 46 million. His sweeping promises to abandon Argentina’s currency for the U.S. dollar and close the nation’s central bank have left Argentines braced for what could happen if he wins.
But now, with his preemptive accusations of fraud, Argentines are also preparing for what might happen if he doesn’t.
Polls suggest a draw between Milei and his opponent, Sergio Massa, the center-left economy minister.
Many of Milei’s supporters are already crying foul, blaming fraud for his second-place finish last month and taking to the streets at least three times to protest what they say are left-wing plans to steal the vote. On Thursday, her supporters announced plans to protest outside the national electoral authority on election day.
So far the protests have been relatively small and peaceful, but election observers note that Milei is still running.
“I’m not worried that Argentina’s electoral system is at risk,” said Facundo Cruz, an Argentine political scientist who has tracked the fraud allegations. “But I am concerned that some practices we have seen in the United States and Brazil could be repeated.”
Argentina’s plight suggests that Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 US election have not only left an indelible mark on American democracy, but continue to reverberate far beyond US borders, where some political leaders are resorting to fraud as a new potential excuse for electoral defeat. .
“In 40 years of democracy, we have never had serious criticism or any idea of fraud as they claim now,” said Beatriz Busaniche, head of the Via Libre Foundation, an Argentine nonprofit that has worked to improve the nation’s voting systems. (Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.)
“All the people who believe in the electoral system, democracy and transparency are all very worried,” Busaniche added.
Argentine election officials say there is no evidence of fraud. During the Oct. 22 vote, they received 105 total reports of missing or damaged ballots, a typical number.
Election officials said they had not received any formal complaints alleging fraud from Milei’s campaign. Argentina’s electoral authority, in a statement, called his statements “unfounded accusations of fraud that misinform the public and undermine democracy.”
In Argentina, citizens vote by placing their preferred candidate’s paper ballot in an envelope and leaving the sealed envelope in a box. Campaigns distribute their ballots at polling stations. Milei and his allies say people stole his ballots from polling stations, preventing his supporters from voting for him.
Under pressure, however, Milei and his campaign failed to produce much evidence. After Argentina’s election prosecutor called on Milei’s campaign to present evidence, the campaign said it responded with videos and photos from social media.
The man coordinating Milei’s response to election officials, Santiago Viola, the campaign’s national legal director, said in an interview that he had received 10 to 15 written complaints from people saying ballots bearing Milei’s name were missing from their polling stations.
Mr. Viola said he believes campaign officials in other parts of the country have fielded other complaints, but he has not seen them. He could not verify another election official’s claim last month that there were 4,500 reports of missing ballots. More than 26 million people voted last month.
“Javier has a better handle on numbers than I do,” Mr. Viola said, referring to Mr. Milei.
Milei says there are “studies” that show he was robbed of 5% of the primary vote, but he hasn’t shared them.
Mr Milei said a sign of fraud was that during the vote, some polling stations reported no votes for him. “This is statistically impossible,” he said. In fact, the three main candidates all got zero votes last month almost the same number of polling stations – about 100 each – not counting the stations that didn’t record any votes. There are 104,520 stations.
“I didn’t report the fraud,” Mr. Massa, Mr. Milei’s opponent, said in an interview. “There may be polling places where no one votes for you.”
Mr. Massa said Mr. Milei is following a family program. “This is the same methodology as Bolsonaro, the same methodology as Trump,” he said.
Mr. Milei has shown a penchant for conspiracy theories. He called climate change a socialist conspiracy. He said he doubts the results of the 2020 and 2022 elections in the United States and Brazil. And he said the subsequent mass attacks on the US and Brazilian Capitol buildings had nothing to do with Trump or Bolsonaro.
“It is proven that what happened in Brazil was established by the Brazilian government itself,” he told the Economist in the month of September. Yet there is clear and ample evidence that Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brazil’s capital in an attempt to overturn Bolsonaro’s election defeat.
As a presidential candidate, Milei has far less power than Trump and Bolsonaro had as sitting presidents when they exposed the fraud. Yet, in both the United States and Brazil, the government institutions they control have largely resisted reports of fraud.
Instead, it was their supporters – who had been hearing complaints of electoral fraud for months – who stormed the buildings of power.
After the first-round results came out last month, Julian Ballester, 21, a construction worker, stood outside Mr. Milei’s headquarters on election night, convinced the numbers were rigged. “They threw away a lot of cards,” he said, saying he had seen the photos in WhatsApp groups. “The fraud is evident.”
Argentina has become more tense in the past year as the economy has collapsed. Annual inflation exceeds 140%, while poverty and hunger have increased. Milei has built his campaign partly on claims that a shadowy cabal of elites, led by Massa, is stealing from average Argentines.
Last year, a man driven by conspiracy theories pulled the trigger of a gun a few centimeters from the face of the Argentine vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a political ally of Massa.
The gun malfunctioned and did not fire.
Milei said this week that his campaign plans to fight fraud on Sunday by arming his campaign’s 103,000 election observers with ballots, so they can replace actions at polling places if any are stolen.
It’s sad that the campaign had to take such measures, Milei said. “Do you realize the madness we live in?”