In spite of Venezuela’s prestige as a country with a strong democratic culture, its history of elections is not a fairy tale. Adopting electronic voting was the natural response to a public outcry for more transparent and efficient electoral processes and not the consequence of a capricious decision by an authority or government.
Until the full automation of the entire electoral process was achieved, there was a plethora of well-documented fraud claims that for years overshadowed some of the very unique and positive characteristics of the Venezuelan democratic tradition.
The phrase “acta mata voto” (“count kills vote”), which became a cliché during the sixties, seventies and eighties, denoted the common belief that official results of elections were seldom the reflection of the political will of the citizenry, but were often the result of negotiations among political elites.
One of the most publicly known electoral scandals, and perhaps the tipping point in the public opinion clearing the way toward automation of electoral processes in Venezuela, was the 1993 Presidential election, in which the former president Rafael Caldera was declared president for a second term. Doubts still remain about the validity of his triumph. Extremely slow counting, electoral material getting lost, and the fact that ballots were found in garbage dumps across the country are among the many reasons why the party Causa R firmly believes that Andres Velasquez was the real winner, except that a massive fraud was carried out.
Since 2004, the year Smartmatic was chosen to deploy its voting platform, Venezuela has had the capability of arriving at the results of extremely complex elections timely and accurately.
One such example took place during the 2007 referendum, where President Chavez’s constitutional amendment proposal was defeated. A few hours after the polls were closed, and immediately after the results were broadcast over state television, the President conceded defeat describing the results as a “photo finish”. Given the irrefutable evidence of the political reality expressed in the ballots, the President acted in consequence.
In the light of the high polarization of the political landscape, electronic voting has proven cardinal toward the nation’s stability. Among the many improvements it has brought forth to this 50-year-old democracy is the fact that the centralized nature of the electoral system allows small political organizations to be part of the multiple audits that take place before, during, and after each election. Throughout the age of manual voting, the hegemonic parties could easily perpetrate different types of electoral frauds, as smaller parties were unable to monitor voting procedures in all precincts.
The highly auditable voting system in force today, developed by the Dutch company Smartmatic, eliminated the possibility of any kind of manipulation. It isolates both programs and data from undue access and avoids inaccuracies during tabulation because the whole process is fully automated and truly auditable, as voting receipts produced by each machine allow both electors and authorities the opportunity to verify the votes registered by the machine. With this system, each citizen becomes an auditor.
Electronic voting has given electoral authorities and the process a level of credibility that could never be attained with manual voting. According to a market research carried out by the firm Datanálisis, 75% of the Venezuelan population prefers electronic voting to manual voting, or to any other system (7%).
A key indicator of the acceptance of electronic voting technology is the fact that even the former most vociferous opponents of electronic voting in the country now endorse the system, and in the last few years have even participated in various elections as candidates.
Venezuela has truly had a remarkable success story in achieving fairness and trust through electronic voting.