Elections in Argentina and Colombia are taking place between October and November, in close proximity with Venezuela’s parliamentary elections (December 6). This reactivated the debate about speed in the delivery of electoral results in the last one.
During the last Parliamentary elections (September 2010), the National Electoral Council (CNE) retained the emission of the first electoral bulletin for eight hours after closing the polls. At that moment there was harsh criticism over the fact that although Venezuela has an automated voting model, results were delivered much later than nations with manual voting and tallying.
This apparent contradiction sparked a number or rumors, but has also brought deep analysis and the formulation of theories linked to the strong political friction that Venezuela has been suffering due to the polarization it has been experiencing for more than a decade. However, when it comes to such a critical element as the results of an election, it is fair to conclude that the reasons delaying the presentation of vote counts in Venezuela have always been of political and legal nature.
The conclusion is based on three elements that have an effect on the delivery of results: the closure of polling stations is not uniform; the CNE’s decision of only revealing the tally when the trend is irreversible; and, most important, the fact that consultation with political actors takes place before diffusion.
Normally, the electoral authorities announce that results will be presented three hours after the closing of the polls. However, the effective closing time is not the same across the country, because the Law mandates that even though the end of process is announced, voting must continue in those polling stations where there are still voters standing in line. Therefore, the moment when most of the results begin to be transmitted is uneven.
Another aspect that affects time is the fact that CNE only delivers the tally when there is an irreversible trend, despite the fact that the system is capable of showing data transmission in real time.
In this case, the December 6 election is an event for local constituencies, and for this reason a higher number of votes is needed to achieve an irreversible trend than in national elections. In other words, these are elections that are decided over a smaller amount of votes. Even the votes stored in a single voting machine may change the results of a constituency. For example, in 2010, Ricardo Sanguino (PSUV) won at circuit 3 of the Táchira state by only 90 votes.
This situation also has an effect from a different standpoint, as authorities have been known for releasing results when most posts have a firm trend and not when only some of them have reached it. In other words, while in other countries seats are disclosed as their trends become irreversible, in Venezuela this is only done when most or all of them have become so.
The third aspect that affects the delivery of the official bulletin is the fact that before disclosing results in public, the CNE shares them with political actors, so that they can compare them with their own numbers. In Venezuela, witnesses of political trends receive copies of the tally reports printed at each polling center.
Eugenio Martínez, journalist to the electoral source, confirmed this aspect in his blog, and he describes other elements such as the country’s political culture. These cause the nation not to leverage one of the benefits provided by its electoral system: speed in the delivery of results. However, results in Venezuela are always official, while in Colombia and Argentina they are “provisional.”
This situation, as well as other details of the December 6 elections were addressed on a preliminary report from the Political Studies Center of the Ucab and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), which concludes that “the strength of Venezuela’s electoral process lies in the automated system for vote casting and tallying, and its biggest flaw consists in the lack of equality (official unfairness) in the conditions for electoral competition.”
The Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) agreed with this observation. This coalition joins the opposition parties, and it insists on the need for results to be delivered faster. Even for this process, it requested “starting to release those results showing irreversible trends” in order to “avoid a situation of uncertainty.”
All these events reveal that in Venezuela, politics are challenging the voting system’s capability of offering timely and fast results. There are other factors to keep into account in this occasion, which are not related to e-voting: the country’s socioeconomic instability and the tension generated by surveys that for the first time show the government at a disadvantage. However, pressure from the political groups themselves and from voters in future events may lead the country to gain access to real-time broadcasting of results, something it is surely capable of fulfilling.