There are a good many myths and theories about Venezuela’s automated voting system. They include a Russian hacker, a submarine cable, stuffed votes, bi-directionality theory, cap theory, etc.,, in short, there have always been politicians and “experts” trying to explain “the fraud”. Eleven years after the first of several elections was held using this system, and having had winning candidates from both sides, there hasn’t been a single voting minute found in the hands if political witnesses that does not match those published by the National Electoral Council.
But not only Venezuelans are fond of conspiracy theories, especially when it comes to elections. In fact, if you Google “fraud in X elections,” where X equals any country, you are most likely to find multiple articles, each covering some alleged fraud.
However, in Venezuela campaigns against the system usually benefit the Government, because doubt usually confuses its opponents and weakens their intention to vote.
Here you will find seven answers to typical pre-election questions. If you doubt that your vote will count, remember that after you cast it, nobody can change it or eliminate it. Every vote registered counts.
- How is each vote verified?
At the moment of casting a vote, each voter has two chances to verify it : 1) First, when interacting with the electronic ballot by touching on an icon and/or name of the option selected, a light will turn on indicating the selection. This same option will appear on the touchscreen on the voting machine. This visual verification which takes place before emitting the vote enables the voter to change the option if he or she so desires. 2) Once this verification is done, in order to cast the ballot the voter presses the VOTE button on the touchscreen. A vote receipt is then printed. This paper trail is intended to be verified by the voter before depositing it in the ballot box.
- How is it possible to verify that the results printed by the machine at the end of the process are correct?
Once the voting process is over at each voting station, the machine tallies the votes and prints the tally minute with the results. After the minute is printed, with copies for all witnesses present, and after transmitting results, a raffle takes place to decide which ballot boxes will be opened for vote receipts to be manually counted before witnesses in order to verify that the machine’s results are correct. These audits have always confirmed the accuracy of the voting system.
- How do we know that a person cannot vote more than once on a machine?
The integrated verification system (SAI) compares the voter’s fingerprint with stored data in order to verify his/her identity. Additionally, it compares the voter’s fingerprint with the fingerprints of all the voters that have already voted on that particular machine. Thus, the device would discover if the person has already cast a ballot, and therefore cannot do it again.
- What if a person goes to another polling station to try to vote again? How does the system prevent them from voting again if fingerprint verification is not done online?
Two sets of identical fingerprints (from the same person) cannot be on two different machines, because before loading voter’s roster information on the machines (done just before the election), the national database is checked for duplicates. Therefore, it would be impossible for two sets of fingerprints having a single duplicate ID number to be found on two machines asssigned to two polling stations. This is audited and validated by technicians from the two political sides. Besides, when a voter presents his/her ID card to the polling station staff, the staff verifies that the person is the same voter registered on the SAI system. However, if all the polling station members and witnesses present agreed on allowing identity theft, and let someone with bogus credentials to vote, this would be recorded on the machine’s log.
- How is it guaranteed that votes are not stuffed into the machine?
The machines are set up according to the voting centers and polling stations where they are deployed. That is, the machine only “expects” those voters registered to vote at that specific polling station.
For this election, up to four “no-match” people will be enabled to vote. If this number is exceeded, the head of the polling station must enter a password to unlock the machine (in 2013, the number was seven). Additionally, two people without upper limbs cannot vote consecutively unless the head of the polling station enters a password to unlock the machine (in 2013, the number was four people). Finally, the number of voters without registered fingerprints who may vote was also reduced for this occation, but the number varies according to the voters with missing fingerprints registered at the voting machine.
If the number of no-match people, or people without upper limbs, or people without registered fingerprints exceeded the allowable number for the second time, the machine would be blocked again, but this time it would require a password from the National Support Center. Often times, along with this password, an officer from the electoral entity arrives in order to understand what is happening at that polling station.
These measures reduce identity theft and multiple votes significantly, and reinforce the “one voter, one vote” premise. The system is set up this way in order to safeguard the right to vote, consecrated by the Constitution.
- What happens if the information is manipulated after being received and aggregated and the published results weren’t the real ones?
The results are published by state, municipality, parish, centers, and stations. They may be compared, minute by minute, with the minutes emitted by each machine in order to verify that they match completely. Even if they were not released at this level of detail, the different political actors could add up the copies of minutes in their power and verify that the final results are correct.
- I’ve been told there are “phantom” machines, that no one knows where they are, and that they could transmit “fraudulent results” on Election Day. Couldn’t this inflate final results in favor of an option?
The information of all the polling stations is public and is available to download from the website of the National Electoral Council. It is known as “polling station chart.” The file contains information from all of the country’s polling stations, and each polling station has one voting machine assigned to it. If that theory were true, there would be minutes from polling stations that are not on the official list. Therefore, any irregularity can be easily detected.
* Information taken from decodingthevote.org and press releases sent by Smartmatic.