Venezuela is experiencing a tragedy that is admitted around the world, and that in formal terms is cataloged as a complex humanitarian emergency. This crisis keeps citizens subdued by the impossibility of supplying their basic needs and rights, while political confrontation rages on and the outcome is uncertain.
Currently, the president of the National Assembly (AN), Juan Guaidó, is exercising the interim presidency of Venezuela after declaring the usurpation of the presidency of Venezuela by Nicolás Maduro. According to the National Assembly and the international community, the election of Maduro in May 2018 lacked any legitimacy, while the provisional presidency of Guaidó has been recognized by more than 50 countries.
The reason why some elections have been recognized by the international community as legitimate, while others have not received such a blessing, lies in the way in which such electoral processes were managed.
Guaidó, along with 166 other AN deputies, was elected in December 2015 in what is now regarded as the last legitimate election held in Venezuela. All previous elections held in the country since 2004 were based on the automated voting model that allowed this nation, mired in bloody political unrest for 20 years, to hold more than a dozen successful elections without any numerical inconsistencies, overcoming doubts about their results.
The results of those 2015 parliamentary elections were unquestionable. It is precisely this legitimacy of origin that allows Juan Guaidó to try to rescue Venezuela, following institutional guidelines.
In the case of the election of the “National Constituent Assembly” (ANC) of 2017, a body with no constitutional backing, the electoral process broke away from the dynamics that had been built in the country. The actions adopted by the CNE were questioned by experts and politicians inside and outside the nation. Even Smartmatic, the company that for 14 years had provided the electoral technology, publicly denounced that the CNE announced different results than those arrived at by the automated voting system. After this denunciation, and after having assisted the electoral authorities in 15 elections, in February 2018 the company ceased operations in Venezuela, closed its offices, and did not participate in any further elections in the country.
Subsequently, during the elections of governors held in October 2017, many other irregularities were committed and denounced. The Venezuelan Electoral Observatory (OEV), in addition to ruling that the CNE “acted in the interests of the Government’s political interests”, also inventoried the anomalies detected before Election Day and during the voting proper. A lapidary case was that of State Bolivar, where the authorities refused to have the system transmit the results, and proceeded to manually alter the tally. For the first time in an automated election, records were found printed by the voting machines that did not match the totals published through the tabulation system.
All these irregularities have caused a deep damage to the Venezuelan electoral system, furnishing ample reasons why the confidence in the electoral institution has decreased sharply. Added to this, the complaint made by the Smartmatic company marked a milestone in the country’s electoral processes. Subsequent elections such as those of the ANC in July 2017 and the election of May 20, 2018 in which Nicolas Maduro was re-elected have been dismissed by the nation at large, and also by a great number of countries.
In the framework of discussions for the restoration of democracy, some political analysts have mentioned that elections must be held that meet the parameters established by law. In order to accomplish this, a series of actions are required, such as: the appointment of new electoral authorities, a key element of the discussion; the purging of the voter registry; the updating of the whole database of Venezuelan citizenry; and to reinstate at least 19 audits to the automated electoral system.
It will depend on the joint effort of authorities, political actors and voters that Venezuela once again enjoys reliable, functional and safe elections that make it impossible that the schemes of May 20, 2018 or July 30, 2017 get repeated.
In the midst of this bleak outlook, more and more countries are joining the chorus of nations calling for an electoral solution, one which really guarantees fair competitiveness and the alternation in power of political actors. It is opportune to weigh how the use of electoral technology, with full audit capabilities that apply to the entire automated process, could be used as part of an eventual solution to the grave situation in Venezuela.