The decadence of the electoral institutions in Venezuela has placed the whole system in check; a system that since 2004 had been a synonym for exactness. There had never been a single inconsistency between the printed election returns and the digital counts of the machines. Until 2017.
The last two elections carried out in the country (National Constituent Assembly in July, and governors in October) have been negative landmarks; both events have seen unfair voting practices and manipulation abound.
In the case of the Constituent Assembly, we wrote that the process broke with the electoral dynamic that had been built in the country since 2004, the year they automated their elections, since the forms adopted by the National Electoral Council (CNE) were questioned by experts and politicians both in the country and abroad. Meanwhile, Smartmatic, the company that provided Venezuela with voting technology for 14 years, denounced that the CNE presented results different from those the system had tallied.
Now, in the recent governor elections of October 15th, an avalanche of irregularities took place to benefit a single political sector. The Venezuelan Electoral Observatory (OEV) not only stated that the CNE “acted for the benefit of the Government’s political interests, which legitimizes the doubts certain sectors of the population have about the announced results”, but also kept an inventory of the anomalies detected before and during the election.
Some of these events previous to the election include the following: the date of the elections was decided illegally and arbitrarily, 42 political parties were declared illegal, it took a over a month after the elections were announced to publish a final date for the event and its electoral schedule, 33 activities were eliminated from said schedule, 17 activities regarding the election were carried out before it had even been officially announced, no substitutions were allowed for the candidates who dropped out, the voter registry was modified outside legal time limits, the CNE eliminated 76 polling centres and 7 thousand stations without previous notice, and less than a week before the vote it relocated 274 polling centres, affecting some 700 thousand voters.
All these irregularities have been studied by analysts in the country, who point that the CNE’s work and the government’s actions were aimed to grant advantages and “manipulate” the process to guarantee a government victory. Voices abroad support this thesis; for instance the Lima Group, made up of 12 countries, denounced irregularities, intimidation and manipulation, and demanded an audit of the vote.
The peak of these accusations has been the delay with which the CNE presented results in Bolivar state, and the results it made public. Three days after the vote, it declared the government candidate the winner, with a margin of barely 2 thousand votes. This would not be a problem in itself, except the results showed (for the first time in the nation since they automated their vote) numerical inconsistencies in polling stations, as election returns were manually fed into the system instead of the automated tallies – a proof of tampering by the CNE. Smartmatic made it clear that they did not supply any products or services for this event.
Following the accusation of opposition candidate Andrés Velázquez, in total, the CNE added 2,066 votes for the government candidate in 11 polling stations (all of which were manually tampered with): just enough votes so he could “win” the election. Velázquez states that “11 voting machines did not transmit their results (which was unexplained), and their counts were manually loaded, and changed”. This situation is perfectly summarized in a post by journalist Luis Carlos Díaz (Spanish).
An example of this practice happened at the Caroní Elementary School, where according to the CNE’s website, Justo Noguera (proclaimed as governor) allegedly received 502 votes. The election return for machine N3 in this centre shows he only got 138, thus showing an unexplained difference of 364 votes.
All these facts led the National Assembly to declare the election as fraudulent, and demand “the execution of an integral audit, qualitative and quantitative, of the whole process by international organisms and independent experts”. However, the CNE considered that October 15 saw one of “the best voting events the country has ever had”.
Reviewing what happened during the votes for the Constituent Assembly and for governors, it is evident that Venezuela has resorted to abuses and illegal acts to do away with an automated voting model that protects the will of the voters, is based on cutting-edge technology and has witnesses for every stage of the process.
The cost of these actions has already generated internal and external mistrust of the CNE and the results it presents, but their impact will be even more evident in future elections, both in terms of turnout and the stances taken by political parties.
After the damage done, it is up to the efforts of authorities, political agents and voters to see the country has clean elections again, stopping electoral tampering before and after the event.