Venezuela sees unfair voting practices and manipulation once more


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.

Advertisements

27 elections to take place before the year’s end, four in Latin America


Despite September being just around the corner, the electoral calendar is still quite full, including 27 elections in four continents.  Four Latin American countries will go to the polls before the end of 2017.

This list was compiled by the Election Observers Network of Latin America and the Caribbean, who inform that in the hectic electoral schedule for the rest of 2017 there will be 10 presidential and seven legislative elections, while the rest will be primaries and municipal elections.

Some of the events will take place simultaneously in several countries in the same month; four of these countries are Latin American.  Argentina will hold elections in August and October; Chile and Honduras will have theirs in November, and Venezuela will have them in July and December. Additionally, the American states of Virgina and New Jersey will also vote.

Electoral preparations already began in Argentina, where, in the middle of a scandal regarding the award of a contract for the temporary vote count service, marred by suspicions of traffic of influences and a fixed bid,  their primary elections (Simultaneous and Mandatory Primaries, PASO) were moved up to August 13th. Argentina will hold parliamentary elections in October.

Meanwhile, Venezuela will employ electronic voting once more. After calling for elections for the National Constitutional Assembly for July 30th, electoral authorities have announced regional elections for October.

November will see the Chilean presidential elections (on the 19th) and Honduras (set for the 26th).  As for the latter, there is a scandal unveiled by theNational Anti-Corruption Council (CNA), which questioned Mapa Soluciones and other companies involved in the Preliminary Results Transmission System (Trep) and the Integrated Count and Result Broadcast System (Siede) These companies are under investigation due to the irregularities in the award of several contracts, an accusation that also reaches the current board of the Honduran Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).

In the case of Chile, the election set for November 19th could be used as a starting point for the renewal of their voting system. The country experiences strong voter apathy at the moment. Abstention hovers around 60%, which has led experts to agree that the nation must strive to modernize its voting mechanisms.

As for the United States, on November 7th two States will test once more the diverse e-voting models at their disposal. The voting in Virginia and New Jersey could show the need for software and hardware renewal (some parts of the country are lagging in updating), but it could also show the advantages in security, ease and speed that come with technology.

In the rest of the world, India began their road to presidential elections on July 25th.  Presidential elections will also be held in Rwanda (August 4th), Kenya (August 8th), Singapore (sometime in September), New Zealand (September 23rd), Liberia (October 10th), Kyrgyzstan (November 19th) and Slovenia (sometime in December).

Each and every one of these elections will be a great chance for electoral technology to shine. While Venezuela and the United States will confirm their leading status in e-voting technology, other nations will need to keep pushing for modernization, and for a more transparent selection procedure for the companies they choose to this end.

Scandal clouds election preparations in Honduras


Honduras will hold elections in November. The five months remaining will be spent under the shadow cast by the scandal of their organization. Four key companies involved in the process, including Mapa Soluciones, are under investigation for the irregularities in the awarding of several contracts. The scandal also involves the current directive of the Honduran Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).

The National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA) is the organism that has made the case public. Mapa Soluciones and other related companies are under scrutiny; these companies oversee the Preliminary Results Transmission System (Trep) and the Integrated Count and Result Broadcast System (Siede).  The former is in charge of transmitting, via phone, the results of a manual vote count to a tallying centre, while the latter is used to scan and send certified election returns over the Internet.

Both models have been used for several years, Trep since 2009 and Siade since 2012, both with several problems and generating mistrust. However, it is only now that the origin of the contracts subscribed between the TSE and companies like Mapa Soluciones, Geotech, Intelred and Corporación Majo is under the spotlight, since it violates the minimum norms for transparency and legality for the awarding of public contracts.

According to Odir Fernández, member of the CNA, the inquiries show that the owner of Mapa Soluciones, Faustino Reyes Rodríguez, has ties to a political party; additionally, the Trep contract was awarded to him directly just a month after the incorporation of his business, and therefore the company lacked the track record demanded by law.

The National Anti-Corruption Council also stated that Mapa was not enrolled in the State’s service providers list (they were added in 2012) and lacked municipal permits, but the TSJ overlooked these flaws and awarded them the contract, even for the 2013 and 2017 elections.

There is also an element that would, at least, raise eyebrows anywhere else in the globe: two former coordinators and advisers of the Trep system are working for Mapa Soluciones.

These irregularities are repeated with the other companies, and alarms are going off because, according to the CNA, throughout the years and “in several reports, Mapa Soluciones acknowledges the failures in Trep and the data recognition system, yet allege they should not be considered failures, but rather errors that count as useful experience for future improvement”.

Facing these facts, the Chief Magistrate of the TSE, David Matamoros Batson, declared that if the Advisory Council, which includes 10 political parties, concludes that Mapa Soluciones does not meet the requirements, a different company must be engaged.    However, he defended the Tribunal, claiming there has been a media and political narrative that intends to harm the organism and the company itself.

The presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, Luis Zelaya, announced he will take a petition to the TSE to cancel their contract with Mapa, mainly due to the company’s links to the National Party, and the failures registered by the system in the 2009 and 2013 elections.

As shown by the accusations and the findings of the investigation, transparency in electoral matters is precarious in Honduras.  The country faces a decisive moment: they can either purge the management of their public contracts and transform their voting model, or permanently hurt the credibility of electoral authorities, undermining public trust even further.