From Manual to Electronic Voting: Venezuela’s Success Story in Achieving Fairness and Trust

In spite of Venezuela’s prestige as a country with a strong democratic culture, its history of elections is not a fairy tale. Adopting electronic voting was the natural response to a public outcry for more transparent and efficient electoral processes and not the consequence of a capricious decision by an authority or government.

Until the full automation of the entire electoral process was achieved, there was a plethora of well-documented fraud claims that for years overshadowed some of the very unique and positive characteristics of the Venezuelan democratic tradition.

The phrase “acta mata voto” (“count kills vote”), which became a cliché during the sixties, seventies and eighties, denoted the common belief that official results of elections were seldom the reflection of the political will of the citizenry, but were often the result of negotiations among political elites.

One of the most publicly known electoral scandals, and perhaps the tipping point in the public opinion clearing the way toward automation of electoral processes in Venezuela, was the 1993 Presidential election, in which the former president Rafael Caldera was declared president for a second term. Doubts still remain about the validity of his triumph. Extremely slow counting, electoral material getting lost, and the fact that ballots were found in garbage dumps across the country are among the many reasons why the party Causa R firmly believes that Andres Velasquez was the real winner, except that a massive fraud was carried out.

Since 2004, the year Smartmatic was chosen to deploy its voting platform, Venezuela has had the capability of arriving at the results of extremely complex elections timely and accurately.

One such example took place during the 2007 referendum, where President Chavez’s constitutional amendment proposal was defeated. A few hours after the polls were closed, and immediately after the results were broadcast over state television, the President conceded defeat describing the results as a “photo finish”. Given the irrefutable evidence of the political reality expressed in the ballots, the President acted in consequence.

In the light of the high polarization of the political landscape, electronic voting has proven cardinal toward the nation’s stability. Among the many improvements it has brought forth to this 50-year-old democracy is the fact that the centralized nature of the electoral system allows small political organizations to be part of the multiple audits that take place before, during, and after each election. Throughout the age of manual voting, the hegemonic parties could easily perpetrate different types of electoral frauds, as smaller parties were unable to monitor voting procedures in all precincts.

The highly auditable voting system in force today, developed by the Dutch company Smartmatic, eliminated the possibility of any kind of manipulation. It isolates both programs and data from undue access and avoids inaccuracies during tabulation because the whole process is fully automated and truly auditable, as voting receipts produced by each machine allow both electors and authorities the opportunity to verify the votes registered by the machine. With this system, each citizen becomes an auditor.

Electronic voting has given electoral authorities and the process a level of credibility that could never be attained with manual voting. According to a market research carried out by the firm Datanálisis, 75% of the Venezuelan population prefers electronic voting to manual voting, or to any other system (7%).

A key indicator of the acceptance of electronic voting technology is the fact that even the former most vociferous opponents of electronic voting in the country now endorse the system, and in the last few years have even participated in various elections as candidates.

Venezuela has truly had a remarkable success story in achieving fairness and trust through electronic voting.

Venezuela will set the electoral pace in 2012

Although 2011 has been a year where automation took a leap forward in several Latin American countries and even in Europe, the first half of 2012 will be marked by a greater number of manual elections. In this installment we shall remember the advantages of electronic voting, especially to ensure transparency in the elections.

The electoral pace will be set by Venezuela, where the “Mesa de la Unidad” (MUD) will celebrate its primary elections to be held on February 12, 2012 to determine the presidential candidate who will represent the MUD in Venezuela’s upcoming presidential election to be celebrated on October 7, as well as their candidates for the upcoming regional and municipal elections of December 2012 and April 2013 respectively. These would be the first open presidential primary election in the history of Venezuela, and will be facilitated technically by the National Electoral Council.

In Venezuela, the opposition held the first open primary, with the help of the CNE. Source:

Russia will elect its nation’s president on March 11, and the background is not all positive. After a mid-year trial of electronic voting in some provinces, the legislative elections on December 4 were performed using the manual method and were engaged in loud complaints of election fraud. With this scenario, the nation is headed next year to a presidential election.

Also on March 11 parliamentary and municipal elections will be held in El Salvador, where manual ballots will be used to choose 84 deputies to the Legislative Assembly and 262 mayors of the municipalities. This event will be take the form of “residential voting” which will cover 48.8% of the population that makes up the electoral register, with the intention of bringing closer the polling stations and polling boards. In addition, they will implement the participation of independent candidates, and will include pictures of the candidates on the ballots.

In the case of manual elections, the procedures are recorded on paper and handled 100% by the citizens, so security provisions tend to be focused on the physical safety of the electoral kit. Irregularities often arise such as the alteration of electoral material, loss or damage, impaired movement and exposure to human error.

The automated voting system settles many problems that the manual method has accumulated. The automation involves the auditability (so that the system can be assessed in all its phases) and provides technological alternatives to recognize fraud attempts.  It also ensures safety in the tallying and collection of results, and eliminates a large percentage of human error.

France is another country that will face two major elections in the first half of 2012. On April 22 the election of the president will be held and the second round is set for May 6. Later, in June specifically, the first round of legislative elections will take place, and the second round is scheduled for June 17.

However, one case that will draw attention next year will be the presidential election in the Dominican Republic, an event to be held on May 20, 2012. This Central American country has several years at the crossroads towards electronic voting.  After multiple attempts and the denial in 2006 of the implementation of the pilot plan, they are working on the possibility of automating the tallying for the presidential election in the May 20, 2012 and automating the entire process for the elections of 2016.

After several setbacks, the president of the Central Electoral Board of that country, Roberto Rosario, announced earlier this year that the tallying and consolidation of voting records for the Dominican presidential election of 2012 would be automated and also simultaneously received by political parties, civil society organizations and the media who want to disclose it to the public. This will be a step towards full automation of the elections in that country.

For the second half of 2012 more elections are expected, among the highlights are the presidential of Mexico and Venezuela, and the municipal ones in Lima and Chile

Several countries debuted with electronic voting in 2011

2011 has been a year of introducing electronic voting for many nations. This is the case for Peru, Panama and Malaysia. Other countries evaluate its viability such as Uruguay, where political actors argue that while the current model is recognized for providing guarantees, they realize the need to modernize several related processes to improve the security and speed of elections.  The automation promise remains for the Dominican Republic’s presidential election to be held on May 20, 2012 and for Mexico with the entire infrastructure and some trials, but awaiting the decision of the Parliament to analyze whether to apply automation to the presidential election of July 2012.

There is also the outlook in Argentina, where several provincial elections have been held through automation, but the scene has not yet fully coalesced for the presidential elections. And there is the eternal case of Colombia, where it has been proven that manual voting can work in a presidential election, but it can become a true disaster in legislative elections.  On November 20 of this year, three weeks after the Colombian regional elections of October 30, 2011, the names of the elected mayors of six municipalities were still unknown, and further yet, until the 13th of December (almost two months after the election) the composition of the council and local boards in Bogotá were still not established.

In the case of Peru, on June 5 the system designed by the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) was put to the test, to comply with the 2005 Law #28581, which ordered the gradual and progressive automation of elections.

Peru had a first successful experience. Source:

The first experience with electronic voting was small but with positive results. The province of Cañete, in the Pacarán district, was the selected location to deploy the first automated Election Day, for which three poll places were equipped with voting machines provided for 1354 citizens to exercise their vote.  The results of the count were obtained 30 minutes after closing, and the count of the vote receipts an hour later.

Panama also joined the Latin American elite with automated elections, and also became an example of inclusion for the region and the world by selecting an indigenous county as the first location to use the electoral technology to vote.

The decision of the Electoral Tribunal (TE) was that the Shire Bugle-Ngäbe voted to elect the Chief General, three Regional Chiefs, seven local Chiefs and Special “Buglé” Chief, through the electronic voting system designed by the agency and in order to extend its application to the whole country starting in 2016.

In Honduras, the Spanish company Indra made a speech before the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of that country and to political parties, about the “goodness” of electronic voting.

On the other hand, problems with voting duplicity and identity theft led Malaysia to adopt the technology that fully ensures the identity of voters using biometric technology, which is, using fingerprinting to confirm the identity of the voters on Election Day.

And in Venezuela, although this year no elections were held, the country’s National Electoral Council  proposed to incorporate the Integrated Authentication System (SAI), a mechanism provided with fingerprint readers (biometric identification) that allows that the voting machine can only be unlocked with the fingerprint of the voters registered to vote in that table.


Venezuela upgraded its biometric identification system. Source:

After seven years using the automated system provided by Smartmatic, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council began a project to modernize the technology platform. National Electoral Council authorities justified the investment, reaching some 116 million bolivars.

The South American country will hold their primaries for the opposition parties on February 12, 2012, out of which will come out the strongest opponent of President Hugo Chavez, who in turn will run for reelection in the presidential elections of October 7 next year.

Ecuador, Nicaragua, Russia and Colombia are among the nations that hold elections with a manual voting system. The experiences have spoken for themselves. In all cases there were allegations of fraud and of delays in the delivery of results.