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.

Venezuelan electoral credibility in freefall after Constituent Assembly

The election of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) in Venezuela on July 30th drastically broke the electoral dynamic that had been building in the country since 2004, when the nation automated their voting.

From the way the election of a second ANC (the first one took place in 1999), to the moment in which results were presented, the election was questioned by experts and politicians both inside the country and abroad.

For some, the convocation to vote itself was illegal, since it was done directly by President Nicolás Maduro, without a referendum to consult the nation on whether they wanted a new constitution.

Furthermore, the National Electoral Council approved an electoral schedule that prevented many of the audits that had taken place in every election since 2004.  By skipping two thirds of the battery of 21 audits that are usually conducted, the credibility of the vote was seriously affected.  The Venezuelan National Observatory (OEV) kept a record of these shortcomings in a report, which states 14 audits were skipped, and 70 to a 100 actions that usually precede any election were omitted as well.

Adding to this, the problems were made worse by the decision of the Venezuelan opposition to abstain from participating, since this took away one of the vital aspects needed to guarantee the transparency of the process: having witnesses from the opposing side making sure rules and procedures are respected.

The grave concerns over the way the CNE decided to carry out the voting reached a boiling point 72 hours after the event, when Smartmatic, the company that had supplied Venezuela with voting technology for the past 14 years,   denounced that according to their estimates, “the difference between the numbers announced and those in the system [was] of at least a million voters”.

According to the multinational, while CNE President Tibisay Lucena stated 8,08 million people had voted the company data projected a different number, and they suggested audits to validate the information.

To date, the CNE has not responded to this accusation effectively, and chose to hide behind political rhetoric when the situation called for technical arguments.  Mistrust gained ground: it has been several weeks after the vote and the organism has not yet published electoral results by polling station, as it had done traditionally since 2004, thus withholding the knowledge of how all the voting circuits polled, and preventing confirmation of the results.

The CNE’s decision to hide the electoral data denies any audit of the vote; the tally cannot be corroborated by matching printed election returns with the polling station results.

So not only are there accusations of an alleged tampering of the final results offered by the National Electoral Council (CNE), but we can add that more than 30 days the vote, no official detailed results have been made public.

The delicate nature of the situation has been discussed by national and international specialists. Former Carter Center representative, Jennifer McCoy, anticipates that what happened will “strongly influence the trust of Venezuelans when it comes to participating in future elections”.

It is in the hands of the authorities to restore proper lawful procedures, and in the hands of political actors to press so that Venezuelans can recover their voting system, which took years of work and investments.

Politics challenge the speed of automated results in Venezuela


Venezuela has a 100% automated voting system.

Elections in Argentina and Colombia are taking place between October and November, in close proximity with Venezuela’s parliamentary elections (December 6). This reactivated the debate about speed in the delivery of electoral results in the last one.

During the last Parliamentary elections (September 2010), the National Electoral Council (CNE) retained the emission of the first electoral bulletin for eight hours after closing the polls. At that moment there was harsh criticism over the fact that although Venezuela has an automated voting model, results were delivered much later than nations with manual voting and tallying.

This apparent contradiction sparked a number or rumors, but has also brought deep analysis and the formulation of theories linked to the strong political friction that Venezuela has been suffering due to the polarization it has been experiencing for more than a decade. However, when it comes to such a critical element as the results of an election, it is fair to conclude that the reasons delaying the presentation of vote counts in Venezuela have always been of political and legal nature.

The conclusion is based on three elements that have an effect on the delivery of results: the closure of polling stations is not uniform; the CNE’s decision of only revealing the tally when the trend is irreversible; and, most important, the fact that consultation with political actors takes place before diffusion.

Normally, the electoral authorities announce that results will be presented three hours after the closing of the polls. However, the effective closing time is not the same across the country, because the Law mandates that even though the end of process is announced, voting must continue in those polling stations where there are still voters standing in line. Therefore, the moment when most of the results begin to be transmitted is uneven.

Another aspect that affects time is the fact that CNE only delivers the tally when there is an irreversible trend, despite the fact that the system is capable of showing data transmission in real time.

In this case, the December 6 election is an event for local constituencies, and for this reason a higher number of votes is needed to achieve an irreversible trend than in national elections. In other words, these are elections that are decided over a smaller amount of votes. Even the votes stored in a single voting machine may change the results of a constituency. For example, in 2010, Ricardo Sanguino (PSUV) won at circuit 3 of the Táchira state by only 90 votes.

This situation also has an effect from a different standpoint, as authorities have been known for releasing results when most posts have a firm trend and not when only some of them have reached it. In other words, while in other countries seats are disclosed as their trends become irreversible, in Venezuela this is only done when most or all of them have become so.

The third aspect that affects the delivery of the official bulletin is the fact that before disclosing results in public, the CNE shares them with political actors, so that they can compare them with their own numbers. In Venezuela, witnesses of political trends receive copies of the tally reports printed at each polling center.

Eugenio Martínez, journalist to the electoral source, confirmed this aspect in his blog, and he describes other elements such as the country’s political culture. These cause the nation not to leverage one of the benefits provided by its electoral system: speed in the delivery of results. However, results in Venezuela are always official, while in Colombia and Argentina they are “provisional.”

This situation, as well as other details of the December 6 elections were addressed on a preliminary report from the Political Studies Center of the Ucab and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), which concludes that “the strength of Venezuela’s electoral process lies in the automated system for vote casting and tallying, and its biggest flaw consists in the lack of equality (official unfairness) in the conditions for electoral competition.”

The Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) agreed with this observation. This coalition joins the opposition parties, and it insists on the need for results to be delivered faster. Even for this process, it requested “starting to release those results showing irreversible trends” in order to “avoid a situation of uncertainty.”

All these events reveal that in Venezuela, politics are challenging the voting system’s capability of offering timely and fast results. There are other factors to keep into account in this occasion, which are not related to e-voting: the country’s socioeconomic instability and the tension generated by surveys that for the first time show the government at a disadvantage. However, pressure from the political groups themselves and from voters in future events may lead the country to gain access to real-time broadcasting of results, something it is surely capable of fulfilling.