Opinion and Analysis: Politics
Carter Center Report on the Venezuelan Recall Referendum
The Carter Center has maintained an office and a director in Venezuela since September 2002, at the invitation of the Government of Venezuela and the opposition Coordinadora Democratica. The Center was invited by the National Electoral Council (CNE) to observe the recall referendum process beginning November 2003. The Center has organized five international observer delegations between November 2003 and August 2004, and maintained a longer-term team to observe the four month verification process from January-April 2004.
The Center has performed its role as invited international observers in a neutral, objective manner, respecting the sovereignty of the country and the authority of the CNE. Our role has been to inform the Venezuelan public and international community about the process, to provide evaluation and suggestions to the CNE, and to help ensure transparency and peacefulness of the entire process.
Throughout these eight months we have worked with the CNE to have the access we need and to increase the transparency of the process for the Venezuelan people. We have insisted throughout the process that the definition of fraud consists of an identifiable pattern of bias in favor of or against one party. Irregularities due to administrative difficulties or random statistical effects should affect both sides and should not have an impact on the outcome.
During the verification period, the government Comando Ayacucho raised questions about fraud and we suggested instruments to test these concerns, indicating that a significant pattern must be found before classifying irregularities as fraud. Our own evaluation concluded that sufficient signatures were gathered to trigger the recall referendum. We expressed clearly and in public our discrepancies with some of the CNE decisions, especially regarding the so called "planillas planas" (similar handwriting) and the possibility for signers to "repent" and remove their signatures during the repair period.
After the recall referendum, the opposition Coordinadora Democratica has raised questions about fraud and we have again suggested various instruments to test these concerns. We will describe below the tools we have used to come to our conclusion that the vote results announced by the CNE do reflect the will of the Venezuelan people.
Observation of the Recall Referendum of August 15, 2004
The referendum on Aug. 15, 2004 rejected the petition to revoke the mandate of President Hugo Chavez. The observation of The Carter Center mission confirms the results announced by the National Election Council announced Wednesday, in which the "No" vote to recall President Chavez received 59 percent and the "Yes" vote received 41 percent of the votes cast.
The Carter Center, in coordination with the mission of the Organization of American States, fielded a team of international observers from 14 countries. Beginning July 1, 2004, the Center deployed in Caracas an advance team to observe preparations for the recall, monitor the media coverage and access, and observe the pre-election simulations and audits. Two days before the vote, teams of two observers were sent to the states and the capital district.
The Carter Center mission observed the qualitative aspects of the election as well as the new state-of-the-art automated voting system. Overwhelmingly, Carter Center observers found a calm environment on balloting day, with thousands of voters waiting long hours for the opportunity to cast their ballot. Given the amount of time it took some voters to cast their ballot, it is clear that the voting process--including relevant polling administrative procedures, fingerprint machines, and the automated voting machines--should be reviewed, and swifter voting procedures should be put into place for future elections.
Testing the Automated Voting System
Noting the questions that have been raised about the automated voting system, the Center is providing more detail about our review of that system. The assessment of the automated system consists of three components: I) Voter to the machine; II) Machine to the CNE server; III) Totalization of the votes within the CNE server.
I) Voter to the machine: Does the touchscreen voting machine by Smartmatic accurately reflect the vote cast by the elector?
To assess this question, the CNE organized an audit the night of the election to count the paper receipts (comprobantes) in order to compare them with the electronic results (actas). We supported this process, but were only able to observe a small number of the audits because we were conducting our own quick count at the closing of the polls. In addition, the CNE reported that of the 192 machines chosen in a sample whose drawing we observed, only 82 were audited the night of the election due to the very late hour that many voting stations closed and due to misunderstanding of some of the auditors of the instructions. The results of that audit reported by the CNE were a discrepancy of only 0.02 percent between the paper receipts and the electronic results recorded in the actas.
Due to the incomplete nature of the CNE audit on Aug. 15, our own limited ability to observe that audit, and continued opposition doubts about the machines after the vote, the OAS and The Carter Center proposed on Aug. 17 to the National Electoral Junta (JNE) of the CNE a second audit to compare the paper receipts with the electronic results. This audit is being conducted Aug. 19-21. The preliminary results of this audit confirm that the machines correctly registered the voters' intent.
Chronology of the audit proposal.
- In designing the audit, we consulted Sumate, members of the Coordinadora Democratica, and with Rectors Zamora and Rodriguez.
- President Carter then described our proposal in a press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 17.
- The morning of Aug. 18, the OAS and Carter Center explained to the Coordinadora how our audit proposal would detect the irregular patterns in the results that they suspected. We then went to the CNE to finalize the proposal with the JNE. The Carter Center obtained a copy of the computer program that would be used to draw the sample, and was prepared to share that program with the political parties.
- The Coordinadora decided not to participate in the audit.
The audit was carried out as follows:
- A random sample of 150 voting stations (mesas) was drawn on the evening of Aug. 18 in the presence of the OAS and Carter Center and with our prior examination of the Pascal program used to draw the sample. An observer from the OAS or Carter Center was in place in most of the military garrisons (guarniciones) around the country which guarded the voting materials, before the sample was drawn. The observers then watched the CUFAN identify most of the designated boxes, and in every case accompanied those boxes via helicopter and truck to the location of the audit in Caracas.
- On the morning of Aug. 19, 21 teams of CNE auditors and 25 observers from the OAS and Carter Center, along with witnesses of the Comando Maisanta and other international observers, and security from the CUFAN, began to count the paper ballots and compare them with the actas and the cuadernos. The CNE auditors and the observers worked long hours in a careful and detailed way to count the paper ballots, and stopped work at any moment that an international observer had to step away from the table.
- Today, Aug. 21, the CNE, as well as the OAS and Carter Center head of mission Mr. Cesar Gaviria and Dr. Jennifer Mc Coy, presented the results of the audit to the public showing there was no fraud.
II) Machine to the CNE server (transmission): to measure the accuracy of the transmission, The Carter Center and the OAS performed a quick count (a projection of the results based on a statistical sample of the vote results at the mesas). Our observers watched the closing of the voting station and recorded the number of votes, calling these in to our headquarters where we could statistically project a result. Our results coincided with the CNE's results with less than one percent difference. Sumate's quick count is another test of the transmission.
III) Totalization within the CNE: The Carter Center took a sample of the results from the CNE's server and made a projection of the final results, confirming the accurate totalization within the CNE server. Sumate's parallel count of a large number of the mesas also confirms these results, as reflected in the press conference given by Sumate on Aug. 17.
With regard to the concerns of the opposition about the coinciding results within mesas (the alleged caps or topes), after a careful scrutiny of the electronic data, we found 402 mesas with two or three machines that had the same result for the SI, and 311 mesas with two or three machines with the same results for the NO. We found this similarities very strange and we made consultations with two foreign experts. Both confirmed our own and the OAS experts' opinions expressing not only is this mathematically possible, but since both NO and SI votes are affected, this indicates a random occurrence and not a pattern of fraud.
The Carter Center concludes that the automated machines worked well and the voting results do reflect the will of the people. Our quick count also included manual voting stations, and very few concerns were raised about these. We hope these conclusions will give the Venezuelan people confidence that the automated system functions well, particularly as the regional elections are approaching. The Center will make a Final Report to the CNE with the assessment of the overall process and specific recommendations to improve it.
The unusually high turnout of 73 percent reflects the intense interest in this recall referendum. The Venezuelan people are to be commended for standing in line for hours without incidents in this demonstration of civic participation and pride.
We urge all Venezuelans to accept these results and look to the future. The 41 percent of the population who voted for a change in the presidency have legitimate concerns that should be addressed. We urge the government to recognize the rights and the concerns of this large minority and to engage in discussions with them to create a common vision for the future of Venezuela. We also urge those in the minority to look for ways to work constructively with the government to achieve the dreams of all Venezuelans.
In order for Venezuela to move forward to the next electoral process scheduled for late September to choose governors and mayors, we respectfully suggest some steps that will help raise confidence in the process and ensure greater efficiency:
- Automated systems are the wave of the future, but citizens need to have confidence in new systems. Although we believe the voting machines worked very well, we believe further assessment and information about such automated systems from other computerized companies would help to inform the Venezuelan people about all types of automated systems.
- The CNE suffered from lack of internal coordination and communication, impeding the ability of the directorate to make timely decisions and the organization to work efficiently. We urge increased communication, coordination, and sharing of information among the directors and the divisions of the CNE.
- Transparency is the fundamental basis of trust. At times during this past eight months, the lack of information from the CNE to the Venezuelan public, the political parties involved, and the international observers, raised unnecessary concerns and suspicions. We urge greater transparency at all of these levels to ensure confidence in future electoral processes.
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