Mérida, September 26th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – After waking up early this morning to fireworks that marked the beginning of election day in Venezuela, an estimated 70% of the Venezuelan voters went to polling stations to choose their National Assembly representatives in what has been an orderly, tranquil, and safe democratic process.
Reporters from Venezuelanalysis.com observed the voting process and interviewed voters in nine voting centers in the cities of Caracas and Merida.
By six o’clock in the morning, many polling stations already had as many as 30-40 people in line to vote. The queues were very well-organized, with different lines designated to different voting booths according to the last digits in their identification card number. The queues advanced steadily throughout the day, with between 5 and 50 people at any given time throughout the morning, and generally fewer people in the afternoon, because most people tend to vote in the morning and the afternoon rain may have deterred some voters.
The voting process was identical and meticulously organized in all the different voting booths that Venezuelanalysis.com observed. The streets around the voting centers were closed off and well-patrolled by police on foot, on motorcycles, and in trucks. Each voting center had a staff of workers from the National Electoral Council (CNE), civilian booth workers who were chosen in a lottery, and soldiers from the National Guard, the militias, and the reserves to maintain security and order.
There was no electoral propaganda to be seen near or in the voting centers. Voting center workers were dressed in plain, non-political clothing, behaved cordially and professionally, knew what they were doing, and refrained from any political discourse. On the walls of the voting centers, there were posters explaining the roles of the electoral workers, the international observers, and the military; how the voting process was organized; and prohibiting alcohol, guns, music, and smoking in the voting centers, many of which were public schools. Each voting machine in each voting booth was equipped with a backup battery capable of generating electricity for six hours, to assure that voting could continue in the case of a power outage.
Once the voters reached the voting booth, they showed their I.D. cards, signed and made a fingerprint on a registration sheet. There was also a register in each room for people who accompanied elders and the disabled. Voters were given time to review a sample ballot to make sure they understood. A booth worker was there to explain it to them and answer any last-minute questions. When they were ready, voters walked behind a cardboard screen to the voting machine, where they were allowed six minutes to vote. Most people finished within one or two minutes, while some took perhaps four minutes. A couple of people were confused and had to ask the booth worker for help, and in several of these cases the problem was that the person had not yet cast all of the five votes on the ballot, and the voting machine would not conclude the voting process until they did.
After the voter finished casting his or her votes, the voting machine printed out a paper record of the vote that the voter checked for accuracy and deposited in a box marked “CNE”. Finally, voters dipped their pinky fingers in purple ink to mark that they had voted and could not vote again.
For many, voting day seemed to be a festive occasion. Voters could be seen taking pictures together as they smiled and held up their purple pinky fingers. Many voters appeared to have dressed up nicely for the occasion, while others dressed casually in T-shirts and jeans. Almost all voters maintained a kind of solemn respect, orderliness, and patience as they waited calmly or chatted quietly.
Some voters expressed that voting was a duty to their country. Omar Montilla from the Santa Elena barrio called on his neighbors and “all Venezuelans to come out and exercise their vote, because we cannot miss this opportunity to exercise our right and duty as Venezuelans to vote.”
Carlos Rivas, also from Santa Elena, said the act of voting is part of the effort to, “construct a new political model, in which the legal apparatus serves as a tool to strengthen the people’s power, a conscious, autonomous, and mobilized people’s power.”
For others, it was simply routine; voting is something they have done many times in recent years. “The voting process was the same as previous times, it was easy like last year but there was a bit more of a queue,” said Lizette Esparza, a voter in Mérida state. “The voting process was very fast, great, easy,” said another Mérida voter, Natasha Lastra.
Maria Pena and Emelia Jil, sitting side by side, said, “The voting has been fine, there’s more participation this time. It’s the second most important election, after the presidential one. People are excited and enthusiastic.”
“It was fine, very organized, easy, and calm. In Venezuela, our democracy is stronger than ever,” Elizabeth Peña said of her voting experience. Her daughter, who accompanied her, nodded in agreement.
There was very little tension to be felt at the voting centers. There were a few reports of arguments and other minor irregularities that occurred at a few voting centers, but nothing particularly notable. At one of the largest voting centers in Mérida, a group of university students wearing shirts that bore the symbol of an opposition group known for violent anti-government protests that sometimes shut down parts of the city, the M-13, was confronted angrily by several voters who told them they could not wear clothing with political content near voting centers. In another voting center in Caracas, pro-Chavez voters began chanting slogans in favor of the candidates from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, in breach of the law that says there can be no campaigning. The president of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, announced at 6:30 in the evening that only five voting booths throughout the day, for technical reasons, had to change over to manual voting. Throughout the day, 931 complaints of such minor problems were reported, according to the opposition-aliged, non-governmental organization Súmate.
Several voters commented on the campaigns that were active over the past month nation-wide. “The electoral campaigns were very big, as they always are,” said one voter. “The government’s campaign was abusive, it was over the top, too much propaganda on the government channel,” said another voter.
“I think the campaigns have been a bit more intense this time. The government’s campaign has been more conceptual. We’re voting on a project rather than for invidual candidates,” Lizette Esparza said after voting. “The opposition has defended its vision of the world and its individual candidates have been more visible – you see their faces alot. But I think a concept is more important and in that sense the PSUV has improved.”
Voting centers closed at six o’clock in the evening, unless there were still people in the queue, in which case they remained open until there were no more voters waiting.