Mérida, November 23, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)-- Observing the electoral process in Venezuela revealed a country that is losing the apathy that is common at such elections, and as many voters said, gaining a sense of responsibility to participate politically.
Observing the voting process
What really stood out observing these elections was people’s commitment to the electoral process and the overall cheerful and patient mood. The lack of apathy was clear. People took their voting very seriously.
From very early on in the morning—at 6:30 am in some places—people were lining up to vote. People’s testimonies about voting time varied, some saying that they barely had to wait, some complaining that they were waiting in line for about an hour. Overall people were very patient and there was no or little of the annoyance you would find in other countries.
As Marcos Dias, the PSUV candidate for governor of Merida came out of the Godoy voting booth a small crowd outside started to cheer. Meanwhile people in the lines to vote nearby started chanting “We want to vote!” as the line had briefly slowed due to the massive press crowd and the almost celebrity like status of who is now the new governor.
The voting system was very consistent, in both booths that I observed they had the same system where people lined up outside, were called inside in groups, where they could wait sitting down. Elderly people, people with disabilities, and people from emergency occupations such as police, doctors, and firemen or women, were given priority.
Inside the voting room there was a respectful silence, like in a library. No one took it for a joke.
Voters put their I.D card on a table, and then went behind a cardboard screen to the computer. There was little confusion, despite the fact that people had to make 5 different votes, with most not needing anything near the 3 minute maximum assigned. A few people, mostly the elderly, struggled a bit with the technology, but were guided through the process by the booth attendees. One man I watched tried several times and did not understand what to do, and was allowed to have a friend go behind the screen and help him.
A few meters from the voting machine a polling assistant controlled the computer by remote, activating it and resetting the screen, as well as giving step by step instructions. From there, the machine printed a receipt which the voter put in a box, then went to the next table where they dipped their finger in the indelible purple ink, then put their finger print next to their name on a list.
People were delighted as they dipped their fingers in the ink, and in the booths I observed everyone including witnesses and voters were polite and getting along. The assistants clearly knew what they were doing
All polling places had about four or so soldiers, who were basically coordinating the lines and checking people who entered the voting center.
What they said at the voting booths
Elsi Altave: “These elections are important because they are about democracy, it’s an opportunity that we have, to choose who we want.”
Altave said she supports the candidate who ‘is the democratic candidate’ – the opposition. She felt that there had been abuses by the PSUV in their electoral campaign in terms of its size and the massive amount of spending, “They’ve had a big advantage over the opposition, they have more options, more money. “I’m going to vote for William Davila, of the opposition, because he is the candidate that we have for unity and for democracy.”
Javier Davila: “Since they changed the system to computers, I haven’t agreed [with the electoral system]. Although I don’t agree with the system, I think it’s important to exercise my right to vote. Until now, there has been a dictatorship, there’s no democracy here, and [the government] has always controlled the CNE [National Electoral Council].”
Wilmary Anuaje: “You can see that here we are euphoric, we are very happy to exercise our right to vote, we’ve been lining up since early in the morning…independent of age everyone has this same spirit…and really it’s a very organised and automatic process, people are enthusiastic and participating actively.
In reality, my participation [in the electoral campaign] has been through example- through spreading my opinion and participating in my workplace collective.
Before, I didn’t think it was necessary to be organised, I thought the conviction of the people was enough to win elections, but now I see that the existence of the PSUV means that we can do things more effectively.”
Maria Altave: “The electoral process today has been normal, if a little bit slow…I hope that lots of people come to vote…so that the candidates who win are elected by the largest possible number of people. I voted for the opposition…[because] I’m not satisfied with the current government, as much at the local level as at the national level…there’s too much corruption and too much money outside the country that should be invested here.”
Gustavo Rojas: “Here we are voting directly for the authorities, it’s a fiesta (party) of democracy here in the country…here I’m completing my responsibility as a citizen, which is to vote…”
Rojas explained that he decided who he was going to vote for based on a ‘political line’ that he has had for a long time, but he preferred to keep his vote a secret.
Omaira Gulmiberbache: “The lines for the older people have taken too long….but the process belongs to everyone here. Here the opposition are voting and the Chavistas are voting. I have a lot of experience with elections and now they are much better organized and there is a lot of information on TV and on the radio. I decided who I’d vote for [based on the fact that] I’m a member of the PSUV.”
Beatriz Rodriguez: “These elections are extremely important and decisive…the voting really is representative of Venezuelan democracy. I’m exercising my right to vote, as a good citizen…so I decided who I was going to vote for a long time ago, it’s a responsibility. I think making a conscious decision about who you are going to vote for is a way of participating.”
Edwin Sosa: “It has been a very transparent process, normal, everything has gone well.”
Yohan Angarita: Angarita argued that the electoral process in Venezuela is very different to the United States, because there, the “politics isn’t going to change,” whereas, “Here, they are prepared for any contingency.”
Angarita explained that his participation in the electoral campaign was with the youth, encouraging them to vote. He felt the PSUV campaign had been strong but lacking in ideology. He was concerned that the opposition wouldn’t recognize the results and expressed that it will be necessary to be alert. He said he “voted with the revolution.”
Carmen Rivera: “The voting has gone well, the only problem has been that some people have been confused, because they have to vote for 5 different people, and this has delayed the voting a bit.”
“I voted for the people of Chavez because I see that the people are more awake, and the [candidate for governor] is honest and a good type and the [candidate for mayor] has done good work and he’s young, he’s 31.”