Carter Center Report on the Venezuelan Recall Referendum

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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?

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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.
Source: Carter Center