The Venezuelan electoral system is the most automated in the world, because it can be audited and verified at every stage, said Jennifer McCoy, director of the Carter Center’s Americas Program. She made the comments while visiting the Panorama publishing house, where she was welcomed by its president, Patricia Pineda.
McCoy came to Venezuela a few days ago and observed the mock electoral test of last Sunday (5 Aug 2012) in Vargas state. She noted that the Carter Center is currently discussing whether it will participate as an international observer in the October 7 [presidential] election.
Panorama: What was your impression of the mock electoral test?
McCoy: It was very interesting, people’s reactions were very positive, the voting process was very efficient, and no one found any problems.
Panorama: What do you think of the new Integrated Authentication System (SAI in its Spanish acronym)?
McCoy: It is the most comprehensive that, electronically speaking, I've seen in the world, because all steps are automated. In the US, where I vote, it [the voting system] is only automated from the moment I touch the screen. Over here it is very interesting. This new identification system is new to the world and we understand that it’s a measure that prevents the possibility of double voting and identity theft. We have heard rumours that in the past it was possible that local election officials could add a lot of votes just by tapping the button, but which now is not possible because you have to identify your fingerprint to activate the system. We saw people trying it and when the voter puts their fingerprint and if there is a match then the machine authorizes [the person] to vote.
Panorama: Based on your experience, how is the Venezuelan electoral system compared with those of other countries?
McCoy: [In Venezuela] There are many mechanisms of control, of system security, but the most important one is that you can verify and audit. The National Electoral Council [CNE in its Spanish acronym] works with the [existing] political parties so that they participate in all the audits; its transparency is what gives it confidence. Any system has advantages and disadvantages and none is 100% infallible, for example in the Electoral Register there are still some errors. Each society must determine which system is best for them and when they choose one what is important is that there are systems of verification and that political parties send their observers and that citizens verify. With this system the possibility of error is removed because it is all automated, as long as you do the audits to verify that the software is not tampered with.
Panorama: 54% of the vote is audited, is that enough or is it too much?
McCoy: Statistically not so much is needed, you can take a much smaller random sample of 3% or 4% from the machines, but there was an agreement with the political parties [of 54%] and that gives confidence.
Panorama: We have had about 15 elections [with Chavez as Venezuelan President], what do you think of our electoral system?
McCoy: We have observed that another possible audit is the receipt [after you vote, to confirm your choice]. We do not have that in the US. This is also auditable. It is good for citizens to verify their vote.
Panorama: And what do you think of the disposition of Venezuelans to vote, because every time turnout is higher...
McCoy: That I admire; in the United States and in some Latin American countries there is a lot of apathy in elections. In Venezuela there is much more interest and that is very important for any democracy.
Panorama: How are the talks with the CNE going on?
McCoy: We always keep the dialogue with the CNE. The CNE decided since 2006 not to invite international observers, therefore, we have not participated more [in this capacity]. They [instead] give observers the status of invited monitors; we are evaluating the possibility of having some kind of collaboration this year. We hope to continue the process in some way, whether more academically or more participatory; we are evaluating this.
Panorama: Does this mean that the invitation by the CNE to the Carter Center has not been answered?
McCoy: We will evaluate the possibilities, because the Carter Center is not a large organisation. We have to evaluate the human and financial resources to participate here.
Panorama: Why do you think the status of observer was changed to that of guest monitor?
McCoy: I understand that the CNE is of the belief that they have achieved the trust and participation of both political parties and voters in the electoral system and it does not need the involvement of third parties to give confidence, not as in the past when there was a lot of distrust.
Panorama: How do you compare the Venezuela of 2004 with that of 2012?[i]
McCoy: 10 years ago we saw a high possibility of violence, very deep divisions. We now see that there are still divisions toward the country's future, but the progress is that everyone has accepted that elections are the only mechanism for choosing leaders. At that time: 2002, 2003, there were other options.[ii] It seems important to us that the country is seeking to live together, and that everyone feels they all belong to the same country.
Panorama: Do you think that Latin American bodies to monitor elections should be established?
McCoy: UNASUR has created an electoral council and they will organize their own means of observation. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States [CELAC in its Spanish acronym] as far as I know does not have the structures to establish this type of mission, they could do that maybe in the future but not now. That also means that member states have to put in the financial resources, organizing secretariats, and all of that is expensive.
Panorama: How is the environment in the US where there will also be elections [this year]?
McCoy: It is heating up. One of the debates is about funding, about the controls over the ability to make unlimited anonymous donations, and over organizations that place advertising promoting a candidate.
There are strict controls on President (Barack) Obama who has to distinguish between its government and campaign activities, when he uses his plane to campaign, the campaign command has to pay, not the Government.
Panorama: Do you think the U.S. electoral system can be improved?
McCoy: There are many things to be improved, but we must recognize that the system is decentralized, there is no national council that administers. One of the issues is proof of voting, because there is a demand for it by people in order for the system to be trusted.
* See Factsheet: Elections in Venezuela (with full details of how the electoral system works in Venezuela - http://www.embavenez-uk.org/pdf/Elections.pdf)
Edited by Venezuelanalysis.com
[i] Venezuelanalysis: In 2004 the conservative opposition claimed fraud had taken place in the recall referendum which saw President Chavez have his mandate backed by 59% of voters. The OAS and the Carter Centre declared the vote as accurate.
[ii]Venezuelanalysis: When the conservative opposition launched a short lived coup and efforts at economic sabotage to remove President Chavez by force.