Does Capriles Have a Plausible Claim, or Is He “Venezuela’s Sore Loser”?

Despite the lack of evidence of fraud, or any plausible explanation for how the election could have been stolen in spite of the integrity of the Venezuelan electoral system, press reports and commentary continue to treat Capriles’ claims seriously.


Reuters reported Sunday that the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) Tibisay Lucena has criticized opposition candidate Henrique Capriles for not presenting proof to back up his claims of fraud (also the focus of our post earlier today):

“We have always insisted that Capriles had the right to challenge the process,” Tibisay Lucena, president of the electoral council, said in a televised national broadcast.

“But it is also his obligation to present proof.”

She dismissed various opposition submissions alleging voting irregularities as lacking key details, and said Capriles had subsequently tried to present the audit in very different terms than the electoral council had agreed to.

“It has been manipulated to generate false expectations about the process, including making it look like the consequence of the wider audit could affect the election results,” she said.

Lucena’s statements that the election audit of the remaining voting machines, as initially called for by Capriles, will not change the results are correct, although perhaps not for the reasons she meant. As noted on Friday, we did a statistical analysis of the probability of the results of the audit of the first 53 percent of voting machines finding the results it did if the remaining 46 percent of voting machines in Venezuela had enough discrepancies to change the results of the election. The probability, according to our calculations, is less than 1 in 25,000 trillion.

The math is pretty straightforward. Considering how many votes by which Nicolás Maduro was declared the winner, and that the initial audit of 54 percent of machines didn’t find anything, and considering how many votes there are per machine, it is almost impossible for the remaining 46 percent of machines to have enough discrepancies to change the election results.

Perhaps because he realized the audit is not likely to change things for him, Capriles has shifted course, now demanding access to the electoral registry and fingerprint records. In light of this news, some have attempted seriously painful logical gymnastics in order to make Capriles’ arguments seem plausible. Writing for Foreign Policy, for example, blogger Juan Nagel asks “Does Henrique Capriles actually have a case to cry fraud?” But Nagel does not seem interested in actually examining the question; his mind seems already to have been made up. Shortly after noting that,

Voters identify themselves at polling centers by showing their government-issued ID card and scanning their fingerprints. The scanner then (supposedly) verifies the identity of the voter, and if it passes, unlocks a machine the voter uses to cast her vote.

Nagel writes:

One has to wonder: How could chavistas get away with this? The explanation, according to Capriles, lies in the fingerprint scanning machines. According to him, these machines allow anyone to vote, regardless of whether the fingerprint matches the records. [Emphasis added.]

But as election monitors who witnessed voting in the April 14 election described to us, the process is more fool-proof than Nagel summarizes. As noted in our April 14 live blog:

People must show identification, their serial number is then entered into a digital device and their photo comes up, then they give a thumb print to verify their identity again.

Rather than just “anyone” being allowed to vote, government ID is required, and the voter’s identity is verified. The voter then enters her/his finger print as a second check against fraud.

Despite the lack of evidence of fraud, or any plausible explanation for how the election could have been stolen in spite of the integrity of the Venezuelan electoral system, press reports and commentary continue to treat Capriles’ claims seriously. This stands in contrast to the foreign media’s treatment of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s cry of “fraud” following the 2006 election in which Felipe Calderon was declared the winner. “An Anti-Democracy Campaign; Mexico’s presidential loser takes a lesson from Joseph Stalin,” ran a Washington Post editorial headline. The Times of London declared him “Mexico’s bad loser: A demagogue prepared to hold the nation to ransom,” while the Toronto Globe and Mail called him “Mexico’s sore loser.” So far at least, no major U.S., British or Canadian paper has labeled Capriles a “sore loser” and the Washington Post has yet to compare him to Stalin.

The double standard between media treatment of the left-leaning López Obrador and the right-wing Capriles is even more striking considering that López Obrador led in the polls up until the vote. López Obrador and his supporters were understandably surprised when the official results declared Calderon to be the winner. Capriles, on the other hand, always trailed Maduro in the polls; the surprise on April 14 was not that he lost, but that he came as close to winning as he did.

More importantly, in the 2006 Mexican election there were “adding up” errors in nearly half the ballot boxes – i.e. the leftover blank ballots plus the voted (including spoiled) ballots didn’t add up to the blank ballots with which the ballot box location started out.  The results were announced with millions of votes still uncounted, and there was a considerable lack of transparency – including a refusal by electoral authorities to release the results of a partial recount. Journalists covering the Mexican election at the time should have demanded answers from the authorities and commentators should have treated López Obrador’s complaints very seriously, since there really was no way to tell who had won that election.  The burden of proof in Venezuela, however, should be on Capriles to explain exactly how the election could conceivably have been stolen.