A surprising article in Forbes magazine recognises, and praises Venezuela’s electoral system. The article is by Eugenio Martinez, who covers elections for Venezuela’s rightwing newspaper El Universal and is the host of the weekly TV show El Termómetro.
Two weeks ago Venezuelans went to the polls to elect a president to transition their country into the post-Chavez era. Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s hand-chosen successor, and his opponent, Henrique Capriles, had spent 34 days hurling criticisms and promises back and forth as they attempted to woo voters and guide Venezuela’s future.
Maduro, representing the Chavista movement, was expected to win easily, and few anticipated taht his margin of victory would be an ultra-narrow 1.83%. Judging by his defiant speeches after the election, Maduro seems to believe he inherited the throne and the legitimacy of a wide-margin victory.
However, the slim margin propelled Capriles on a quest for lost votes, a crusade to prove electoral irregularities and cast doubt on the outcome. This campaign has exposed deep political rifts among our citizens when it is essential that the people of Venezuela have the greatest confidence in the election process.
Venezuela employs one of the most technologically advanced verifiable voting systems in the world, designed to protect voters from fraud and tampering and ensure the accuracy of the vote count. Accuracy and integrity are guaranteed from the minute voters walk into the polls to the point where a final tally is revealed.
The system Venezuela uses has some of the most advanced and voter-friendly security features in modern elections. Voters use a touch-sensitive electronic pad to make and confirm their choices. After confirmation, the electronic vote is encrypted and randomly stored in the machine’s memories. Voters audit their own vote by reviewing a printed receipt that they then place into a physical ballot box.
At the end of Election Day, each voting machine computes and prints an official tally, called a precinct count. It transmits an electronic copy of the precinct count to the servers in the National Electoral Council’s central facility, where overall totals are computed.
By mutual agreement between the contenders, 52.98% of the ballot boxes are chosen at random, opened, and their tallies compared with the corresponding precinct counts. This audit step ensures that no vote manipulation has occurred at the polling place. The extent of this audit, the widest in automatic elections, leaves little room for questioning.
The series of tests before, during, and after a Venezuelan election is thorough and intense, conducted in the presence of election officials and political parties to ensure proper functionality and full confidence in the system. When it comes to elections, Venezuela has become a highly advanced nation of auditors, with the most advanced audit tools at its disposal and a voting process that is as transparent as any in the world.
Even though the election to succeed Chavez was announced with only 34 days to campaign and organize the election mechanics, the National Electoral Council and Smartmatic, the company that developed the highly-sophisticated voting machines and the technology supporting them, managed to perform more than 12 audits on the voting platform, many in front of both Capriles’ and Maduro’s representatives.
Like any candidate who suffers a narrow defeat at the polls, Mr. Capriles is entitled to keep his dream alive. He can continue trying to prove that somehow the outcome was affected by a corrupt electoral ecosystem. His people are betting that scrutinizing the manual electoral book and the government-controlled electoral roll will reveal a clue to how their triumph slipped away. In a nation of auditors and entirely transparent election mechanics, that quest is certainly their right, but their chance of changing the election’s outcome may be very slim.