Venezuela’s Electoral Authority Offers OAS to Audit Voting Machine Software

National Electoral Council President Rodriguez offered that the OAS elections monitoring team audit the voting machine software, so that all sides in the upcoming vote could have greater confidence that the vote is secret and the vote counting accurate. Opposition group Sumate argues this is not so.

Caracas, Venezuela, July 16, 2005—The president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), Jorge Rodriguez, said on Thursday that the Organization of American States (OAS) should audit the source code of the software that will be used in the upcoming August 7th local elections. Rodriguez said that in the previous electoral processes, the August 15 recall referendum of President Chavez and the October 31 state elections, the OAS had not asked to audit the software. According to Rodriguez, such an audit would increase the confidence and transparency of the upcoming vote.

The OAS has sent an advance mission for observing the upcoming vote and has met regularly with the CNE, in order to prepare for its observation mission. The OAS has not yet responded as to whether it plans to conduct such an audit.

The opposition used the fact that the voting machines’ software was not audited as one of its main reasons for casting doubt on the two voting procedures. Many opposition leaders have claimed that the software was programmed to steal votes from the opposition and used statistical calculations as proof for this claim. The OAS and the Carter Center, however, had ratified those earlier votes on the basis of their own independent counts and on the audit of a random sample of ballot boxes, for where paper ballots were counted.

Ever since the August 15 recall referendum, Venezuela has been using touch-screen voting computers, which count the votes, but also print out a paper ballot for independent verification of the vote. The machines, manufactured by a U.S.-Venezuelan consortium of companies, are supposed to provide multiple security measures, which allow for the auditing of source code and the verification that this source code has not been tampered with prior to the vote. This stands in stark contrast to voting machines in most U.S. states, which neither print out paper ballots nor allow audits of the source code.

Instead of focusing on the voting machines, however, the opposition has recently complained the most about the finger print scanners that will be used to make sure no one votes twice or under a false name. According to the opposition NGO Súmate, these scanners, or electronic notebooks as they are called, could be used to determine the order in which voters cast their votes, which could then be correlated with the actual votes, thereby identifying how each voter voted. The CNE, however, dismisses this claim, saying that neither the fingerprint scanners nor the voting machines record the order or time of people’s votes, making such a correlation impossible.

Another complaint Súmate has made is that there are problems with the electoral registry, which should be audited. The CNE has agreed to an audit, which would be conducted by the Center for Electoral Assistance and Promotion (CAPEL), a program of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIHR). However, opposition leaders have harshly criticized CAPEL, saying that it is following the instructions of the government. CNE President Rodriguez said last month that CAPEL representatives were being put under “brutal” pressure by the opposition to not work with the CNE.

The audit has not been conducted yet.