Explained: How Voting Works in Venezuela

Find out here how the Venezuelan electoral process works and why -despite US-led political criticism- it is considered one of the most reliable in the world.

By TeleSur English & Venezuelanalysis.com
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Venezuela’s voting system has both a digital tally and a physical receipt tally. (El Impulso)
Venezuela’s voting system has both a digital tally and a physical receipt tally. (El Impulso)

Venezuela's election process has been lauded by numerous organizations and observers not only for its high turnout, but also for the transparency and checks involved in the voting and scrutiny.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said: "Of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world."

Below are all the elements involved in the vote.

Requirements and Eligibility

Venezuelans who are 18 years of age or older are eligible to vote in an election, after registering.

Venezuelans living abroad who have a resident or permanent visa and who have registered at their nearest embassy or consulate are also eligible to vote at voting centers which will be set up at all of Venezuela’s diplomatic missions across the world on May 20. Foreigners living in Venezuela with a resident or permanent visa are legally entitled to vote in local and regional elections, but not national elections. This means that on May 20 foreigners living in Venezuela under these visa conditions will be able to vote for their state councilors, but not for the presidential elections.

Article 63 of the constitution says: 'Suffrage is a right. It is exercised through free, universal, direct and secret ballots. The law will guarantee the principle of individuality of suffrage and proportional representation.'

All registered Venezuelans need to vote with their national ID card with their unique ID number, photo, and fingerprint on. The card can even be expired. Rumours that voters need to present other ID such as the Homeland Card are false.

Security and Guarantees

Venezuela's elections utilize the latest in secure voting technology to ensure that each vote is counted fairly and cannot be tampered with. It was the first in the world to use voting machines that print a receipt so that each voter can confirm their vote with a physical backup.

Beginning in 2012, Venezuela's elections used biometric authentication to activate the voting machine.

The current voting machines in use are the Smartmatic Auditable Election System (SAES) by Smartmatic, which are 100 percent auditable at each stage.

Smartmatic, a British based multinational who denounced the July 2017 electoral process, was responsible for overseeing the hardware of the voting machines, and never had any contact with the software nor the transmission nor totalisation of votes, rendering its claims in 2017 obsolete. It is no longer contracted by the CNE to maintain the machine's hardware.

Venezuela’s entire electoral process has and will go through 16 different audits per process. These audits include auditing of the electoral register, the software, the voting books, the hardware, etc. Each audit is not only presided over by international observers, but also representatives of each participating political party. It is common for representatives from right-wing parties which later criticize the electoral process to make use of their right to send representatives to each audit, signing that they are happy with proceedings at the end.

The final vote count is confirmed with the physical vouchers that voters put in the receipt box, and then transmitted electronically through a network isolated from the internet and any computer to assure that no interference can occur.

Electronically, votes are stored on the machines in a random order to avoid sequence counting of voters.

The vote will be witnessed and audited by international and national political observers, technicians and political organizations. The National Electoral Council has invited the United Nations and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) to send representatives to observe the process, with the former refusing to send observers as they did not deem it necessary. International observers will be present in roughly half of Venezuela’s 23 states. On election day they will observe the setting up of the centers, the preparation of the machines and the software, the voting process, and the final totalisation.

Voting

These are the five steps involved in voting in Venezuela:

1. When arriving at a poll, voters are directed to the voting table that corresponds to them. At the table, there is a list with voters' identification card numbers to allow a person to confirm their table. This is an anonymous process by number with no names involved. Venezuela has one of the highest rates of center per voters in the world, with roughly one voting center per 500 residents.

2. The voter then goes to that table to present the document that confirms their identity. Pregnant women, the elderly, disabled, public emergency workers (firemen, policemen, etc) are given priority and do not have to queue. The voter then places their index finger or thumb on a fingerprint scanning device which checks that the person present in the center corresponds to the fingerprint on the ID card.

3. Once their identity is verified, the voting machine will unlock so that the voter can choose the option of their preference. Voting is on a touch screen machine behind a screen. Once selected, the choice can be changed up until the 'vote' button is pressed.

In case there is any doubt about the voting process, the election official explains the steps involved.

After selecting their preferred option, the voter should press the 'vote' button. The machine then prints a receipt of the vote for the voter to read and confirm.

The voter has three minutes to vote. After two minutes of inactivity the machine makes a noise to remind the voter that one minute is left. The only way to vote null is to let the three minutes expire.

4. The voter then deposits this receipt in the corresponding ballot box which is usually placed in the center of the room under constant observation by the CNE staff and all parties’ political witnesses at every booth.

5. Finally, the voter signs and places their fingerprint in the elections roll to confirm that they have voted.

Poll Closing and Tally Scrutinization

Polls are closed at a polling station at 6 pm unless the CNE extends voting periods, and only after everyone in line to vote has voted.

Once tally scrutinization on the machine finishes, a random paper ballot audit is announced where the machines to be audited are randomly selected drawing numbers, and the machine's serial number is recorded. 53% of all voting machines in the country are audited on voting day before totalisation. This audit is public (a citizens audit) meaning that members of the community can come into the voting center to observe and corroborate the process. The audit checks totalisation tallies per candidate between the electronic result and the physical paper receipts in the box which is now opened. Venezuela is the only country in the world which does an on-the-spot audit after centers have closed.

The audit report is signed by election poll staff and observers from each party present, then sealed and handed to the military for delivery to the CNE.

Copies of the report are handed over to the representatives of the two highest vote-getters.

Finally, machine tallies are transmitted to the CNE central totalisation offices through either secure feeds using Venezuela’s satellites, or through a secure feed set up with a unique modem which is provided with the voting machine.

Venezuela’s voting system is completely safeguarded against any possible problem or scenario. Voting machines have inbuilt spare batteries, spare machines are stored close to every voting center. There are written and authorized protocols for rare situations like voters who can't leave their fingerprint due to missing the corresponding fingers, or voters who need extra assistance to vote such as the disabled or extremely elderly. Every scenario has been thought of and an inclusive process established to make maximum voting possible.

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