Venezuela’s Electoral Council Concedes to Many Opposition Demands

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced changes in voting procedures after meeting with opposition groups and other government agencies. The changes included auditing a much higher percentage of paper ballots, not using fingerprint scanners, and providing media access to all candidates.

Caracas, November 22, 2004Last Thursday, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), the country’s elections authority, announced changes in voting procedures after meeting with opposition groups and other government agencies.

In recent years, opposition accusations of fraud have plagued Venezuelan elections, despite ratification by international observers. The new moves appear to be an effort to make the elections more transparent and access to public airwaves more equitable, in order to reduce irregularities and lessen the likelihood of further accusations of fraud.

After receiving a proposal from opposition parties that requested an audit of the paper ballots, Jorge Rodriguez, the president of the CNE, announced that they had “decided to open the ballot boxes for an audit. We will audit, therefore, 12,266 boxes, which is 45 percent of the total.”

On Friday the head of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) electoral observation mission to Venezuela, Rubén Perina, commented on the country’s voting system. “The automated system in Venezuela is one of the most advanced in the Americas, but, because of its complexity, it generates a little distrust,” said Perina, indicating that it’s a system that requires vigilant auditing.

Earlier this month, the Venezuelan government and the OAS signed an agreement saying they would work together in this effort. “The OAS will continue to support the elections authorities, political parties and the citizenry in their effort to bring about in Venezuela an electoral process that is as reliable as possible,” Perina said in a press release. Observers from the European Union will also be monitoring the process.

In one action to reduce the possibility of vote fraud, the CNE said that the voting machines will not have any electronic communications until after the vote is finished and the vote tally has been printed, at which time they can transmit their results to the head office.

Also, fingerprint scanners will, for the most part, not be used in this election. In previous elections fingerprints were scanned before Venezuelans could vote, to prevent double-voting. The opposition charged that such fingerprint scanners threatened the secrecy of the ballot.

The CNE also announced, after meeting with the Minister of Communication and Information, Yuri Pimentel, that they had decided that the free state publicity, which was established in the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, would be granted to all candidates and “equitably distributed one minute daily of the two minutes that they have according to the rules passed by the Electoral Power.”

In a related controversy, a week ago the CNE announced that during an audit of the voter registry it had corrected over 3 million incomplete addresses, which represents almost 21 percent of registered voters. They also corrected almost 300,000 cases of duplicate identification numbers, and almost 600,000 incorrect birth dates. According to the agency, they are still working on correcting an additional 1.6 million incomplete addresses.

Súmate, an organization whose leaders have been tied to the April 2002 coup, has filed a complaint with the OAS, citing a large increase in the number of voters from 2003 to 2005, the change of voter location of almost 3.2 million voters, the nationalization of over half a million people just a few months before the presidential referendum, and the existence of almost 28 thousand active voters born before 1905.

Between August 2003 and July 2004, the government promoted a large effort to increase registered voters through Mission Identity, which sought to register people living in areas that had low voter registration.