Venezuela Parliamentary Elections: Torched Machines Replaced, Covid-19 Safeguards Established

Over 100 political parties are due to participate, including 95 which are not backing government candidates.

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The new machines are apparently safer and simpler to use. (CNE)
The new machines are apparently safer and simpler to use. (CNE)
By Paul Dobson
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Mérida, October 12, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has unveiled the new electronic voting machines for the December 6 parliamentary elections.

CNE Rector Carlos Quintero announced in a press conference on Friday that the 49,539 new EC21 machines were “designed in Venezuela by Venezuelan technicians” and are “simpler to use (…) and surpass previous models.”

An arson attack against a CNE warehouse in March destroyed ninety-nine percent of the country’s electoral machines, or nearly 50,000 units, with an unknown far right group claiming responsibility at the time.

The new machines have a 10-hour lithium battery to safeguard against widespread power outages, internal maintenance scanners, as well as integrated sound systems and other features to assist disabled voters. They also have up-to-date security software, a 21 inch touchscreen, a 64 GB hard drive and 8GB of RAM. As with previous models, in addition to the electronic vote, they emit a paper receipt reflecting the vote entered which is later used to audit the electronic tallies. Unconfirmed reports indicate that software and hardware maintenance will be carried out by Argentinian firm EX-CLE.

Upon unveiling the machines to diplomatic personnel, party representatives and the press, CNE President Indira Alfonzo explained that the estimated voting time is 20 seconds, but that the entire process may take between two and three minutes due to the incorporation of 13 COVID-19 sanitary protocols, including disinfecting the fingerprint ID check and the voting machine between votes. CNE authorities are also considering extending the voting process to two days to avoid voter clustering at the centres.

The electoral process will be subject to 16 audits – 12 previous to, one on, and 3 after December 6 – witnessed by party representatives and international observers. Quintero also emphasised that all tallying processes are safeguarded by an alphanumeric key which is divided up between the participating political parties and can only be unblocked with consent from all organisations.

CNE authorities have informed that 107 political parties will participate in December’s elections, of which 95 are not supporting government candidates. Campaigning is due to start on November 19.

One of the blocs running independent candidates is the newly formed Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR), which has decried a number of attacks against its candidates in recent weeks. The bloc, which includes the Communist Party and a range of other left wing currents, has denounced workplace persecution, raids, and police harassment against some candidates, as well as the two-time illegal imprisonment of a campesino candidate in Merida state. It has also criticised government use of state media outlets and linking state-funded food handouts to votes.

APR candidate and ousted Tupamaro leader Jose Pinto also denounced that authorities had “removed” his candidacy from the ballot on Sunday, claiming that the move demonstrated “fear that the people may make me a legislator.”

Pinto is currently awaiting trial on charges of homicide, which he denies as a “false flag” used to remove him from his party’s leadership. The Supreme Court intervened in the Tupamaro party in August, replacing the critical Pinto with an ad-hoc board that backed government candidates. Under article 65 of Venezuela’s constitution, unconvicted citizens are able to run as candidates unless barred by the Comptroller's office. The CNE has offered no further comment on its decision.

International observers

On Friday, Alfonzo also told press that “our doors are open for everyone to come and see this electoral process,” assuring that “more than 300 invitations have gone out” to international personalities and global and regional multilateral organisations to accompany the elections, including the United Nations and the European Union (EU).

Last month, Caracas rejected EU demands for the parliamentary election to be postponed, pointing out that the country’s constitution requires that they be held during 2020, rendering the proposal “impossible.” It is unclear whether Brussels is planning on sending international observers or will recognise the results.

For their part, US authorities and former National Assembly President Juan Guaido have already stated that they will not recognise them, with a number of Washington’s regional allies following suit. Guaido, who proclaimed himself “interim president” in January 2019, called for “street action” in place of electoral participation over the weekend.

According to President Nicolas Maduro, in addition to plans to not recognise the election results, Colombian authorities are also “preparing 1,000 mercenaries” to “infiltrate Venezuela and sabotage the political and electoral climate” in the build-up to December 6. He offered no details, but did make reference to previous mercenary operations in Venezuela which have involved Colombia-based training camps, including Operation Gedeon in May and the 2018 drone assassination attempt.

[UPDATE] On Monday night the CNE clarified that the APR candidate José Pinto is not going to be barred from running after all and that his candidacy is "currently active."