Universities to Audit Venezuela’s Electoral Registry

Venezuela's National Electoral Council announced that seven of the countries' universities would participate ina renewed effort to audit the electoral registry. the CNE rejected the participation of three major universities, though, causing renewed opposition criticism.

Caracas,Venezuela, June 10, 2006—Venezuela’sNational Electoral Council announced on Wednesday that seven Venezuelanuniversities had accepted an invitation to audit the country’s electoralregistry, which opposition leaders suspect to be very flawed. Three of thecountry’s main universities, though, so far refuse to participate because theydisagree with the audit procedure.

According to the National ElectoralCouncil (CNE), the purpose of the audit is to complete an audit that the CNE conductedwith the technical help of an electoral consulting group (CAPEL) of the Inter-AmericanInstitute of Human Rights last year.

The issue of the accuracy of Venezuela’selectoral registry has recently become one of the main issues of disputebetween the opposition and the CNE. Opposition leaders say they suspect thattoo many people are improperly registered to vote and that this is a possiblebasis for fraud on the part of the government.

The electoral registry hasincreased from 12 to over 15 million in the past three years, mainly becausethe government has been engaged in an extensive voter registration drive.Currently a far higher percentage of Venezuelans are registered to vote thanwas historically the case.

With the opposition focusing onthe validity of this registration effort, the CNE began to audit the registrylast year, with the help of CAPEL. Opposition groups, such as Sumate, though,criticized this effort as not having been sufficiently independent and ashaving suffered from various technical problems.

CAPEL audited the entireelectoral registry of 14 million registered Venezuelans, checking it forduplicate ID numbers, duplicate names, and other inconsistencies. CAPEL alsoexamined databases of deceased, the citizenship registry, and visited a randomsample of 14,000 registered voters at their registered address. For one of thepotentially most likely causes of voter fraud, whereby the same person votesmore than once, using the name of a deceased person, CAPEL found 54,951 cases.It concluded, though, that, “None of the sensitive inconsistencies, which aredeterminant for the reliability of the electoral registry surpassed 5% of theallowed for margin of error.”

So as to increase confidence inthe registry, the CNE agreed to accept proposal from the country’s universitiesto expand and deepen the audit that CAPEL had initiated. The CNE examined theproposals and on Wednesday announced that it would accept the audit procedureproposed by seven of universities and rejected the proposal of three otheruniversities (Universidad Central de Venezuela, Universidad Simon Bolivar, andUniversidad Católica Andrés Bello).

The main differences betweenthe audit proposals involve whether the electoral registry would be compared tostatistical demographic data. The three dissenting universities argue that theregistry should be compared to demographic data about the country, so that onemight be able to tell whether the registry is representative of the populationas a whole. The CNE, though, insists that the audit should only be compared toactual voter data on record (such as registration forms) and to the votersthemselves (looking them up in their homes).

Antonio Paris, the director of Venezuela’slargest university, the UCV, said that the three dissenting universities wouldpresent a new proposal to the CNE on Monday, in the hope that it would beaccepted. “We hope that the CNE thinks about it and accepts it,” said Paris.

The CNE director in charge ofthe audit procedure, Sandra Oblitas, similarly said that the universities’revised proposal would be, “received with good spirits.” However, theirproposal could not, “break with the [audit] in progress, with what we havealready established, [then] it can of course be incorporated,” said Oblitas.

While all opposition leaderscondemned the CNE’s decision not to accept the three universities’ proposal,there was some dissension about what this means for future participation in theelectoral process. Presidential candidate Teodoro Petkoff, for example, said,“These conditions pose the necessity to me to seriously think about theviability of [my] and of all candidacies.”

Julio Borges, the candidate ofthe opposition party Primero Justiciaalso rejected the decision, but said to the universities that are working withthe CNE, “I ask you to do this [audit], we will conduct our own audit…”

Similarly, Maria CorinaMachado, one of the leaders of Sumate, argued that the universities that wereaccepted for the audit were those that are in the hands of the nationalgovernment. The CNE had accepted “those organizations whose criteria coincidewith the plans of the CNE which, by chance, are institutions of the nationalgovernment, whose directors are also named by the government,” assertedMachado.

The director of the Experimental University RomuloGallego, Jaime Gallardos, which is participating n the audit, disagreed withthis reasoning, saying, “If we assume that the [participating] universities areof the government, then all of them are, because it is the executive thatprovides the resources [to all universities].”