Venezuela’s Electoral Council Agrees to Opposition Petition

The National Electoral Council unanimously agreed to allow three of the main opposition candidates for president to observe the audit of the voter registry. The registry has been strongly criticized by the opposition.

Caracas,Venezuela, June 30, 2006—Venezuela’sNational Electoral Council (CNE) unanimously approved a petition by threepresidential candidates to observe the audit of the voter registry. The threecandidates that submitted the petition were Teodoro Petkoff, Julio Borges, andManuel Rosales, who are considered to be the three strongest candidates tochallenge President Chavez in the presidential election of December 3, 2006.

Technical experts affiliatedwith the campaigns of the three candidates will now be allowed to observe theaudit currently in progress, which is being conducted by experts from seven ofthe country’s universities. “They will be integrated with sufficient time, sothat they can learn what has been done and how it has been done,” said CNEPresident Tibisay Lucena.

The participation of thepresidential candidates “will not constitute a complementary or parallel audit,”said Lucena. The only new aspect to the audit is that additional observers havebeen invited.

The CNE also announced that itwould definitely be conducting a post-vote audit of ballots by manuallycounting 53 to 55% of the votes, with the exact number depending on the numberof voting centers that will be set up. Some opposition groups, such as Súmate,have demanded that 100% of the ballots be counted manually. Venezuelan law,however, specifies that the vote count be automated, for which Venezuela usesvoting machines that print auditable paper ballots.

Opposition groups have stronglyquestioned the validity of the voter registry over the past year, saying thatthey suspect that many names in the registry are not legitimate voters. Inresponse, the CNE hired an agency of the Inter-American human Rights Institute,CAPEL, last year, to audit the registry. CAPEL released its results earlierthis year, concluding that the accuracy of the voter registry fell withinacceptable international standards, with a less than 5% error margin.

Despite that audit, oppositiongroups such as Súmate and opposition presidential candidates argued that theCAPEL audit was methodologically flawed and insisted that it be allowed toaudit the registry. The CNE refused, arguing that the registry’s information,such as addresses, is protected by citizens’ right to privacy. Instead, the CNEoffered to allow experts from ten of the country’s main universities to comeforward with audit proposals and to conduct the new audit. The audit proposalsof seven of the universities were accepted, while the proposal of three of thelarger universities, was rejected.

CNE President Lucena also saidthat the three universities currently not participating in the audit would bewelcome to join the process at any time.

Students March in Support of CNE

Yesterday, shortly before theCNE’s announcement about the audit, university students gathered in Caracas to demonstratesupport for the CNE. Students from 32 different universities gathered at Plaza Venezuela, in the geographic center of Caracas, and marched tothe CNE headquarters, which is located several miles to the west, in thecapital’s historical center.

The president of the student federation of theUniversity Romulo Gallegos, Omar Ojeda, told the state news agency ABN, “Inthis electoral year students take up the historical commitment of confrontinginternal factors that follow international mandates to destabilize thecountry.”