Caracas , December 3, 2006 ( venezuelanalysis.com)— With a round of fireworks from the National Electoral Council (CNE) at 5am this morning, election day officially began with a bang. The community, however, was already in the streets. As early at 3am in some areas across Caracas, residents woke up, playing drums, blasting music, shooting fireworks and chanting. The morning trumpet wake-up call rang from the military barracks at the Presidential Palace of Miraflores, and from the balconies and windows of residents across the capital city of Caracas.
Although most polls would not be opened until 7 am in most cases, by 5 am, there was already a half-a-block long line waiting in front of the voting center located in the Dr. Francisco Mendoza school, just north of Miraflores. According to Gladimar Faudito, President of one the voting tables at the center, the center was installed by shortly after 6am, and after the various members in charge of the voting center, including the secretary, the president, the witnesses, and others – voted themselves, then local residents began to enter around 7:30 am. According to Faudito, approximately 1,500 people are registered to vote at the voting center. 500 for each voting table.
The process at the Mendoza voting center was and continues to be slow, but steady. Those who arrived in line by around 6 am, were voting by just after 9 am in this neighborhood in the Northwest region of Altagracia. Long lines are expected into the late afternoon, and the center will not close this evening until everyone in line has had a chance to vote. This morning, at the Mendoza and another nearby center, according to residents and center directors, there were no complaints or problems with the fingerprint or electronic voting machines.
Except for what appeared to be annoyance over the long lines, the residents in this region appeared to be in calm and in good spirits. The Mendoza center appears to be a microcosm of much of the country. By 9:30 am this morning, CNE President Tibisay Lucena announced that 96% of the voting centers throughout the country had been installed.
La California Norte
Between 8:30 am and 9:30 am, the line of voters was running 200 meters along Francisco de Miranda Avenue, then around a corner and up the hill. Another 50 meters up was the polling station. The mood was very calm and nobody seemed to want to reveal who they intended to voted for. As is the regulation, no person was wearing anything to identify them with either candidate. Only one person drove past shouting “Viva Chávez!” The National Guard soldiers were allowing voters in and out in groups of around 10 people. Once inside voters first have to go through electronic fingerprint identification machines before voting. All was running smoothly.
Upon leaving was a sole exit pollster, Angel Martínez, who works for GRERCA, which was conducting polls at random stations around the state of Miranda. He explained the methodogy of his company, “I approach people walking down after voting at random. The person must be on their own or if in a group only one person must be asked,” he said. After identifying himself as an exit pollster he asked one simple question, “What was your option, Chávez or Rosales?” He said that up until that moment the majority were with Chávez, but that plenty had voted for Rosales.
Barrio La Agricultura, Petare
At 10:30 am in Petare the same eerie calm could be felt as in La California. This is unusual because Venezuelans are a loud bunch and with such a large number gathered in one place, one might expect the usual party atmosphere. The line sprawled up the hill as far as could be seen. Venezuelans normally have little time for orderly lines either, but today in La Agricultura it was different.
The National Guardsmen at the polling station seemed a little nervous, but they were permitting journalists with the correct credentials to enter. Inside things were much the same as in California, orderly lines for identification and orderly lines for voting. In Petare those who had voted were not met by anyone conducting exit polls. However, they were more forthcoming when asked who they had voted for. Out of the 20 people asked as they left the polling station, not one admitted to voting for Rosales.
The situation in the upper middle class neighborhood of one of La Florida’s voting centers was tense because the line was extraordinarily long. Close to a thousand people were standing outside, waiting to enter the school, at 7:30 am this morning. People were calm at first, but would periodically break out in applause, whenever someone came out holding up his or her fist, as if having just committed an act of defiance.
At one point, one of the poll workers came out and started complaining loudly that the reason the line was moving so slowly was because of the fingerprint scanners. She said people should complain and that the scanners ought to be removed, so as to speed things up. A rumor started to spread that only four of the ten fingerprint scanners, which are supposed to ensure that no one would vote more than once, was working. People starting chanting, “We want to vote!” and, “Get rid of the fingerprint scanners!”
However, once people entered, they were surprised to find that all ten scanners were working fine and that the line for the scanners was no longer than the one for casting the actual vote, which suggests that the scanners were not holding anything up. What was holding things up was simply the large number of voters. Those who came early in the morning ended up having to wait in line for four hours to vote. Those who came in the afternoon, were able to vote after less than an hour because the lines were far shorter at that time.
Direct reports from the last two hours from Merida, Barquisimeto, Valencia, San Diego (Carabobo State), and across Caracas, show most of Venezuela’s election day to be running smoothly. However, according to one report from Caracas Radio Alí Primera, there have been reports of pockets of people with the opposition who “try to create a state of tension between the voters, in a very isolated way.” Nevertheless, the population “has maintained a democratic attitude of respect and tolerance,” it continues.
Other than small difficulties and problems, voting across the country seems to be running smoothly.
According to Las Ultimas Noticias, there are 1,410 international and national observers witnessing the election.