Mérida, August 2nd, 2009 (Venezuenanalysis.com) - The new Electoral Processes Law approved by the National Assembly on Friday night, with 203 articles, includes both list-based and single candidate voting, makes every voter eligible for staffing voting booths, details fines for a range of electoral crimes, and creates new electoral districts.
The law also goes into minute detail about nomination requirements, the voting process, election of indigenous representatives, electoral propaganda and media coverage of elections and election results.
Cilia Flores, president of the National Assembly, said, "This law gives power to the people and guarantees the people's participation and protagonism, so we've voted for a method that strengthens single candidate voting.
Flores said that while list- or party slate voting remains valid, since the national constitution demands proportional representation, along with the option of individual candidate voting, the assembly was "looking for an equilibrium that benefits the people."
Basically, under the new law, single positions such as president or governor will be elected based on relative majority, but positions to legislative councils, municipal councils and so on, will be based on a "parallel system" with the ability to vote for both lists of positions grouped politically or according to organisation, which would then be elected proportionally, and for individual names.
The National Assembly official report on the new law says the motive for the changes lie in the fact that in the past the electoral system was based on party pacts, but the new constitution passed in 1999 makes specific reference to the "sovereignty of the people and new ways of participating."
German Yepez, a director of the National Electoral Council (CNE), said that there were some restrictions on who could be a voting booth attendant in the old law, where as the new law allows for any eligible voter to participate.
The law also facilitates access to the most remote areas, with the creation of mobile voting centres, which can go to areas without electoral voting centres, and it decentralises other large voting centres with the aim of making the process easier and more efficient.
The law also creates electoral districts, which will be created by the CNE, based on various geographical groupings, with the exception of indigenous electoral districts that would not need geographical contiguousness. Population would be the main determinant of the electoral districts and high density areas could be based on as small a region as a commune.
Indigenous communities have the right to nominate their own candidates, and to have three representatives in the National Assembly, as established in the constitution.
Article 30 of the law says that all Venezuelans over the age of 18 can register to vote, as well as those who will turn 18 before, or on the day of voting. Foreigners over the age of 18 and who have lived in Venezuela for over 10 years can also register to vote and may vote for mayors and governors and for state and municipal councils.
The law institutionalises the Electoral Registry as an ongoing public body, in order to avoid dual voting and other electoral crimes and for transparency of data. Information that people must include in this registry is if they can read and write and if they have a physical disability, as now, all voting equipment must be designed in such a way that people with physical disabilities (motor or visual etc) have no disadvantage. Article 19 allows for the electoral information to be updated constantly, where as previously there were set periods for registration.
Those who supply false information to the CNE or electoral workers that prevent a voter from voting can now receive fines of 15 tax units, or the equivalent arrest of one day per tax unit. One tax unit is currently 55 bolivars or US$ 25.
A fine of 20 to 25 tax units, or equivalent arrest, will be applied to those who promote a candidacy that isn't eligible, who hinder electoral events (such as preventing electoral workers from arriving at booths), who arrive at electoral events armed, and to those directors or administrators of private or public media who put out electoral propaganda 48 hours before voting day.
Finally, the law stipulates a fine of 5-6,000 tax units for broadcasting electoral results before the official announcement.
Other changes and opposition response
The law contains various other general regulations and clarifications, such as the fact that nominating organisations are able to substitute their candidates for the following reasons: death, resignation, mental incapacity, legal or constitutional reasons, and nominations may be modified ten days before the electoral event, but "When there isn't enough time left to be able to make the changes to the electoral apparatus, votes cast will be accredited to the substituting candidate."
To fill a vacuum in the previous laws regarding the processes for referendums, the assembly approved a transitory resolution, which stipulates that the National Assembly will determine the law that regulates the referendum processes, and the CNE as the electoral power or branch, will develop special judicial apparatus to regulate them when necessary. Referendums will be governed by the Electoral Power law, the constitution, the current new law and other electoral laws.
Local opposition media have highlighted the fines in order to criticise the new law and claimed disadvantage under the law, saying the parallel voting system of both lists and individual candidates disadvantages the opposition and minority groups and that the new electoral districts could be "rigged" in a way to advantage the current government.
While previously 40% of the National Assembly deputies were elected by proportional representation, now it is 30%. Also, the new law makes so-called "twin" voting legal, whereby two different parties may nominate the same candidate, once as an individual and once via a party list, thereby enhancing their chances of being elected. Small parties criticize that this process puts them at an unfair disadvantage.
The Law of Electoral Processes replaces the previous Law of Suffrage and Political Participation and the Law of Electoral Statute. It applies to all electoral events in the country, including referendums, legislative elections, citizen assemblies, and elections of public positions.