As Elections Approach Venezuela Holds Vote Simulation, Promotes Voter Education

Massive participation in an election simulation that took place last Sunday is evidence that Venezuela is ready to carry out its parliamentary elections this September 26, according to the President of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena. 

By Edward Ellis and James Suggett
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Mérida, August 30th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com and Correo del Orinoco International) – Massive participation in an election simulation that took place last Sunday is evidence that Venezuela is ready to carry out its parliamentary elections this September 26, according to the President of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena.  

“We can say with great satisfaction that today’s simulation was a great success,” Lucena said at a press conference after the polls closed.

The simulation was carried out in 52 voting centers around the country as a trial run in preparation for the upcoming National Assembly elections. Its purpose was to test voting machines, evaluate possible problems, and give an overall estimation of how the electoral system will perform in September. 

Lucena said that all the voting centers were up and running on time at 8am on Sunday and that only two, in the state of Apure, opened at 8:20am due to logistical problems. “That says a lot about our logistical capacity and about the quick response by the CNE to resolve issues,” the CNE president said. 

According to reports, the average voting time between arriving at the polls and casting a ballot on Sunday was 15 to 22 minutes.

CNE Rector Socorro Hernanadez reported that the technological platform and all the components of the polling system are functioning correctly.

During the simulation, 9,800 members of the Armed Forces were on hand to provide logistical and security support as part of a government initiative called Plan Republica.

According to General Henry Rangel Silva, head of Plan Republica, members of the Armed Forces are tasked with securing the transport of voting machines, “looking after materials, looking after the polling booth, and also taking care of the security of each of the voting centers.”

Silva said that during the vote simulation, there had been “no kind of incident” to report.

On election day, the number of military personnel on hand will increase to 250,000, Silva said, translating to approximately twenty officials for each of the 12,562 polling places across the country.

In prior elections including those in 2005, 2007, and 2008, small groups of masked and armed opposition supporters attempted to disrupt the electoral process by creating pockets of violence and disorder in different urban areas.

Although Sunday’s simulation saw some verbal sparring between government and opposition supporters, the event was carried out with a high level of civicism, according to Lucena.

In Chacao, opposition candidate Maria Corina Machado, of the coalition United Democratic Roundtable (MUD), claimed that members of the government’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) attempted to prevent her from exercising her right to participate in the simulation. Hector Navarro, a PSUV candidate, denied the allegations, attributing voters’ confrontation with Machado to her attempt to cut in line.

Apart from this and other minor incidents, Lucena reported her satisfaction with the process. “Everything is working well. The followers of certain parties got wrapped up in the heat of the moment but fortunately, a people as nonviolent as we are could control it.” she said.

“We’re already accustomed to this. Our people are accustomed to having elections,” said Lucena.

In addition to the simulation, the CNE will be carrying out a series of electoral fairs to continue educating the public about the voting process. 1,500 voting machines will be deployed in 11 cities throughout the country, starting on August 31 so that citizens will be able to ask questions and learn how to quickly navigate the process.

Lucena and other CNE officials led groups of several hundred people on “walks for electoral participation” through the streets of the 11 cities to call attention to the CNE’s voter education campaign and the importance of voter participation.

On Wednesday, the CNE president made a televised address to the nation in which she outlined the rules and regulations regarding campaign finance and electoral propaganda. The regulations say candidates must report their finances through the CNE’s automated system, and that propaganda must be respectful and not incite violence, promote discrimination, or be slanderous.

“The promotion of candidates should be done without attacking the National Electoral Council as part of its political strategy... let us avoid resorting to fear and attempting to create uncertainty,” Lucena added.

To help monitor the September 26th vote, the CNE has invited approximately 150 electoral observers from international entities and organizations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, including the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the African Union, the European Union, and the Central American Parliament.

In recent years, Venezuela has successfully completed 15 electoral contests and has been noted for its transparency and high level of voter participation. International observers from the US-based Carter Center and other organizations have praised the system for its orderliness and efficiency.

As in most democratic countries except the United States, voting in Venezuela occurs on a non-work day so as to give everyone the opportunity to exercise their universal right to suffrage. The sale of alcohol is banned from the day before and a general mood of respect falls over the country.

A section of this article was published on Friday, August 27th 2010 in Correo del Orinoco International.

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