Venezuela’s Electoral Council Says Referendum Data Will Be in Safe Hands with Telecom Company

While Chavez supporters have been raising doubts about the telephone company's reliablility in transmitting the referendum vote, the Electoral Council said yesterday that it is confident it can trust the company.

Caracas, August 4, 2004—Preparations for the upcoming August 15 presidential recall referendum include guaranteeing the security of computers and databases used for recording votes.  Chavez supporters have raised doubts as to how the National Electoral Council (CNE), will guarantee the security and reliability of these computers and databases. 

CNE spokespersons reassured the public yesterday that it sees no problem with the private telecommunications company, CANTV, which will handle the transmission of data for the referendum. “Given the discussions with the company [Cantv] and Smartmatic, we are more calm.  The CNE has implemented security measures to avoid interference in the process and the transmission of data,” said Jorge Rodriguez, the President of the National Electoral Directorate, which is in charge of election logistics.  Rodriguez assured the public that “elections would be the most secure in the electoral history of Venezuela.” 

Rodriguez announced that this Saturday there will be public simulation with the “fingerprint hunter” computers, which are designed to read voters’ fingerprints and make sure that no one votes more than once. “There will be no bottleneck in this phase. The person will not have to wait while the computer processes [the fingerprint].” The president of Smartmatic, Antonio Mugica, said that of 20,200 computers, 7,000 still have to be programmed.

While Rodriguez has allayed widespread doubts as to the security of databases in the hands of a private corporation such as Cantv, the CNE has yet to approve contingency plans in case of voting machine sabotage or technical failure. 

Three contingency plans in case voting machines fail the day of the referendum are currently being considered: that of CNE vice-president, Ezequiel Zamora, of CNE legal advisor, Andres Brito, and of CNE President Francisco Carrasquero.  None of these plans have yet been approved by the CNE board of directors.

Board directors are divided in terms of which plan to support.  CNE board member Oscar Battaglini, supports Carrasquero´s proposal, which considers suspending voting at an affected table if access to replacement machines cannot be had within an hour, “because I think it is the simplest [plan] of all,” Battaglini said.  While CNE board members Sobella Mejias and Ezequiel Zamora support the idea that if there is a problem with the equipment at a table, voting would continue with manual ballots.

Electoral Directorate president, Jorge Rodriguez agrees with legal advisor’s Andrés Brito’s proposal, which calls for waiting for a replacement for two hours in case a voting machine fails and that Electoral Directorate supervise a manual vote, should the machine not arrive in time.  However, Rodriguez said he is accepting other options to this plan, such as rather than suspending the vote, as Carrasquero proposed, establish that if 20 per cent of the equipment fails, then this would be considered sabotage and the electoral process would be cancelled. 

Without a consensus on any of these plans, the CNE Board has not met to finalize contingency norms.  Rodriguez’s vote will define which mechanism will be applied if problems occur the day of the presidential referendum.