Venezuela’s Electoral Council Outlines Plans for Contingencies and Disruptions

Opposition leader says he will announce preliminary results well before polls close. Electoral Council denounces intent as illegal and sets out contingency plans should voting be disrupted.

Caracas, August 10, 2004—One week before Venezuela’s presidential referendum, the country’s only officially recognized electoral authority, the National Electoral Council (CNE) is trying to anticipate possible problems prior to the election this Sunday, August 15, which includes a challenge by opposition governor Enrique Mendoza, and an investigation into CANTV, the Venezuelan telecommunications giant in charge of transmitting voter data.

CNE President Francisco Carrasquero announced yesterday that he will use “the heavy hand” and sanction those who would project referendum results before the official tally, referring to declarations made by Mendoza, governor of the state of Miranda, who said he would announce partial results of the recall referendum at 2pm on the day of the referendum, four hours before the polls close.  “The CNE will not hesitate in activating the legal mechanisms to sanction the guilty,” Carrasquero said, adding that the statements made by Mendoza prepare the ground for serious problems, and for the electoral referee’s authority to be denied. 

Mendoza, on the other hand, dismissed the statements made by the head of the country’s electoral authority, saying that Carrasquero would make better use of his time focusing on the recall referendum rather than “wasting time criticizing what others say.” 

Carrasquero reminded the media of their legal responsibilities during the referendum.

The media is prohibited by law to transmit information regarding results and if they do, that may result in the closure or cutting of signals of the media outlets involved, Carrasquero said.

Contingency Plans

On the technical front, the CNE approved its contingency plan in case of computer failure or sabotage on the day of the referendum.  The contingency plan says that if one computer fails, elections officials will have 30 minutes to fix it and if it is not resolved, they will have 60 minutes to replace it.  If the problem is still not resolved within that time, manual voting, with paper ballots will be used.  Under no circumstances will voting be suspended at any table with problems.  However, if events beyond the control of the CNE disrupt voting (“force majeure”), that would affect the entire process, voting can be suspended.

Given testing this past Sunday, those problems are not anticipated. CNE board member Rodriguez announced that the technology to be used during the recall referendum is 100 per cent sound.  Tests resulted in a zero per cent error rate for the computers to be used for voting and no errors were detected in the scrutinizing and tally process, as well as in the data transmission process. 

Also, fingerprint scanning computers that will be used to compare fingerprints against those who have already voted, so as to prevent double voting will not result in any delays according to the CNE. CNE officials call the fingerprint scanners, an “auxiliary guarantee process,” and as such cannot stall the referendum process, according to CNE statutes.

Eyes on telecommunications company

The CNE is also participating in a government investigation into the telecommunications firm, CANTV, to ensure that the company will abide by the electoral authority and transmit data securely and effectively on the day of the referendum.  CANTV president Gustavo Roosen said his company will be acting under the auspices of the CNE.

“As a member of the consortium and contractor of the CNE, CANTV will act subordinate to all of the requests of the electoral council.  In case of the electoral tables, it will act in accordance with the instructions of the president of each voting centre,” Roosen said.

Roosen ensured a special commission of the national government that it is accountable in terms of its role during the National referendum. “The state has sufficient supervision over telecommunications and over CANTV so you can rest assured on how well observed we will be and that we will complete our obligation,” Roosen said.

Roosen drew fire from Minister of Communication and Information, Jesse Chacon, at a press conference this afternoon.  Chacon challenged Roosen to clarify his relationship with the opposition, expressing the concerns of Chavez supporters that the transmission of voter data will be in the hands of suspected opposition leaders.

“We would thank Mr.Gustavo Roosen and the other high ranking directors of CANTV who have had a long relationship with the Coordinadora Democratica [the main opposition coalition] and very active participation during the 11th of April in 2002 [coup against Chavez], to act as directors.  It’s time that CANTV clarifies this situation for Venezuelans and that they make Venezuelans believe that they will act transparently on the 15th of August,” Chacon said.