Venezuelan Opposition Rejects Audit of Referendum Vote

The Carter Center asked the electoral council to conduct an audit of the vote by randomly selecting 150 voting centers and counting their paper ballots. The oppositon, however, says that this is not enough and will boycott the audit.

Caracas, August 19, 2004— In response to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías’ victory in last Sunday’s referendum, opposition leaders are refusing to accept the results of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), despite the fact that they have been corroborated by the Carter Center, the Organization of American States (OAS), and by independent international observers.

On Monday afternoon, former US-President Jimmy Carter, head of the Carter Center, and OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria held a press conference at which they stated that they had received absolutely no indications of fraud.  They expressed complete confidence in the results published by the CNE, and noted that the quick-counts that both organizations conducted at several voting stations provided results that matched the CNE’s results almost exactly.

Furthermore, Carter noted that quick-counts conducted by opposition group Súmate also corresponded very closely to CNE figures.  Although, that did not prevent Súmate from expressing that they have “serious doubts” with respect to the official results, or from releasing exit polls giving the opposition a 60%-40% victory that directly contradicted their own quick-counts.

In order to address opposition concerns of possible fraud, the Carter Center and OAS suggested in a press conference yesterday that the CNE conduct an additional audit, to which the CNE agreed.  Carter noted that “it is possible that there may be small discrepancies [between paper ballots printed upon voting, and the electronic votes], but not sufficient to change the outcome of the referendum.”

Opposition allegations of fraud have so far been based on the suggestion that there was a ‘ceiling’ on ‘Yes’ votes, resulting in all ‘Yes’ votes beyond the ceiling being changed to ‘No’ votes by some internal mechanism in the voting machines.  This suggestion has been contested by the CNE and international observers on several grounds.

According to Carter, the possibility of fraud using ceilings can be addressed by comparing the ballots printed out upon each vote, thus, his suggestion that an audit be conducted at 150 voting centers across the country.

In a press conference this afternoon, electoral council board member Jorge Rodriguez contested the oppositions’ ‘proof’ of the existence of ceilings.  Rodriguez pointed out that similarities in results between voting machines in the same voting center are not only statistically possible, but highly probably. It also occurred with ‘Yes’ votes. The explanation, according to Rodriguez, is a simple matter of statistics, in that each voting machine registered a random sample of voters at that particular voting center, so that each machine should reflect the general voting trend at the center as a whole.

As an example, Rodriguez compared results from two voting tables at a voting center in the wealthy Caracas neighbourhood of El Cafetal.  Both voting tables provided almost the exact same results: table 1 resulted in No: 8.3%, Si: ,91.7%; and table 2 in No: 8.5%, Si: 91.5%.

While Jorge Rodriguez was making these comments, Enrique Mendoza, spokesman for the opposition umbrella-group the Democratic Coordinator, held a press conference in which he called on “all representatives of the opposition not to participate in the audit.”  His justification was the charge that the National Guard who have been guarding the paper ballots may have conspired with the government (and the CNE, and the Carter Center, and the OAS) to alter or replace ballots.

Rodriguez responded to the suggestion that the opposition would not participate in the audit saying, “we are not conducting this audit for any political actors, but for the peace and tranquility of the Venezuelan people.”

“We are also doing this for the employees of the CNE,” he continued, “who merit much better treatment than they have received from the private media.”  Rodriguez stated plainly that if the opposition does not wish to participate in the audit, the CNE, along with the Carter Center and OAS will conduct the audit without them.

Maripili Hernández, spokewoman for the committee in charge of the government’s referendum campaign, responded to the opposition’s position in harsh terms.

“These people have been saying that there’s been a fraud since Sunday,” noted Hernández, “and it is important to clarify that to commit a fraud with these characteristics is no small thing, one would have to have committed an immense fraud to affect the referendum by two million votes.”

Hernández accused the opposition leaders of acting irresponsibly for not accepting the referendum results when they have been so universally accepted by international organizations, governments, and observers.