Venezuela Upgrades System for Upcoming State and Municipal Elections

The country's electoral council will purchase 3,000 additional voting machines and will nearly double the number of voting tables. It is not clear, however, if this can be done in time for regional elections now scheduled for late October.

Caracas, Sep.1, 2004—In order to avoid abstention in the coming state and municipal elections, due to long lines for lack of sufficient voting centers, the national electoral authority, the CNE, will almost double the number of voting tables and increase the number of voting computers.  It will also redistribute voting centers according to population density, to avoid the long lines experienced during presidential recall referendum day last August 15.

The CNE announced that it will almost double the number of voting tables from 12,251 to 23,000 and these tables will be fully automated with the use of 3,000 additional voting computers the CNE will purchase from the U.S.-based company, Smartmatic, adding to the 21,200 computers already used by the CNE.

The issue has become very important, particularly for Chavez supporters because most of the large voting centers, where people stood in line for up to ten hours during the referendum, tend to be located in poor neighborhoods, in the barrios. It is expected that a repeat of the long lines would almost surely mean a much lower turn-out in the barrios, and thus a lower vote for pro-Chavez candidates, since most of his supporters live in the barrios.

The tentative date for the regional elections of state governors, mayors, and city councils, is currently set for October 31.

To decongest voting centers with high density of between 5,000 and 8,000 people, CNE technicians are considering dividing this number in two and moving them to a center that is not more than 400 meters from where they have been assigned to vote in the past. About 700 voting centers, which have several voting tables each, with over four million voters, would be affected by the changes.

There is however opposition within the CNE to these changes in voting centers across the country if the current proposed election date of October 31 is kept.  Opponents to the plan say that there will not be enough time to implement the number of changes required.  Instead, they are proposing a date in November for the upcoming regional and municipal elections.