Sunday, November 13, 2005

Calling their bluff 

As I mentioned last week the European Union is sending an observation group to oversee the December 4 legislative elections in Venezuela. Now the Venezuelan electoral authorities, the CNE, have signed another electoral accord, this time with the Organization of American States. The O.A.S. will be sending 35 observers who will be arriving in the country shortly.

What I thought was interesting was the actual accord between the OAS and the CNE. It spells out what the OAS will have access to. Here are some excerpts:

The CNE, during the day of the elections, and the pre-election and post election period, guarantees the observers free movement in all the Venezuelan territory.

The CNE, during the day of the elections, and during the pre and post electoral period guarantees the observers complete access to all the work areas of the CNE and all its subordinate organizations at a national, regional, and local level, as well as any private companies working for the CNE in the voting, capturing fingerprints, audits, vote totaling, transmission and computing of the votes.

The CNE guarantees the observers complete access to the voting centers, voting tables, the data centers wherein the voting, capturing of fingerprints, audits, reviewing of votes and totaling of votes takes place. The CNE guarantees the observers copies of the voting acts that are printed at the end of voting prior to their transmission.

The CNE will provide, whenever it is requested, information relating to the electoral registry, to the voting books, all databases and software used in the voting process, and the source codes and operating systems.

The Venezuelan voting system is almost entirely automated. People vote on touch screen computers which record their vote electronically and print out a small paper which is then kept in a box for comparison to the electronic totals during audits. Please note that this automization of the voting process was NOT initiated by the Chavez administration. It was mandated by laws passed under previous administrations. For example, the election in 1998 that brought Chavez to power was also automated. The CNE is simply complying with laws that predate Chavez term by having a computerized voting process.

However, aspects of this voting process became quite controversial during last years Presidential Recall Referendum as the opposition complained that observers were not in the vote totaling center and didn’t examine the software used in the voting machines. Of course, the controls and audits were sufficient that the observers could affirm that there was no fraud in that vote.

Nevertheless, the government is once again bending over backward to assuage any concerns of the opposition. The opposition wasn’t happy that observers from the European Union didn’t come to the RR. So now the CNE made it a point to have observers from the E.U. come to the Legislative elections. Further, the concerns over the access to all the computers where the votes are calculated and the software used in the machines are clearly addressed in the accord with the O.A.S.

There is no small amount of irony here. The opposition, which has consistently cried fraud and said the electoral process is rigged, has done everything it could to keep observers from coming. And what does the C.N.E., which is presumably carrying out this fraud doing? They are bringing in foreign observers and telling them they can examine any part of the voting process they desire. It sure does seem strange that an organization that according to the opposition should have so much to hide keeps acting as if it has absolutely nothing to hide. Very strange indeed.


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