Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sumate blasts the Electoral Board: Is anybody listening?

Originally published here by Miguel Octavio

For the past few days Sumate has been blasting the Electoral Board, but it appears as if the whole country has been anesthetized into a stupor as nobody seems to care, either within the political parties or the voters. Essentially, Sumate has found numerous violations of the Electoral Laws of Venezuela, none of which can be explained as simple mistakes, omissions or misinterpretations. In fact, most of them suggest to anyone with any ability to reason, a concerted effort to deceive, manipulate and control the election. While there was some progress yesterday, as the OAS met with the CNE and attempted to convince the Electoral Board to a) count more of the ballots and b) allow political parties to have access to the Electoral Registry, conditions are still iffy as best as Sumate has shown.

Sumate’s criticism is centered on the following issues:

Counting the Ballots: Article 172 of Venezuela’s Suffrage law says that even if electronic means are used in the voting process, all ballots have to be counted manually and their number compared to the total number indicated by the voting machines. According to this all ballot boxes should be opened, their number counted and totals compared. According to the same law, if this total is not in agreement, the votes from that machine are simply not valid. None of these steps were followed in the 2004 recall vote, regional elections in October 2004, and regional elections in August 2005 or is being planned for the upcoming Assembly elections in December. Do I hear Rule of Law from any of my readers?

Now, the law is obviously screwy, but it is the law. This is part of the problem with the autocratic style of this Government, just because the law says you have to count the ballots without reading them, which is non-sensical; it does not mean it should not be done. In fact, do it and once you are there, read the pieces of papers and give the whole process more transparency to do it! Instead, international observers are negotiating to increase the ballots that would be “audited” (not tallied, audited) and the Electoral Board in a magnanimous offer is willing to consider increasing the “audit” from 32% to 47% of all boxes. And we are expected to be grateful!

The Audit: On top of the above, the “audit” that is being planned has been suddenly changed. In the August regional elections, ballot boxes were opened and on the same tally sheet printed by the electronic machines, the manual count was inserted. This time around, the regulations which were approved last week, instead of the six months established by law, say that the tally sheet printed by the machine will be put in an envelope before the manual count begins. The manual count will then proceed and will be written on a separate sheet, put in a different envelope and sent to the CNE, which will have five weeks to compare the results! Yeah, sure, the CNE itself will do the audit and tell us what happened. That looks more like a secret audit and certainly makes no sense.

Electoral Registry: No Electoral Registry was handed over to the political parties as required by law six months before the election. Then, it was handed over a month ago and it has many errors. I already reported on the amazing Gonzalez family of Zulia state, which had 2002 people with that last name born on the same day in 1974. Moreover, many of them only had one last name, illegal according to the law. The President of the CNE dismissed this as “errors” common in all electoral registries in the world which typically have 5% of errors. And we are supposed to believe it

But Sumate has expressed other concerns. There are for example, the “immortals”, those Venezuelans who are one hundred years of older and are still in the electoral registry. They happen to be over 0.1% of the population, outside of actuarial ranges as shown below

Besides this remarkable number of very old people, which should call for a team of experts from the WHO to come and study them, there is the peculiar person born in the XVIII th. Century which should be the subject of investigation on his/her own.

Besides this, there is the growth in the number of people registered to vote as well as migrated from one municipality to the other as seen in the table below:

The number of new voters increased between August 03 and October 05 by 18.3% (and has reached 20% at the time of this writing). The Government explains this by saying that this is the result of a program to include people in the electoral process, however, the “inclusion” is highly non-uniform concentrating in the border states and Caracas. At the same time 21.8% of the voters have moved since August 2003, 13.9% since the recall vote which is quite surprising more so when you find out that an inordinate proportion compared to historical patterns is to a different state (20%) or a different electoral circuit (10%).

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