General

Elections in Venezuela

In two weeks (Dec 3rd) there will be presidential elections in Venezuela. This will be the third time where Hugo Chavez, the current President, will be participating in the elections. The first time, in 1998, he won by 62%, then dropped to 59% in 2000 and currently some polls are giving him between 50 and 60 percent of vote intention. Since 1998, we’ve got a very active electoral movement and controversial situations which have raised very diverse opinions about our electoral system. If I recall correctly, in 1998 people voted using optic forms. In that moment, spanish Indra was the company in charge for the machines and most of the technology used in the elections. That was the time where the Supreme Electoral Council depended on the Executive power, i.e., the President. In 1999, Chavez proposed to rewrite the Constitution, and the National Electoral Council became an independent power. This Constitution was approved in two referenda in 1999, where touchscreen machines were used.In 2000, after the new Constitution was approved, new presidential elections were made. The same touchscreen machines were used and we made a transition between Indra and a multinational holding named Smartmatic. In 2004, after two millions and a half of signatures were gathered to recall Chavez presidency, the revocatory referendum was made, using the Smartmatic machines. Almost six million people voted to maintain Chavez in power. Of course, after eight years of the same party in the power, as well as other problems (namely a national strike and a Coup d’Etat in 2002), several ideas arised regarding the legitimacy of the election process.Today, the National Electoral Council released a flyer in the press, where they try to issue these topics. I must recognize that, being a newbie voter, I was unaware of several of the things they published today. For example, 8 of every 10 venezuelans over 18 are signed for voting in the elections. That’s one of the higher percentages of public awareness about elections in Latin America, higher than, for example, Colombia. That means 16 million people are able to vote, and we’re used to get around 60 percent of participation.We do vote with touchscreen machines, and the results are completely computerized. The military guards all the equipment, and provides security to the randomly elected civilian which work as temporary personnel. Members of every involved party are present in all the election centers, as well as national and inteational observers. After you’re checked to vote, you have to give your fingerprint in a special biometric device. This is transmitted live, were possible, avoiding two people voting in the same day. After you vote, your finger is marked with silver nitrate, which goes away after two days or so. Of course, you’re only allowed to vote if you don’t have the mark in your fingers. The touchscreen machines prints a paper which you put into the traditional box. After the voting has concluded, more than half of the boxes will be opened and checked against the information in the machine. The boxes subject to this check are randomly selected, as well.A brief thought about the software used in the machines. In 2004 or so, we (the Free Software Community in Venezuela) struggled and made pressure to the National Electoral Council to reveal the code and publish it wide open. This has been achieved until some point, since every interested person or organization is allowed to take a peek at the code. Dozens of organizations have already done so and are impressed by the features that are now present in the code. Before the first vote is registered, the machine prints a zero-vote confirmation, and then subsequently randomizes the order of the votes registered in memory. Only after all the election centers are closed, the machines start transmitting information.This year, three hours past the closing time we’ll have the results. The final and most important, from my point of view, argument held to support our election system is the random queue organization at the election centres. The registry is sorted by ID number, the votes are randomly stored in the memory and the biometric device is used in a per-arrival basis. Therefore, since nobody takes the same time to vote, the queues will be unarranged therefore making it quite difficult to determine a possible vote sequence. This has been certified lately by the European Union, the Organization of American States and other organizations. Whoever wins this election, I’m quite confident about our election system. I just hope that other institutions in our Country start using reliable systems (for example, the national ID office) in order to give at least the feeling of being in a rightful State.

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