The transparency of the electoral power
IS VOTING BY WAY OF ELECTRONIC MACHINES RELIABLE?
1. Article 63 of the Constitution establishes that "Suffrage is a right. It shall be exercised through free, universal, direct and secret voting". Ever since the Presidential Recall Referendum, the secrecy of voting and the results of electoral processes have been questioned due to attempts to render automatic the whole electoral system. The following are the major issues causing lack of confidence in current electoral processes:
- During the August 15, 2004 Presidential Recall Referendum, the fingerprints machine was introduced. Voters' fingerprints and presentation of identification card (Cédula) were required before exercising the right to vote. This made it possible to delay the process, as indeed occurred, and to find out whether the voter had signed the petition for the Presidential Recall Referendum in November 2003, simply by comparing the voter's ID number with the list of those who signed the petition. Officials at the voting centers thus took it upon themselves to deny some voters the right to vote alleging that their name did not appear on their voting center's rolls.
- Electronic voting ledgers, announced for future elections, would replace the paper voting ledgers in which voters, in all elections to date, consigned their signature and finger print after casting their vote. The use of electronic ledgers does not guarantee the secrecy of voting established in the Constitution and the LOSPP, since the information -sequence and time of voting- therein contained can be compared with information stored in the voting machines, thus disclosing voters' choice.
- One of the most sensitive issues regarding an electronic voting process is the scrutiny of data, especially in view of the many doubts and suspicions generated by the outcome of the August 15 Presidential Recall Referendum. Electronic voting machines may transmit and receive data (bi-directional communication); hence electoral results may be corrected or altered.
- The scrutiny of votes is understood to be "the acknowledgment and computing of votes that have been cast, in elections or similar acts, by way of paper or any other mean" (DRAE) Even though Venezuelan legislation grants that the act of scrutiny will be automatic (Art. 175 of the LOSSP), it also establishes that it must be insured that each vote can be registered individually (Art. 153 of the LOSSP) and that this can be verified (Art. 154). IT ADDS THAT THIS MUST BE A PUBLIC ACT (Art.169 of the LOSSP) and, most important, that the procedure must be carefully detailed by the CNE six months before any electoral process (Art.168 and Art. 171 of the LOSSP). In view of the serious fraud allegations that were brought forth in previous electoral processes - which we have already mentioned and have not been clarified to the satisfaction of an important part of the population - the electoral authorities must consider this issue closely in order to create confidence in the electoral process.
- As regards the announcement of electoral results, the LOSPP establishes that ".data will be divulged only after scrutiny" (Article 157). However, the Rules Regarding the Membership and Installment of Referendum Centers and the Acts of Voting and Scrutiny of Referenda to Revoke Popularly Elected Officials and in CNE regulations regarding the October 31, 2004 Regional elections (of a lesser legal standing than LOSPP norms) establish that results will be announced following the end of suffrage and before scrutiny. This represents a clear violation of Article 157 of the Basic Law on Suffrage and Popular Participation (LOSPP). The same norms were used for the August 2005 local elections.
2. Contrary to expectations, electronic voting has not insured more precise and trustworthy results. In the October 2004 regional elections, 5% of all result sheets were not counted, whereas in previous manual or less machine-assisted elections the uncounted result sheets did not exceed 2% of total result sheets.
3. Also contrary to expectations, electronic voting has not eased the voting and scrutiny process. In the past, much time was spent counting the paper votes and awaiting their totaling. Today even more time is spent standing in line to cast one's vote due to the slowness of fingerprint registration machines. Delays in voting and scrutiny tend to increase people's tendency to abstain. This has been noted even by international observers who have witnessed past elections.