Venezuela: Opposition clings to unreasonable doubt despite audits

In Venezuela's April 14 presidential elections, called after the tragic death of president Hugo Chavez, the candidate from Chavez's United Socialist party of Venezuela (PSUV), Nicolas Maduro, was elected with just over 50% of the vote. In response, the right-wing opposition cried fraud and organised days of often-violent protests that lead to the deaths of eight Chavez supporters and the torching of PSUV and government offices, as well as health clinics from the government's pro-poor programs.

Dan Beeton, from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research where this article first appeared, looks at overwhelming evidence against the US-backed opposition's claims of electoral fraud.

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After the Venezuelan National Electoral Council’s (CNE’s) decision to conduct a full audit of voting receipts for the April 14 presidential elections, as failed opposition candidate Henrique Capriles had originally demanded, Capriles reversed his position and announced he would boycott the audit.

Along with this shift, he began to focus on new demands: he wanted an audit of the voter registry and the fingerprint registry, claiming that such audits would be needed in order to ensure there had been not repeat voting.

Capriles has not plausibly explained how such repeat voting would be possible in a system where there are two records: an electronic record and a paper record of voting receipts, and where each voter must first present identification and fingerprints before being allowed to vote.

Auditing all the remaining paper voting receipts is no simple task. The receipts must be brought in from all over the country to the Mariches storehouse where the audit is being conducted. Election monitors from the US have noted that some of the boxes containing these receipts are even being carried by canoe from remote areas in the Amazon and elsewhere.

While the CNE was consumed with this task over the past several weeks, Venezuelan opposition figures raised a cry, demanding to have the fingerprint registry examined.

On June 3, the CNE reaffirmed earlier reports that it would conduct this audit as well, the latest of about 20 audits demanded by the opposition to which the CNE has agreed.

The CNE officials have said, however, that the fingerprint verification will take time, and they would be unlikely to release results until September. Capriles’ call for the fingerprint audit have gained traction in the English-language media, but the CNE officials’ announcements that they plan to conduct such an audit have not.

There has been very little reporting on the audits in the US and British press in general, from the just completed audit of all the remaining voting receipts, to the 18 audits demanded by the opposition (and carried out by the CNE), mostly carried out before the election.

The most recent — and very brief — reference to the audits in Reuters, for example, inverts the opposition’s shifting demands to put the blame on the election’s winner: “Maduro originally accepted a proposal for a full audit of the close April election which he won, but then backtracked and has since hardened his stance.”

In response to the scarcity of media coverage of the audit process — and the English language media’s ignoring of a statistical analysis that shows it would be all but impossible for the full voting receipt audit to find enough discrepancies to overturn the election results — 14 economists and other academics issued an open letter on June 7 to the media.

The letter called for the reporting of “overwhelming statistical evidence” that shows that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro won the April 14, elections as verified by the CNE.

This audit, of the remaining 46% of voting receipts, is now finished, and as predicted by the statistical analysis, the result confirms Maduro’s 1.49 percentage point victory over Capriles.

In reporting on the audit’s completion, however, the Associated Press’ Christopher Toothaker mentioned Capriles’ demand for the fingerprint registry audit but again ignored the CNE’s plans to conduct the audit: “The opposition has complained that the council ignored its demand for a full recount.

“That would have included not just comparing votes electronically registered by machines with the paper ballot receipts they emitted, but also comparing those with the poll station registries that contain voter signatures and with digitally recorded fingerprints.”

Meanwhile, Venezuelan state media said CNE Vice President Sandra Oblitas noted the opposition took part in biometric data audits last year ahead of the presidential election in October, municipal elections in December, and the presidential election this year in April.

The onus should be on Capriles to explain why suddenly he is so dissatisfied with the previous fingerprint and audits in which his own coalition representatives took part.

As for the CNE’s plans for the new fingerprint registry audit to verify that there was no repeat voting, it remains to be seen whether Capriles will be satisfied with that, or if he will continue to have even more demands of Venezuela’s electoral authorities before he finally accepts the inevitable.