The Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) is nearing the end of the third and final phase of its audit of the remaining votes from the April 14 presidential election, reportedly scheduled to finish on June 7. As we have noted, the English-language media has generally neglected to report the audit’s progress, despite that the process was originally demanded by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles as a means to resolving the dispute over the election’s outcome. Capriles has also underscored the audit’s relevance – despite having shifted his demands and decided to officially boycott it – by claiming this month that he had actually won the election by 400,000 votes.
As predicted through a statistical analysis of the initial “hot audit” of 53 percent of voting machines on April 14, the audit of the remainder has so far produced results upholding the official results showing Maduro to be the winner. According to the CNE, the first two phases “have yielded 99.98% agreement between the voting receipts deposited in boxes and the data recorded on the tallies issued by the voting machines," media outlets report.
Does Capriles have a plausible claim that the election could have been stolen? Contrary to his characterization of a biased and obstructionist CNE, as we have previously noted the CNE has made many concessions to the opposition, including 18 different audits, all of which involve witnesses from both parties. Capriles talks of numerous opposition observer complaints from throughout Venezuela on election day, yet our election live-blog on April 14 included numerous live reports from election monitors who talked to opposition representatives at dozens of voting centers in several states; few had any complaints, even less that could be considered serious. Capriles has shifted the focus of his attack to the electoral registry, but demographers from the Catholic University had reviewed the electoral registry prior to the election and found it trustworthy.
Yet Capriles has continued to cry fraud, citing “irregularities” [PDF] such as government officials wearing chavista armbands, PDVSA vehicles bearing pro-Maduro materials, and the presence of electoral assistants – whom as we noted were in place to assist elderly, disabled or other voters requesting aid. Although he claims to have won by 400,000 votes, he has not explained where this number comes from.
Some in the opposition have also noted that Capriles’ claims of a stolen election are not plausible. Writing in opposition newspaper El Universal, reporter Eugenio Martinez recently noted that “experts assert there is no way to breach the secret of the ballot.” Martinez provided more details in a May 14 article in Forbes. Describing the audit process, more than 12 of which he notes were conducted “in front of both Capriles’ and Maduro’s representatives,” Martinez writes:
This audit step ensures that no vote manipulation has occurred at the polling place. The extent of this audit, the widest in automatic elections, leaves little room for questioning.
The series of tests before, during, and after a Venezuelan election is thorough and intense, conducted in the presence of election officials and political parties to ensure proper functionality and full confidence in the system. When it comes to elections, Venezuela has become a highly advanced nation of auditors, with the most advanced audit tools at its disposal and a voting process that is as transparent as any in the world.
Like any candidate who suffers a narrow defeat at the polls, Mr. Capriles is entitled to keep his dream alive. He can continue trying to prove that somehow the outcome was affected by a corrupt electoral ecosystem. His people are betting that scrutinizing the manual electoral book and the government-controlled electoral roll will reveal a clue to how their triumph slipped away. In a nation of auditors and entirely transparent election mechanics, that quest is certainly their right, but their chance of changing the election’s outcome may be very slim.
While Capriles has chosen to boycott it, the audit is nonetheless being conducted with a great deal of transparency. As during the election itself, international monitors have been observing the audit in the Mariches storehouse, where all the voting boxes are currently stored. From the U.S., these monitors have included representatives from the Carter Center, the National Lawyers Guild, and other groups. One NLG delegate described what she witnessed on May 27:
Spent the morning at the audit. Approximately 10 national observers - firemen, representatives from peasant organizations and PDVSA - and another NLG rep and I were provided with an explanation of the process and then observed it in action. Very impressive: well organized, efficient and all seems calm.
The audit is being run by professors and students from computer science programs from several universities. There are 60 work stations, each staffed with 60 students, 60 operators, 12 supervisors and three coordinators. 99.98% of cases are showing up as "sin diferencia".
Tibisay Lucena came through mid-morning so we had a chance to meet her and later met with her and the legal counsel for the CNE. We were free to ask questions. She seemed very tired but still enthusiastic about the process. "We are engaged in this enormous effort," she said, "but it is not a waste of time because it is necessary for the country. The truth will come out. I trust in that."
She told us that it was the best performance of the electoral system so far - everything was fast, from the electoral process to transmission and transparency in getting information up on website.
(Photos of the observers can be seen here.)
Having struck out with his first strategy – a full audit -- it appears Capriles seeks to appeal to another authority: “I have no doubt that this will end up before an international body," he said at the end of April. The OAS – via a mission [PDF] comprised of U.S., Canadian, and French “experts” (and one Jamaican) intervened two years ago to effectively overturn the results of Haiti’s presidential election, despite having no factual basis for its conclusions. But so far, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza notes that no OAS member country has yet to raise the issue with the international body.