UPDATE 11:21: CEPR press release:
Chávez Re-Election Continues Trend of Left Governments Re-elected in South America
Economic Growth, Expansion of Welfare State Likely to Continue for Many Years
For Immediate Release: October 7, 2012
Washington, D.C.- Hugo Chávez’ re-election to another 6-year term shows that Venezuela, like the rest of South America, prefers governments of the left that have improved living standards and greatly reduced poverty and inequality, said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C.
“Chávez is often portrayed as though he were from Mars, but really the similarities between what he has done and what his neighboring left governments have done are much greater than the differences,” said Weisbrot.
Contrary to many press reports, the vote was not close, as CEPR had predicted it would not be.
UPDATE 11:04: Henrique Capriles now making concession speech.
UPDATE 10:41: Official results: With 81 percent voter participation, Chavez - 54.43 percent; Capriles - 44.47 percent of the vote. (Remaining going to minor candidates.)
UPDATE 10:34 PM: RESULTS BEING ANNOUNCED NOW, HERE.
UPDATE 10:00 PM: Election monitors await the announcement of official results:
UPDATE 9:55 PM: An election monitor in Tachira state reports:
turnout here approached 90%, a tribute both to the CNE's preparation and organization, the dedication of the civil servants who spent long hours at the stations and, most important, to the Venezuelan people who are actively engaged in who leads their government. Despite the huge numbers, and the early difficulties with long lines and a couple of malfunctioning machines, no one reported any significant problems or concerns about the security of the process.
UPDATE 9:49 PM: An election monitor in Zulia state reports:
in Maracaibo [at] Unidad Educativa Nacional Privada Nuestra Senora del Pilar with 14 mesas and 7482 voters. This is our largest voting place. ...but was almost empty with vote at 70- 84%. Only minor problems with one machine eating paper receipts; one could be read the other one could not. All quiet.
X vs x with 4 null were results 388 voters 433 entitled to vote. They are now doing paperwork. The null votes were because people pressed the vote button without first pressing the candidate button. Pulling ballots out one at a time and reading them off while another woman is writing results on large form.
UPDATE 9:27 PM: An election monitor reports:
Just spent almost 2 hours at a school in Pq Altagracia, a few blocks from the Presidential palace, witnessing the closing of two mesas and audit (citizens' verification) of one. To ensure all the electronic votes exactly match the paper receipts reviewed by the voters and deposited in the boxes, a random selection of 54% of the 39,000 machines are audited in an open process with witnesses from both parties and, in our case, a group of 15-20 international acompañantes.
Venezuela has "fusion" voting, where a single candidate can run for any number of parties. Chavez is running for 12 parties, Capriles for 19. When you vote you press a picture of your candidate in the box of the party you support.
Right now our bus is taking us down streets packed w Chavistas blowing horns, setting off firecrackers and shouting.
We're on our way the CNE headquarters to hear Tibisay Lucena announce the results. Probably we'll be there for several hours.
UPDATE 9:20 PM: Some Venezuela observers are noting that Chavez campaign head Jorge Rodriguez apparently predicted the early release of an exit poll, via the ABC newspaper in Spain, that would show Capriles in the lead, and thereby give the opposition the pretext to claim fraud if the results do not turn out that way. As we have already noted, ABC ran such a story earlier today.
Deutsche Press Agentur reported Rodriguez's prediction on October 2. (H/T to Lee Brown of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign).
UPDATE 9:01 PM: AP reports:
The president of Venezuela's electoral council said Sunday night that voting stations would remain open where there were voters who had not cast ballots.
The official, Tibisay Lucena, didn't say how many voting stations still had voters waiting. Nor did she say for how long the polling stations might remain open.
Capriles complained via Twitter that electoral authorities should close voting stations because most lacked lines.
Dozens of red-shirted Chavez loyalists on motorcycles cruised downtown Caracas, and Robert Flores, the leader of one band, said they were trying to prevent voting stations from closing if some people haden't voted yet. A Capriles campaign spokesman called for the motorcyclists to be banned from the streets.
UPDATE 8:43 PM: A number of journalists are Tweeting on exit poll results that supposedly show Capriles in the lead, and some - including [correction: ABC, in Spain] - are even reporting on the much-Tweeted Varianza poll. But other polls show a lead for Chávez, and, as CNE president Tibisay Lucena just reminded the press and the public - a second time since the official poll closing time of 6pm - people are still voting, since turn out was so high.
It is worth keeping in mind some historical context regarding exiting polls in Venezuela, and recalling that it is the final CNE official results that matter. Hopefully the parties and the rest of the media will exercise caution while they await the final results. Jorge Rodriguez of the Chávez campaign just called for patience until the CNE announces the election's outcome.
UPDATE 8:32 PM: The head of the Chavez campaign (Comando Carabobo), Jorge Rodriguez, is giving a press conference.
UPDATE 8:05 PM EDT: CNE president Tibisay Lucena gave a press conference this evening to say that the election was a success, with massive turnout, but was not able to say anything about results. She reported that voting centers remain open while the last voters, in line, get their opportunity to vote.
Polling stations where voting has ended are now readying for citizen verification, such as at this one:
UPDATE 6:48 PM: With polls supposed to have closed at 6:00 Venezuela time, except in cases where people were still waiting in line, media is reporting that many polling places have closed, but others remain open - notably some where voting machines have broken down. Aljazeera's Teresa Bo, for one, has Tweeted that she is at a center where a machine has broken down and 400 people are waiting to vote.
Rumors of various kinds, needless to say, are circulating as people anxiously await the end of voting and the tabulation.
UPDATE 5:46 PM: The New York Times reports again today on supposed concern among voters and would-be voters over fraud and a lack of ballot secrecy:
Handicapping the election has been complicated by the fear felt by many Venezuelans that a vote for the opposition could bring retaliation.
Adding to the anxiety, the government recently introduced a new electronic voting system that many Venezuelans feared might be used by the government to track those who vote against the president. Electoral officials and opposition leaders have defended the integrity of the system, but there was significant distrust, and a big part of Mr. Capriles’s campaign has been to reassure citizens that their votes will remain secret.
Interestingly, none of the election monitors we've been in touch with in various parts of Venezuela have reported any voters expressing such concerns. Nor does the Times cite the Carter Center or any other outside groups that have affirmed the integrity of Venezuela's system.
UPDATE 5:28 PM EDT: Some of the reports from an election monitor in Zulia state from throughout the day:
On our way to Guajira. Passed polling station with maybe 20+ people waiting. All quiet.
Passed another polling place - now in Mara - where people inside are waiting on chairs while those outside are standing.
Guajira has 4 parishes 61 voting centers with 136 tables for 62881 voters. It is the indigenous area in the state. Many work in Maracaibo in construction or as maids. The village we are going to is called Sinamaica. People live in a bay in houses on stilts and many fish for a living.
Escuela San Francisco de Ashwini: Stopping here. There are 2500+ voters in 5 tables. Although a few people outside were complaining that people were pressuring voters, the coordinator said absolutely not. …689 people have voted so far. Spoke to witnesses from both sides. All quiet no problems.
Now to Liceo San Antonio Almarza with 12 tables and 6805 voters in municipality of Mara with 121683 voters. Big voting center. Screens were taped so much more private. When I asked they said they had been trained by the CNE to do it this way. However, there was a problem with the machine and it was down for a half hour. They had to request tech support from the region and Caracas, and were able to fix it and continue. Witnesses said all was fine, but people in line complained that they had to wait two hours. We went to two other tables and all was calm although they had processed some 75 more voters and no lines.
Alta miracle also in Maracaibo has 8 mesas and 4100 voters. High screens here. Everything calm although long lines, moving quickly. We were told there is a good culture of voting here. There is a much shorter line for older people (over 55 for women and 60 for men). We were welcomed warmly as in most places. We were asked a lot where we are from, and thanked for coming. People are proud to provide an example of democracy to Venezuela and the world.
UPDATE 4:48 PM: Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has cast his ballot, and AP reports:
...Capriles says Sunday's election has been completely peaceful and that voters are showing they can settle their differences at the ballot box.
Capriles says there has been "absolute peace" during the voting.
UPDATE 4:32 PM: Another election monitor (not previously cited here) remarks:
Striking to see how orderly, uniform, and calm the process was in every location. I wonder how well the poll workers and volunteers hold up during the course of the long day, with some breaks; both voters and workers seemed committed to see it through, and many excited about participating--admirable!
UPDATE 4:18 PM: From an election monitor in Caracas:
Overall, things are running smooth, open, transparent, and well-organized. Also the centers are very uniform, with the exception of minor changes (a "resting room" in one; separate lines to give elderly and disabled priority access in another). There have been no signs of people campaigning in or around the voting centers.
I was in Estado Miranda, Alto Mirandinos- a mountainous area about 40 minutes from Caracas, mixed rural and urban. Our first voting center had 12 mesas and over 6000 voters. Really well organized but suffered from long lines- people exiting at 930am said the whole process had taken over 3 hours.
We also went to Paraguay and another center in Los Teques, the capital of Miranda (where Capriles was the ex governor).
Also there were two instances of a group of people hauling an older woman in a wheelchair up and down flights of stairs because there were no mesas on the ground floor- also found this accessibility issue troubling. At one center, there were absolutely no mesas on the ground floor- they were all upstairs.
UPDATE 3:07 PM: An election monitor reports:
Tachira State has seen the largest turnout ever. By 11:00 a.m. half of the 1500 registered voters had voted. At certain polling places, lines were extremely long, with people waiting several hours. People were increasingly frustrated but determined to wait and to vote. Virtually everyone we spoke with, including party witnesses and voters, expressed confidence in the integrity of the process and secrecy of the vote.
UPDATE 2:44 PM: Another election monitor’s report from throughout the day so far, in central Caracas:
My group visited 5 Centros, ranging from 6-12 "Mesas" (voting rooms for 600 or so), from 5 different parishes (parroquias) in central Caracas…
A couple of things I was looking for and asking about:
Exit pollsters (no sign of any and I was told it was illegal and it sure looked to me like it would be impossible to do anywhere near the Centros de Votacion).
Functionality of the new machine to authenticate fingerprints (working great, except for one guy with a pacemaker, so they had to vote him manually).
Treatment of withdrawn candidates -- a few people withdrew at the last minute when it was too late to get their names off the ballot. Some threw their support to one of the main candidates, some didn't but a vote for the withdrawn candidate would be null. So far no problem with that.
I made sure to speak with the "testigos" for both sides to ask if there had been any problems -- so far all have said everything's been fine.
UPDATE 2:33 PM: Chávez has concluded his press conference after answering questions about a successor, whether he will respect the election's result, and an opening speech in which he quoted President Carter as saying that Venezuela's electoral system is the "best in the world," and Lula of Brazil as saying "There is an excess of democracy in Venezuela."
Chávez said again that he will respect the election's result. The opposition has sent mixed signals on this question.
UPDATE 2:03 PM: President Chávez now speaking following his vote, and greeting Rigoberta Menchu, Senator Piedad Cordoba, Danny Glover, James Early, and other monitors.
UPDATE 1:57 PM: President Chávez is casting his vote. He is expected to say a few words afterward. You can watch live here.
UPDATE 1:53 PM: An election monitor reports that:
In the Arevalo Gonzalez in Higuerote, a national observer comments that, in the eight centers he has visited in Miranda State, he has encountered no serious incidents and only 3 accidental blank votes. He's from the Red de Observadores Electorales de Venezuela, which has more than 600 observers spread out throughout the country.
The state television station VTV has a message at the bottom of the screen that reads: one must WAIT to see the face of the candidate before pressing VOTE (Deben ESPERAR ver el rostro de su candidato para presionar VOTAR). The message hasn't changed for at least half an hour.
UPDATE 1:49 PM: Report from election monitor at Santa Teresa, Caracas:
The smoothest voting station we've visited yet, and voters seem thrilled at the efficiency. Some voters reporting less than an hour total time from start to finish. Some enjoying ice cream and other treats outside as they wait to enter building. Common theme at all polling stations is that a close to 3 hour wait is to be expected, with some voters having "no complaints" at waits of even 4 hours, which is a bit surprising to some of the US/European/Russian-based observers. US/British observers compare our elections, on Tuesdays and Thursdays respectively, to the more relaxed and inclusive Sunday election here.
UPDATE 1:44 PM EDT: Report from election monitor at Unidad Educativa Gabriela Muñoz in Barlovento, at about 1:10 pm:
9 tables and 5600 voters. Over 55 percent participation so far and there is still a long line outside with people that have waited over three hours!
In the Gabriela Muñoz an opposition witness says: "this is a great democratic event."
UPDATE 1:20 PM EDT: Peruvian politician and author Mario Vargas Llosa has added his voice to those of other outside fear-mongers warning of possible "fraud" that would ensure a Chavez victory, among other incendiary comments.
UPDATE 1:15 PM EDT: More election monitor reports from Caracas, just coming in:
El Paraiso, Caracas. 10:15am. Long delays in middle class area. Some reporting waits of over 4 hours. Chants of "we want to vote" are heard as observers arrive, and Globovision has a reporter on the scene. Observers met with the voting center coordinator and tried to find a solution to slow wait times. Globovision filmed the observers leaving without talking to any. Some opposition voters felt it was a result of the high turnout, rather than anything politically motivated.
San Juan, Caracas. 10:57am. Fingerprint machine failure in the early morning has delayed one election station. Observers hear complaints from some waiting outside. Inside, witnesses from the parties confirmed that the machine was replaced at about 7:30 and everything is going smoothly now, although many voters are still backed up. voters in other election stations report a 2-3 hour wait, but none of the dozens consulted say this is unexpected, given what appears to them to be a huge turnout. Weather continues to be ideal.
UPDATE 1:06 PM: Report from election monitor at Unidad Educativo Arevalo Gonzalez, Higuerote, Barlovento:
A big center with 7 tables and 4037 registered voters. Long lines outside, some people have waited 3 hours in the blazing sun (some use umbrellas for shade). Once inside the center they have a further wait in rows of chairs under a tarp.
Once inside the inner sanctum of the center - where the tables are located - the process appears to be very quick. At all the tables there are representatives of both candidates. In most of the cases they are sitting together and appear to be getting on famously. And they share the same impression of the electoral process: efficient, transparent, trustworthy, secret.
There are more cases of accidental blank votes. Sometimes one at a table, sometimes as many as four. It does seem however that as the members of the tables become aware of the problem, they get better at explaining to voters that they need to see the face of the candidate they've selected appear to fully on the screen before pressing the vote button. This is probably why the cases of blank votes have occurred primarily in the early morning, and are much rarer in the late morning.
UPDATE 12:59 PM: Reports from an election monitor in Caracas from this morning, just coming in:
8:25 AM - Altimano, Caracas. Long lines of calm voters. Voters reporting a wait of about 2.5 hours from start to finish, but this is a big improvement from 2006, when it took 6. When asked, voters insist that this is a reasonable amount of time to wait, in their view. Overcast skies have mostly cleared and it is sunny and mild.
9:20 Caricuao, Caracas. Long lines with voters reporting a 2-3 hour wait. Elderly and disabled voters skip line, and report a 10 minute time to vote from start to finish. Perfect weather continues and voters waiting in line seem happy and relaxed despite the wait.
UPDATE 12:49 PM: Election monitor:
Leaving Valencia. The last center we were at they had had a couple of problems with 2 machines, at least one of which was fixed within 30 minutes this morning. The Coordinator set up a waiting area in the shade once voters have been called into the center where they can wait until they go to their voting table. Besides the usual long lines, there's been no major disruptions, chaos or disorder. There are also water stations in at least 2 of the 3 voting centers I've been to.
UPDATE 12:03 PM: More Tweets from people with various political leanings are circulating regarding the possibility of voided ballots resulting from people prematurely pressing "VOTAR". Awareness of this problem via Twitter could perhaps benefit the opposition if, as we've noted that election monitors have reported, that "It appears that those who mistakenly vote blank are disproportionately those with little or no education, or the elderly."
UPDATE 11:48 AM: Election monitor in Valencia, Carabobo:
Just left another voting center in Valencia. Again very long lines to [get] into the center but once inside it's only a couple of minutes to vote. No problems with the machines so far. No one saying they couldn't vote.
UPDATE 11:34 AM: An election monitor in Guacara, Carabobo reports:
So far, the voters say they have had a very smooth process voting. It's taken them only 1-2 minutes each to be verified and cast their ballot. There are long lines of people waiting to vote, and while they said it's a wait, voters and the National Police have both said it's been peaceful and well organized. The military seem to be helping organize the lines and one voter I spoke to said they've been very helpful.
UPDATE 11:19 AM: Another Tweet from the Capriles campaign assures voters that the vote is secret:
UPDATE 11:04 AM: Election monitor at Unidad Educativa Lander, San José de Barlovento:
5 voting tables; 2454 registered voters. Long line of people sweating in the sun outside. This is a poor community and a number of voters are illiterate and/or unfamiliar with automated voting, posing sometimes significant challenges for voters and the members of the voting tables.
At one table the secretary helps orient the illiterate voters by shouting across the room and describing where the "Vote" button is located on the touch-sensitive screen. It is a precarious system but, in at least three cases, it seems to work.
At another voting table a different problem is encountered. Of the approximately 100 people that have voted so far, two voted blank accidentally, because they didn't press on the vote button long enough, or pressed before the candidate's face had appeared fully on the screen [The problem the CNE has been warning voters of, see below]. Once they've voted blank they can't re-vote so they leave a written record of the incident with the members of the table. It isn't clear what, if anything, is done to address this problem.
At another voting table a different problem is encountered. Of the approximately 100 people that have voted so far, two voted blank accidentally, because they didn't press on the vote button long enough, or pressed before the candidate's face had appeared fully on the screen. Once they've voted blank they can't re-vote so they leave a written record of the incident with the members of the table. It isn't clear what, if anything, is done to address this problem.
It appears that those who mistakenly vote blank are disproportionately those with little or no education, or the elderly.
UPDATE 10:45 AM: Another report from Barlovento: Barlovento, tierra del cacao! Though this area has a reputation for being overwhelmingly pro Chavez, there are as many signs along the road promoting Capriles as Chavez.
UPDATE 9:58 AM: An opposition message reportedly circulating via text casts doubt on CNE head Tibisay Lucena:
Efectivamente hay que esperar que la cara del candidato seleccionado aparezca completa para oprimir VOTAR, de lo contrario tu voto será nulo; así lo aclaró Tibisay Lucena por haber sido el motivo de mayor cantidad de votos nulos en el simulacro. ¡Corre la voz!
CNE officials are warning that voters must be sure that the image of their selected candidate fully appears on the touch screen before pressing VOTE.
UPDATE 9:54 AM: An election monitor at the Escuela Bolivariana Marquez in Barlovento reports: “A small line outside. Those who have waited the longest say they've been there half an hour. There is only one voting table as there are 489 registered voters here. A woman in charge of the ‘incident registry’ - which covers any serious difficulties encountered with the voting machines or fingerprint machines - says there has been no incident so far, ‘gracias a Dios.’ The two witnesses, representing the Chavez and Capriles candidacies, are both in a good mood. When asked if they get along okay, they hug each other and say ‘we're neighbors!’
“So far nearly 150 people have voted, they say.”
UPDATE 9:34 AM: An election monitor at the Unidad Educativa Juan German Roscio in Barlovento reports: “9 voting tables. Hundreds of people in 9 lines out in the street, which has been blocked off by the National Guard. Everyone appears to be satisfied with the process, except a few who say that the lines are moving too slowly. The people who enter first provide their IDs and register, and then go to the classroom where their voting table is. On entering they place their thumb or index finger on the fingerprint identifier and, when their identity appears, they proceed to the voting table.
“There are witnesses representing both major candidates in each of the rooms. All those [we] talked to are very happy with how the day is going so far and express complete confidence in the process. One opposition witness says: 'We all know each other here, and we get along. There is no sort of problem at all.'”
UPDATE 9:07 AM: Election monitors are reporting long lines in various parts of the country, and that sound trucks blasting music (sometimes Chávez campaign music) awakened people this morning.
An election monitor in Maracaibo reported thirty people in line to vote at 4:00 am at the first voting center they visited (where 553 people will vote), with the first in line waiting since 3:00 am. We’re told that the opposition vote tends to peak in the morning and the chavistas’ around midday.
Once the center was up and running, the monitor reported, “All of the people working the polls vote first. There is a separate line for people who are disabled .. on crutches or in wheel chairs. Meanwhile the other line has gotten longer.”
Voting centers are of all sorts of sizes, with some having only one voting table and others having as many as 16. Each voting table has between 400 and 500 registered voters and is equipped with a portable power generator in the event that there is a power outage in the area. Most voting centers have between one and ten voting tables. Those that have more than ten - in highly concentrated urban areas - are called megacenters.
One monitor spoke to the general who is responsible for 480 centers in San Francisco and Maracaibo in Zulia state, and asked him what he expected today. He said “peace” - that people will express their decision through this process. “It is the only way.” The monitor also witnessed this general talk to people with a chavista sound truck, who were blaring music near the voting center, which seemed to be agitating some of the voters, and appear to convince them to leave.
Another monitor reports: “Definitely a different atmosphere from the last [presidential] elections in 2006, with a tangible sense that these elections are decisive. Many people - both pro and anti Chavez - feel that, this time, the prospect of an opposition win isn't impossible. Thus, participation is expected to be particularly high.”
UPDATE 7:42 AM: Tweets from Chávez urging voters to mobilize early, and from the opposition campaign, reminding people that their vote is secret, and to vote "without fear", respectively:
UPDATE: 7:22 AM: Opposition and state media early this morning showed long lines of calm voters at polling centers, some claiming to have arrived as early as 3:00 am. International media also report that "Long queues formed at some polling centers before they opened."
7:10 AM EDT: The Americas Blog is live-blogging Venezuela’s elections today, in which millions of voters are expected to choose between incumbent President Hugo Chávez and opposition challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski. We’ll be providing updates here throughout the day.
We’re in touch with various people monitoring the electoral process in different parts of the country, as well as journalists. And we’ll be tracking media coverage throughout the day, and also statements from the political campaigns, UNASUR monitors, and other sources.
We received news last night that 99 percent of polling places around the country had been installed. The CNE (National Electoral Council, the independent government body in charge of elections) expects to announce the results three hours after polls close.
An opposition demonstration – a cacerolazo, with banging of pots and pans – was carried out last night in Caracas. Tensions are reportedly higher than in past recent elections, and the reported closeness of the race no doubt has to do with that, although, as we’ve pointed out, the gap between the candidates is probably wider than has been reported in much of the media, when accounting for polling firms’ past bias. Capriles has said he would continue with the misiones and many of Chávez’s policies, but some in the opposition coalition have broken with him because of doubts about this, stemming from a supposed leaked white paper outlining the economic plan that Capriles would implement if elected, including a rolling back of the misiones and privatizations of various state industries, including the state oil company PDVSA. Capriles denies the white paper’s legitimacy.
For its part, the Chávez campaign has emphasized that Capriles and other opposition leaders have supported right-leaning agendas in the past and so the campaign does not represent the kind of change that the opposition candidate has talked about on the campaign trail. For the Chávez camp, the campaign has focused on consolidating on the gains that have been achieved so far, making the government more efficient, and doing even more in terms of the misiones and other popular initiatives.
Much media commentary has focused on Capriles’ youth and energy (contrasted with the cancer-stricken Chávez), while politically he has attempted to make himself over from a right-wing politician who participated in the 2002 failed coup d’etat against Chávez into a Venezuelan Lula da Silva, (Lula himself has affirmed that Chávez’s election would be a victory for Latin America, and Lula’s Workers’ Party has distanced itself from Capriles).
The big question today, aside from how many people will turn out to vote and who they will pick, is how the two sides will react. It is notable that the opposition has used fake exit polls in the past, for example in an attempt to claim fraud in the 2004 recall referendum; they subsequently boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections on the grounds that the internationally supervised 2004 referendum was “stolen”. While the MUD has affirmed that it is satisfied with the key components of the electoral process, some MUD leaders have made troubling statements , and some extreme opposition members have warned of possible fraud, or violence if Chávez is declared the winner. Such a “Plan B ” of rejecting the results, however, could jeopardize upcoming gubernatorial and municipal elections in which observers believe the opposition could gain ground.