November 16, 2007

Abstentionists in their ink

Katy says: There was an interesting development yesterday in the CNE, one that plays a not-so-minor role in the abstention vs. voting debate. The indelible ink to be used on December 2nd was audited in the presence of the "No" camp.

This issue is not a minor one. As I have said before, the use of indelible ink is a valuable step in the direction of holding fair electoral processes. Of course, it doesn't fix everything, but it certainly takes away some of the arguments for abstaining.

One of these arguments has to do with the Electoral Registry (REP). The story is that the Registry contains too many people who are dead, people who appear several times, have weird information or are suspicious for other reasons. The rationale is that the Registry is screwed up so that chavistas are allowed to vote many times, and that therefore we should not vote because voting would legitimize the fraud being perpetrated.

There is no doubt the REP could use some work. But with indelible ink, this argument becomes moot since nobody physically present in the country the day of the election would, in theory, be able to vote twice. And while there is an issue with votes being tallied without anyone having actually cast them, it would be clear whenever this happened. After all, electoral notebooks and opposition witnesses would be able to tell how many people physically showed up and compare that number to the number of votes being spit out by the machine.

One of the complaints from the last election was that the ink was not indelible after all, and that this allowed chavistas to vote twice. Yet the enormous effort it would require to ship thousands of chavistas to their voting centers, have them erase the evidence of their vote, and then take them to their secondary or tertiary voting center so they could vote with their supplemental identities, repeating the process in between, made this scenario highly unlikely.

Ink also serves as a psychological weapon. There is something about the use of indelible ink that makes people trust the system a little bit more, and make them a tad more confident that the chavistas around them have not double- or triple-dipped their fingers and cast multiple votes.

The ink has now been audited, and the process will continue, with the CNE having apparently agreed to allow for random audits of different samples while the electoral material is being put together. The CNE even allowed the UCV to participate, and it was all controversy-free.

Add to this the fact that the fingerprint machines will not be connected to CNE headquarters, that electronic voting notebooks will not be used, that half the boxes will be audited, and it seems to me that conditions this time around are decent. Obviously, one would want more electoral transparency - the issue of the use of government funds for campaigning is a non-starter - but I find the arguments for abstention becoming thinner and thinner every day.

Sort of like the ink that was used last December.