November 29, 2007

This again...

Quico says: Well, despite my best intentions, the "fraud or no fraud" debate seems to have burst through with renewed vigor on the comments section. I was hoping to avoid it, but now it's out there, I guess it's best to meet it head on.

My feeling is that we don't take a skeptical enough attitude towards the fraud theories. Too often, circumstantial evidence is passed off as iron clad proof. Or the burden of proof is reversed, as though it was up to them to demonstrate non-fraud. Nobody stops to ask "yeah, but" questions about fraud theories. Nobody scrutinizes them critically to see if they really make sense or if they just seem to make sense because they confirm our preexisting feelings about chavismo.

So lets be painfully explicit about what it would take to steal Sunday's referendum secretly. (Of course, a brazen gorilazo can't be ruled out, but that's a different story.)

The thing to remember is that CNE's voting system generates three separate sets of results: one in the voting machine-generated tally sheets, another in the data CNE receives from the voting machines, and a third, meant as a check on the first two, in the hot audit reports.

My point is simple: if those three tallies match, the presumption has to be that the election was clean.

Lets just review the way CNE's voting system is set up to see why:

To cheat credibly, the government would have to secretly fake triple congruence. But how? The fraud theories that are making the rounds don't give a satisfactory answer.

To fake triple congruence, you would need actual human beings to cast actual fraudulent votes at actual voting machines in actual voting centers. I can imagine two ways to do that: multiple voting, or plain old ballot stuffing.

Most people seem to think multiple voting is the government's preferred fraud channel, pointing to the opacity of the Electoral Registry as proof. Lets work through this theory:

For multiple voting to work, you'd have to supply militants with multiple, fake identity cards registered to vote in multiple voting centers. You'd then instruct them to go around voting again and again. They'd have to get around the indelible ink safeguard, which has been audited and approved by the No Block. And this would have to happen systematically, all over the country, with nobody noticing.

Just for the sake of argument, lets say they have 30,000 multiple voters with 5 cédulas each. So they can steal 150,000 votes.

Do you think each and every one of those 30,000 people was vetted for loyalty more carefully than Raul Baduel? How come not a single one of them has come forward to repent, saying he feels awful he signed up for this in the first place, oh and by the way, here are my five cédulas and the details of the five nearby but separate voting centers where I am registered?

Do none of these 30,000 people, not a single one of them, have a lover/spouse/child/uncle/friend who is less fanatically chavista than him and one day stumbled across evidence of their multiple identities? How come none of them have come forward?

How come a government too incompetent to keep milk in Mercal shelfs is competent enough to run a conspiracy on this scale and never ever get caught?

Sorry but, no creo en fraudes perfectos...the risk of getting caught is way too high.

If not multiple voting, that leaves just one option: stuffing ballots the old fashioned way.

How would that work? Presumably, in voting centers without opposition witnesses, a poll worker would have to get up and say, "OK then, who hasn't voted yet? Mr. Pepe de los Palotes? Right, mark him on the cuaderno de votación as though he did vote...I'm going in!" He'd then have to walk up to the machine and vote in his place. Repeating that again and again for many people who haven't voted.

But what if Mr. de los Palotes shows up 20 minutes later to vote? There's a problem. And just think: they would have to do that in front of the miembros de mesa, (who are randomly selected from the general public.) And in front of the Plan Republica soldiers, and the chavista witnesses, and anyone else who happens to be hanging around. And we'd have to assume that all of the people witnessing that, nationwide, would keep it a secret. That all chavistas are evil and, even less likely, discrete, competent and adequately trained to pull this off.

So again you have the Perfect Conspiracy problem. Plus, if you do this, the results from fraudulent voting centers would be very obviously different from the results of voting centers just down the road that did happen to have an oppo witness.

So neither of those fraud channels seems remotely feasible to me. And none of the other scenarios I've seen could fake triple congruence.

If you tamper with Data transmission from the machine to CNE, then the CNE tally won't match the machine generated count (which, remember, is printed before the voting machine is connected to the network). And if the results are pre-programmed in the machines, the CNE tallies won't match the hand audits.

"Yes," you say, "but what if there are no opposition witnesses there to check the hot audit?"

This retort makes especially little sense to me. Even if there are no opposition witnesses, the audits are open to the general public. But to pull off a secret fraud, CNE would have to know which voting machines to pre-program at the beginning of the day.

How could CNE know at the beginning of the day how many people are going to turn up to witness the audit in a given voting center at the end of the day? They could try to guess, but what are the chances that they will make no mistakes? The risk of getting it wrong seems absurdly high...

With the safeguards now in place, I don't see how you could carry off a remotely credible fraud. Which is not to say that CNE is impartial or fair. Just that, if they decide to cheat, subtlety will not be an option.

In fact, I think Yon Goicoechea said it perfectly succinctly:
The electoral system is fraudulent, but that fraud is identifiable.