December 4, 2007

It's not that we're questioning the result - it's that we want to know what the result is!

Quico says: First the good news: Sunday night's referendum proved that, when the chips are down, the Smartmatic voting system (electronic voting with an audited paper trail) makes it essentially impossible to fake the final outcome. You might think that, after years of deep suspicion from opposition folk certain that "a chavista elections council will never, ever announce Chávez lost", the No side's win would at last have put concerns about CNE's credibility to rest.

Really, this should be CNE's star turn... but it isn't, because the way they're handling the final results announcement is an ongoing fiasco.

First, lets just remind ourselves why our voting system makes it nearly impossible to cheat credibly:

One of the system's big selling points was supposed to be speed: doing the official tally electronically allows you to generate results pretty much immediately, as they come in.

On Sunday afternoon, CNE said it would announce results around 7:00 p.m. And they did indeed have enough tallies for a first announcement ready early that evening. But, it was past midnight before CNE head Tibisay Lucena came on the air to announce results, a delay that needlessly scared the hell out of everybody.

What on earth was that about?

Chávez gave us a good hint during his concession speech, saying he'd been faced with a dilemma that night and had been "considering his options." What options? Chávez isn't supposed to have any options at a time like that. CNE is meant to be an independent branch of government. Results come in; results are announced. If they show triple congruence, they're credible. If they don't, they aren't.

Rumors are rife that the first announcement was delayed because Chávez insisted on "negotiating the margin": he didn't want the world to think he'd lost by a lot. (Other conspiracy theories are way more alarming.) To massage the results in this way, he would've had to pressure CNE to manipulate which Tally Sheets were included in the first bulletin, (the election night announcement), gaming the sample to make the outcome look closer than it really was.

For now, those are just rumors. But we can't dismiss them because, bizarrely, CNE did not tell us what percentage of the voting centers their first bulletin covered. That, when you think about it, is totally crazy and weird. Isn't that the first thing usually announced in a situation like this, in Venezuela or anywhere else in the world? (You know what I'm talking about, right? "With X% of precincts reporting, results show...")

This morning, the plot thickened as CNE posted the geographic breakdown of results on its website. These are exquisitely detailed, but are they complete? Nope. As a cryptic footnote tells us, they "correspond to the percentage of Tally Sheets received at the time of the first election night bulletin." And what, pray tell, would that percentage be? That they don't say!

It's higher order opacity, this: it's not just that they're withholding information, it's that they're withholding information about how much information they're withholding.

The situation we have on our hands now is really quite bizarre. On the one hand, CNE is willing to tell us that at voting table number one at the Escuela Estadal Unitaria de Sabana Dulce voting center in Caño Delgadito parish of Papelón Municipality, in Portuguesa State, the Sí side cleaned our clocks by 155 votes to 16. On the other hand, they're not willing to tell us what percentage of the tally sheets they've added up! The disconnect between their willingness to disclose arcane detail and their reticence to disclose the heart of the matter is...interesting.

They also don't report the number of null votes. Or turnout details. Or the number of actas tallied per voting center. In fact, all of the data that were included in the "Ficha Técnica" in their 2006 presidential election results, are mysteriously missing this time.

In the end, CNE wasted a golden opportunity to shut up all their critics once and for all. At 7 p.m. on Sunday Night, Tibisay Lucena could perfectly well have gone on TV to say, "having counted X% of the tally sheets, here are the results..." Then we could've checked that announcement for triple congruence, and that would've been the end of that. The long, divisive, barren debate on CNE would've been over.

That's not how they chose to play it, though, and now, idiotically, they have to think up a way to climb out of the hole they've dugged themselves into. If the final tally shows a substantially larger margin of victory for the No vote than the one announced on Sunday night, Tibisay Lucena has to resign.