February 26, 2004

Joint Statement on Venezuela Signature Verification Process: OAS, The Carter Center

Published February 24th on the Carter Center website.

CARACAS, VENEZUELA. The Organization of the American States and The Carter Center have been observing the process of collection, verification, and validation of signatures developed by the National Electoral Council to determine whether current requests for recall referenda will be adequate. This work has been at the invitation of the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the electoral authority and in the framework of the agreement of May 23, 2003, as a result of the Table of Negotiation and Agreements.

The OAS and The Carter Center express once again their gratitude for the confidence shown by the executive power, the electoral authority, and the representatives of the opposition, and we reiterate our commitment and willingness to continue our efforts so that Venezuelans find a constitutional, democratic, peaceful, and electoral solution to their differences, as stated in Resolution 833 of the Permanent Council of the OAS, dated Dec. 16, 2002.

There is at present a concern regarding the validity of the signatures on the so-called "planillas planas," signature forms where the handwriting of the basic data of the persons is similar. The OAS and The Carter Center consider the concern legitimate in that it is necessary to determine whether one person signed for another, clearly violating the rules approved by the CNE and the very personal nature of a person expressing his or her will.

Various methodsexist to determine whether signatures are genuine. Due to the extreme complexity of comparing the fingerprints or the signatures with the data stored in the Department of Identification and Naturalization, the OAS and The Carter Center have presented to the CNE, as an alternative, a technically viable proposal, previously used in several countries and supported by international experts. The proposal consists of drawing a statistically representative random sample from the universe of signatures, and then comparing, one by one, the fingerprints and signatures that appear in the signed petition forms with those newly provided by these signers. The results of this sample would establish whether, in the case of the planillas planas, the signers represent distinct persons that have freely expressed their will, or whether on the contrary, there are unacceptable irregularities. By thus determining the scope of the problem, the CNE could decide the methods for the appeals process -- either to assume the signatures are legitimate unless citizens disavow them, or that there are sufficient doubts to require all the signers to reaffirm their signatures.

The OAS and The Carter Center respect the autonomy of the CNE decisions. We respectfully make this suggestion so that the CNE can fulfill its constitutional functions while starting from the presumption that the citizens acted in good faith as they signed.

Both organizations continue to be concerned about the pressure and the harassment that directors and workers of the CNE face, and we ask once again that all Venezuelans, including the media, the political parties and the actors involved, to permit the CNE to perform its tasks free of such pressure. The OAS and The Carter Center urge the CNE to provide a mechanism of appeal (reparo) that is transparent, agile and simple, with the rules agreed to beforehand, and which presumes the good faith of the signers.

Finally, the OAS and The Carter Center repeat our commitment to continue to assist in this process until its conclusion, including the appeals period.