June 12, 2004

One last shout...

...before heading to the train station.

Chavistas find it hard to understand the opposition's accusations of authoritarianism as anything other than a slur. But the recent appointment of the Comando Maisanta should serve to illustrate a few of our concerns. As we saw, the President appointed two dozen assembly members, ministers, oil officials and state governors, among others, to its campaign effort. The Finance Minister will also be in charge of campaign finances, and the energy minister will be expected to contribute as well.

Now, the transit from democracy to authoritarianism starts with the corruption of basic conceptual differentiations that are at the center of the Republican system of government. The state, in any normal conception of democratic life, is different from the government, which in turn is different from the governing party, which is different again from the president. In Chavismo all these differentiations are blurred to the point of dissappearance. A government that campaigned on ending cronyism in the distribution of oil revenues finds its Energy Minister on the board of an electoral campaign! The conflict of interest is never discussed, or even explicitly acknowledged. The kidnapping of national resources for the express electoral advantage of one side and against all the others is something the country hadn't seen since 1957.

When state=government=governing party=president, the basic conceptual architecture of democracy breaks down. This may be defended on revolutionary grounds, but not on democratic grounds. So I find it especially galling that the Venezuelan government is now prosecuting Sumate's leaders on the grounds of "perverting the Republican system of government," under the creepily authoritarian article 132 of Venezuela's 70 year old penal code.

June 11, 2004

How the blog was won...

The story starts when Dr. Toro goes on a camping trip and lets some of his readers take his blog over... How will it end? Will he ever regain control over his lost kingdom?

(This was just to see if I could really post things)

Forero on the case

The New York Times (registration required) ran an in depth article about evoting in the recall referendum today. Lots of questions, very few precise answers.

The Smartmatic-Bizta-Cantv Offer

This was prepared for the regional elections. I've translated it from Spanish. I can't help but notice that the auditoria-en-caliente (on the spot auditing) is built into the system.

How do you vote with SBC?

1-The elector registers at the voting table, as happens in every election.

2-The staff at the voting table introduces the voter to the voting machine, which shows an electronic ballot that looks exactly the same as the ballots that all Venezuelans are used to.

3. The voter selects his preferred candidate touching the sensitive parts of the screen on the electronic ballot. There is no need to use pencils, or to struggle to fill in little ovals. The use of the electronic ballot is extremely easy, including for people who cannot read or write.

4. The machine allows the voter to verify his or her choice, showing the selected candidates on a color screen. The voter may change his choice as many times as he or she wishes before confirming the vote.

5. When the voter is sure of having chosen the right candidate, he presses the "Vote" button on the machine's screen. The machine stores the electronic vote permanently and securely. Since there is no possibility of error, the new machine eliminates the possibility of numerical inconsistencies.

6. The machine prints a physical vote that allows the voter to conduct an on-the-spot audit of his or her vote, confirming that it has been registered correctly.

7. To conclude the voting act, the voter folds the physical vote and places it in a ballot box. The physical votes back up the electronic vote in case of an audit, and cannot be forged.

What happens with the electronic votes?

1. Automated and secure vote registry: Once the voter has made his choice, it is stored in the machine in a permanent and secure way. The security and encryption technologies used in the new machine prevent the vote from being erased or manipulated in any other way, either in the machine or once it is transmitted to the tallying system. The old [ES&S scanner] machines kept the information insecurely, which allowed anyone to access and manipulate votes at leisure.

2. Encrypted transmission and storage: At the end of election day, the machines transmit the results of the vote to the tallying system. This transmission is encrypted and authenticated over telephone lines, guaranteeing zero data loss or manipulation. The tallying system receives the results of the vote and stores them in an encrypted fashion. These results can only be decoded by the tallying software.

3. 100% automated tallying and adjudication: The new automated system guarantees that the tallying and adjudication will happen automatically and instantaneously, which will prevent results being modified in any way. Previous elections relied on manual tallying and adjudication, allowing the easy manipulation of results of the vote on the part of tallying officials, either by mistake or intentionally.

4. Publication of results via the web: As soon as the automated tallying results are produced, whether partial or total, they will be published directly on the National Election Council web page, for access by the general public

Lunatics Take-Over the Asylum

Gentle reader,

Well, having just finished my dissertation proposal, I am preparing to leave town on a camping trip to Slovenia and Italy. (Rough life, I know!) Rather than leave the blog idle, as I had done in the past, I've decided to try a bit of an experiment: I'm turning this thing over to you, the readers. OK, maybe not you, you personally, but to a few of the readers who've contributed most actively in the comments forum.

Hopefully they won't get me sued or banned from the internet or condemned with a fatwa...

The Run-off

Who would you pick as Transition President?

Enrique Mendoza
Teodoro Petkoff

Current Results

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June 10, 2004


So, clearly, Enrique Mendoza is the most popular of the opposition leaders among my blog readers - he had four times as much support as the next guy after 40 votes. But if the opposition is to have a real choice in a hypothetical primary, which of these opponents would you think would be best prepared to take on the transition?

Liliana Hernández
Andrés Velásquez
Henrique Salas Römer
Gerver Torres
Antonio Ledezma
Rafael Marín
María Corina Machado
Teodoro Petkoff
Henry Ramos Allup
Prefiero emigrar

Current Results

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Alberto Quirós Corradi talks to TalCual

Since March, Alberto Quirós Corradi has been one of the two lead negotiators for the opposition before CNE. Along with MAS leader Felipe Mujica, he negotiated the terms of the signature validation process that led to calling the presidential recall election. Quirós Corradi, a career oil executive and former CEO of Shell in Venezuela - in the Halcyon days before nationalization - he is usually seen as a walking encyclopedia of oil. His participation in the negotiations at CNE have hugely raised his political profile. Here I have translated most of an interview by Elizabeth Araujo, which appeared in Tal Cual.

On negotiating with the National Electoral Council

Question: In three months, Felipe Mujica and yourself have convinced the unbelievers that the verb "to negotiate" is not for losers, but for winners. What other verb will we need to learn for the battle on August 15th (the presidential recall date)?

Alberto Quirós Corradi (AQC): To dialogue. To dialogue face-to-face with the government, with the presence and help of international observers and, if it's an electoral matter, with the National Electoral Council as well.

On the signature validation negotiations, what we did is we talked to CNE, and CNE then went and talked with the [pro-Chavez] Comando Ayacucho, and then they would come back and talk to us some more. It's as though we were martians and they could not talk to us face to face. I think if we could talk to each other we could simplify the solutions, not just on the referendum but also with what is about to happen to the country.

We need a civilized dialogue with the government.

Q: Was there a critical moment when you wanted to strangle [pro-Chavez CNE member] Jorge Rodriguez?

AQC: No. The negotiation was cordial and respectful. I can't say there were odd surprises or frictions. Jorge [Rodriguez] had an ongoing concern: Sumate's stances. This was his headache, and despite this he would meet with them. Perhaps it was a pose. The hardest part was at the last moment, when [CNE Chairman and Chavista hardliner Francisco] Carrasquero read out the final numbers, and we understood they'd struck off 100,000 signatures from the repairs, contrary to our agreement.

That was a difficult situation, because after we had it all worked out, the regulations and everything else negotiated and ready, we had to return to the Coordinadora with official numbers different from those we had announced previously.

Somebody might have balked, and that could have compromised the negotiations. But that was the only low-blow.

Q: What path may the discussions have followed if your interlocutor had been Francisco Carrasquero?

AQC: Our negotiation was carried out mostly with Jorge Rodriguez. He is tough, intelligent and he did a good job with the process of conversation and accord.

Of course, he is not impartial, his heart is with chavismo and it was on that basis we had to negotiate with him. Perhaps he believes he is totally impartial, but he isn't; in the same way we can't be. Now, I don't know what might have happened if conversations had been with Carrasquero. I did not have the opportunity to negotiate with him.

Intuitively I think that it would have been impossible to reach accords with Carrasquero.

Q: What personal defect must a negotiator leave behind?

AQC: Haughtiness. Thinking he is always right and that his rightness will impose itself in the end. Sometimes you need to be flexible and negotiate to reach given benefits. As for a virtue, he must know how to prioritize.

Q: After this experience, you and Felipe Mujica are ready to go sell ice cream to eskimos...

AQC: And fur coats in the dessert.

But, remember, we're not about magnifying our role. There were other people involved, like Nelson Rampersad and Enrique Naime, who know CNE's inner workings much better and who helped enormously on technical aspects. Beyond that we had the backing of the Coordinadora Democratica itself.

On Chavez

Q: In this whole recall saga, you have talked about two Chavezes: the one that is hellbent on revolution and the one who feels pressures to follow the rules of democracy. Which of those two Chavezes do you fear most?

AQC: I fear the undecided Chavez, because when someone makes a choice it's easy to see his strategy and know which path he will follow. Notice that at the last minute people were saying he wouldn't accept a vote, while others said he would.

When he acts this way, it's hard to strategize because you're not sure which of the two Chavezes you need to respond to. That's his skill.

He will keep playing that game for a long, long time, he won't square off with either of the two sides, but at some point you'll run into the Chavez who wants elections, even if later he tries to do the opposite.

I've always said that Chavez's biggest frustration is to have become president through the ballot box.

Q: Over five years in government have taught chavismo that you can't dance tango alone or is it that their mistakes have forced them to recognize the opposition?

AQC: Chavismo has had to dance nice and tight with the opposition, and even switch partners. Everyone knows that chavistas have approached the financial industry, the agricultural industry and construction. There have been several stages; they even tried to launch their own Fedecamaras (business federation) and their own labor movement.

I would say that chavismo had quite a few crushes in this process, and we should also be fair: they've always found somebody ready to love them.

On Alberto Quirós Corradi

Q: What happened to keep you from becoming a politician?

AQC: Really what I like about politics is planning, analysis and strategy.

I'm an oil man but I was never a driller. Similarly, in politics, I'm not drawn to rallies. I am like Gonzalo Barrios: I like being the leader, but I don't like being a candidate.

Q: What has been your greatest extravagance?

AQC: I would never reveal that.

Q: What's your biggest fear?

AQC: That this government could turn into a repressive dictatorship, humiliating the opposition. I'm very scared of that.

On corruption, opposition unity, the cadenas and the future

Q: What's the difference between the Generals who enjoyed the patronage of AD and Copei governments and the ones we have now, who feel strong and backed by the revolution?

AQC: Perhaps the former generals were not involved in coups or anything of the sort. They learned how to live within the democratic system, with the prerogatives that it afforded them. But I see that the military leaders today want to have a more important role in decision-making, far beyond what is visible to the naked eye.

I think that, through these generals, Chavez has built his own Frankenstein monster.

Q: You say you are for a single opposition candidate, but already Salas Romer and Ledezma are out competing with Enrique Mendoza. Don't you think Quirós Corradi has a nice sound as a transition candidate?

AQR: I am one of those who believe we don't have time for a primary election before the referendum. Holding primaries is setting the opposition to fight with one another and will distract attention from the main goal: getting Chavez out. And there's just no time to hold primaries after the recall. We have to start to understand that what is coming is not a transition but a national emergency. It will not be a normal government, with its cabinet, its routines. We're talking about pulling out of the disaster Chavez has caused and try to patch up as much as we can in two years in order to start getting the country into a condition to one day advance.

Q: What benefits are there to the Cadenas presidenciales (national TV broadcasts on all channels)?

The only benefit is that everyone yells at me for watching them. But I watch them because, in a way, I enjoy Chavez's bravado for mocking other people's intelligence that way and even then retain some popularity.

That intrigues me. Though it's not like I'll spend 7 hours watching them.

Q: What do you see for Venezuela in your crystal ball?

AQC: Chavez is on his way out. If the recall is after the 19th and we need to keep the vicepresident, it will not be Jose Vicente.

That I'm sure about.

June 9, 2004

My mayor: still in jail

Henrique Capriles Radonski, mayor of Baruta municipality in Eastern Caracas, will spend another 2 weeks in jail pending an extension granted to the Prosecution to conclude the "preliminary investigation." Do bear in mind that the events alleged took place 26 months ago, and the prosecution needs just a bit more time to investigate events...

It's a sham. Danilo Anderson knows he has no case against Capriles. Still, if he can make him spend a month or two in a Disip holding cell while they lose the trial, they'll take their opportunity.

The good, the bad, and the ambiguous

The announcement was made by CNE chairman Francisco Carrasquero.

The good: The recall referendum date has finally been set. According to Descifrado, the opposition will get the "yes" side. Opposition negotiators are working out the details of the e-voting system with CNE.

The bad: The date is August 15th, not August 8th. There will be no on-the-spot verification of automated results.

The ambiguous: Ezequiel Zamora says there is an agreement that, if the "yes" campaign wins, Chavez's recall will be effective on August 15th - not on the date results are made public. Recall that this is important because if Chavez is recalled after the 19th, instead of a new election we get his vicepresident for two years. However, since only Zamora said this, and the CNE resolution calling the vote is not yet public, it's impossible to know if this will hold. Also, the vote on the date was 4 to 1, with the chavista hardliner - Oscar Battaglini - voting against.

June 8, 2004

The statue of Maria Lionza broke because...

...God willed it so. ¡Y chito!
...Maria Lionza, like most Venezuelans, simply could not stand one more cadena nacional.
...the Goddess wanted to lounge back to see the transit of Venus.
...the Chavista castro-comunista tumultuario regime's Fundapatrimonio messed with it.
...the fascist coup-mongering baby-eating opposition sabotaged it.
...of the laws of physics.
...a chavista palero attacked it to stop the goddess's protective powers. (Most marches are on the highway she sits in.)
...we'll never know, pero de que vuelan vuelan

Current Results

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One to make us feel tercermundistas...

AP: Venezuelans see broken statue as an omen

As one of Venezuela's most venerated religious figures, Maria Lionza has inspired hope and granted wishes to devotees for more than 200 years. So Venezuelans were shocked when a prominent 53-year-old statue of the mythical goddess split apart at the waist on Sunday and fell backward to face the heavens.


Chavez? Recalled?!

Ja! Primero tendrán que alinearse los planetas...

Disciplining the message

When chavistas pick up a propaganda line, you can tell. They're disciplined. Single-minded. Repetitive. Brutally effective.

As expected, vote-for-chavez-or-lose-your-misiones has become a cornerstone of the chavista campaign. It's repeated again and again on VTV, Vea, and on every government statement. A chorus. With a simple message: be scared. The opposition will take away your protections. Protect yourself and your family: vote against recall.

The question is not whether this line is right or wrong, or fair or unfair, the point is that Chavistas are effective campaigners because they are coordinated. They follow-the-leader. All of them. So their message comes through loud and clear, just the way they like it.

But will the opposition find a way to strike back just as effectively? Can they in fact coordinate anything like that effectively? Can they isolate simple, potent messages and hammer them home again and again and again no matter which spokesperson is behind the mike?

June 7, 2004

How to negotiate the e-voting issue...

Bizta, one of the Venezuelan companies hired by CNE to automate the vote-counting process, put its position across today. Though I'm not an expert, their explanation sounds plausible to me.

I don't think the opposition should be inflexible on automation. They should accept automation but with key security guarantees:

1-An independent auditor should be allowed to inspect the tallying software in the Smartmatic/Bizma/Cantv system and should be allowed to randomly inspect machines on the day of the vote, to ensure the inspected software is actually running on election day. If they have nothing to hide, the software code will be compact and transparent to an expert observer. You do not need 8 million lines of code to program a voting machine. Compact code=transparency.

2-Thre must be a paper trail, and on the spot verification of the automated totals. The experience with Diebold in the US makes this painfully clear.

In order for such guarantees to be credible, international observers must be present on voting day.

Pedro's Chart

Pedro sends in this chart that shows the same info as the previous ones, but more synthetically. If, in the referendum, the turnout/votes to revoke combination is above the blue line, the opposition wins. If it's below the blue line, the government wins. If it's above the purpole line, the opposition gets a bit of a safety margin (250,000 votes)

Note: On the flat part of the graph (right side), the vote totals are higher than the basis.

June 6, 2004

Spreadsheet fun

Time for some recall scenario-making fun. The key thing to keep in mind is that to recall President Chavez the opposition needs to meet two conditions:

1-They need to get more votes than Chavez received at the time of his election (3,757,773) votes
2-They need to get a majority on the day of the referendum. If the oppo gets 3,757,774 votes but the government gets 3,757,775, Chavez is not recalled.

So given that Venezuela has 12,330,902 registered voters, what does the opposition need to do to win? Well, they need to win the vote, but most importantly they need to get out the vote, they need to mobilize supporters to the polls. Turnout will be the key to this election. For reference, consider that in July 2000, turnout was 56.3%.

Assuming, conservatively, that the opposition gets 55% of the vote on Aug. 8th, they will need to mobilize just over 55% of registered voters to the polls to win:

But for a bit of a comfort margin, the opposition would far prefer a scenario with a few more votes and a few more voters.

If the opposition manages to get 60% of the vote, it can score a massive win even with relatively modest turnout.

Finally, if turnout tends to be high - which would not be odd given the level of political mobilization in Venezuela these days - and the opposition can perform towards the top of its polling range, it could crush chavismo decisively.

One final point: if turnout is above 61%, the government will have to win outright on the day to prevent Chavez's recall. Nothing in recent polling data suggests this is possible. So if the opposition can mobilize over 61% of voters to the polls, Chavez is toast.

Worried about touchscreen voting? You should be.

AP: Electronic voting: Can computers ever be trusted?
A growing number of federal and state legislators are expressing doubts about the integrity of the ATM-like electronic voting machines that at least 50 million Americans will use to cast their ballots in November.Computer scientists have long criticized the so-called touchscreen machines as not being much more reliable than home computers, which can crash, malfunction and fall prey to hackers and viruses.
Now, a series of failures in primaries across the nation has shaken confidence in the technology installed at thousands of precincts. Despite reassurances from the machines? makers, at least 20 states have introduced legislation requiring a paper record of every vote cast.

AP: Eyeing Electronic Voting Security
Concerned about the reliability of electronic voting, a federal panel is examining ways to safeguard polling from hackers and bad software to avoid another disputed presidential election this November. The first public hearing Wednesday by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission comes as many states consider legislation to require a paper record of every vote cast as a backup to technology they consider potentially faulty or vulnerable to malicious attack.

Tri-Valley Herald, California: E-voting hits speed bump in Alameda County
Thousands of Alameda County voters cast ballots Tuesday on computer software that state and county elections officials say was never certified for a California election. Same for last month's recall election. State and county officials were dismayed last week to learn that Diebold Elections Systems Inc. altered the software running in Alameda County's touchscreen voting machines yet neither submitted it for state testing nor even notified state authorities of the change.

AP: Tiny new agency ill-equipped for e-voting oversight
As alarm mounts over the integrity of the ATM-like voting machines 50 million Americans will use in the November election, a new federal agency has begun scrutinizing how to safeguard electronic polling from fraud, hackers and faulty software. But the tiny U.S. Election Assistance Commission says it is so woefully underfunded that it can't be expected to forestall widespread voting machine problems, which would cast doubt on the election's integrity. The commission -- which on Wednesday conducts the first federal hearing on the security and reliability of electronic voting -- laments its predicament in a new report.

San Jose Mercury News: Lax controls over e-voting testing labs
Forty-two states, including California, rely on three independent testing labs to safeguard elections. By holding voting-equipment manufacturers accountable to national standards and keeping copies of software programs in escrow, the independent labs are supposed to help stop defective computer code from reaching the polling place. But critics contend that the labs are too close to the elections industry to serve as effective watchdogs. ``The only thing they are independent from is state and federal regulators,'' Shelley told the U.S. Election Assistance Commission this month.

New York Times OpEd: Who Tests Voting Machines?
Whenever questions are raised about the reliability of electronic voting machines, election officials have a ready response: independent testing. There is nothing to worry about, they insist, because the software has been painstakingly reviewed by independent testing authorities to make sure it is accurate and honest, and then certified by state election officials. But this process is riddled with problems, including conflicts of interest and a disturbing lack of transparency. Voters should demand reform, and they should also keep demanding, as a growing number of Americans are, a voter-verified paper record of their vote.

New York Times: Demand Grows to Require Paper Trails for Electronic Votes
But in the last year election analysts have documented so many malfunctions, including the disappearance of names from the ballot, and computer experts have shown that the machines are so vulnerable to hackers, that critics have organized to counter the rush toward touch screens with a move to require paper trails. Such trails - ballot receipts - would let voters verify that they had cast their votes as they intended and let election officials conduct recounts in close races.