November 19, 2005

CNE to audit self...slowly, very slowly...

CNE's decision to grant itself an amazing five weeks to conduct its "hot" audit, has rekindled my interest in electoral nuts-and-bolts. The CNE Audit "Instructivo" - the official instructions for the audit - starts on page 58 of this large PDF document. The vote-tallying procedure (acto de escrutinio) is set out from page 74 of the same document.

Sumate's big beef with the Escrutinio procedure is that nowhere does it instruct polling workers to physically count all the ballot papers issued. Articles 168-174 of the Framework Law on Suffrage and Political Participation, set out the rules for the vote-tallying process in some detail. According to Article 172, the "Acta de Escrutinio" - the Vote Tally Report that serves as an official record of votes in each polling station - must contain both a count of the total number of ballots that were cast and the automated tally of how many votes each candidate and party got.

The Acta de Escrutinio needs to contain both these counts because Article 220, paragraph 1, says an acta is invalid if the two numbers don't match. The only way to determine whether the two numbers match or not is to actually count the ballot papers.

(Somewhat bizarrely, the law does not say you need a hand-count of how many votes each candidate and each party got, you just need a hand-count of how many ballots were cast in total. This is meant to ensure the automated count does not contain more votes than there are actual ballot papers.)

Under the rules CNE has published, ballot papers will only be counted for a single box in a sample making up about 45% of voting tables. The votes will be audited by a hand-count, but instead of being immediately matched against the automated results, they will be sent to CNE, which will have five weeks to build a data base and conduct a statistical study of discrepancies.

A few things to note about these rules:
  • Since only CNE will get to see the hand-count data, CNE will effectively audit itself - how many companies get away with that?

  • The audit procedure contains no mechanism whereby hand-counts trump automated counts in the event of a discrepancy.

  • By the time the audit is published, 5 weeks after the vote, the election results will long since have been announced and the seats adjudicated - and there's no mechanism for re-adjudicating a seat in the event that the audit demonstrates fraud.

  • Though not directly related to the audit, the Vote Tallying (escrutinio) procedures AGAIN call for Actas de Escrutinio to be printed after the machine has been connected to CNE headquarters and the data been sent in (article 46, page 75 of the document I linked to above.) This week, Jorge Rodriguez pledged to backtrack on this item. Still, it is hard to figure this sequencing was in there in the first place, given the grave misgivings about bi-directional communications it has always aroused.

  • Frankly, if this is how they propose to go about it, it's hard to see what good auditing could do. It's silly to think a procedure this opaque, this slow, and this CNE-centric could really convince anyone who currently doubts CNE's probity. Ultimately, if the political will was there, CNE could run a credible hot audit, one that would end once and for all opposition misgivings about its fairness. It could, but it hasn't.

    Ana Julia Jatar pulls no punches...

    Ana Julia Jatar's speech to the US House of Representatives' Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere (PDF file) last Thursday was as tough and synthetic a statement of the case against Chavez's assault on democratic institutions as I could think of.

    I especially liked the way she closed:

    I did not come to speak to this prestigious audience to ask for help, nor did I come to persuade the US Congress of the need to interfere in our destiny. Venezuela has a long history of self determination and we will continue to stand for it. But I did come today to make you reflect about our current challenges and opportunities. Fish don’t know they are in water. They take water for granted. Venezuelans used to take freedom for granted, not knowing what the institutional underpinnings of their freedom were. Today those institutional foundations have been taken away. History is full of lessons about countries where governments are not constrained by laws. Venezuela is becoming one more exhibit in that gruesome old lesson.

    ...y un rato con la oposicion...

    Juan Forero finally tosses us a bone in today's New York Times...

    SHE'S the Venezuelan government's most detested adversary, a young woman with a quick wit and machine-gun-fast delivery who often appears in Washington or Madrid to denounce what she calls the erosion of democracy under President Hugo Chávez.

    In a highly polarized country, María Corina Machado has emerged as perhaps the most divisive figure after Mr. Chávez, a woman who is either beloved or reviled.

    I still wish he'd write something on institutional degradation, but hey, you take what you can get...

    November 18, 2005

    CNE backtracks (a bit)

    This afternoon, CNE backtracked on the use of Electronic Voter Rolls, and gave assurances that voting machines will not be connected to phone lines until actas have been printed out, striking out two of the points on my Imaginary Memo to the EU EOM.

    CNE also agreed to audit a larger number of voting tables, but the press reports I've seen do not make clear if they will agree to publish the audit results immediately. It's a crucial point. An audit is only "hot" if you publish results as soon as they're available.

    If you have info on this, please share.

    December 5th Chronicles

    It's almost certain that the Opposition parties will get taken to the cleaners in the Dec. 4th parliamentary elections. The question is, what are their leaders going to say on Dec. 5th?

    They could fall back on their old standby and allege fraud - but imagine how powerless and ridiculous that would sound. For one thing, it's too obvious they don't have the support to win an election right now. For another, they knew full well the kind of CNE they were accepting when they agreed to go to elections - they spent the last year and a half rubbishing it!

    So that's not a great option. Alternatively, they could blame the loss on low turnout, pointing the finger the rabble-rousing Art. 350-invoking abstentionist crowd. Tempting, but that would only add fuel to the fire of the near civil-war between Opposition electoralists and abstentionists.

    Two bad options so far. So, what's left? Well, Venezuela is the Land of the Possible, so they might just tuck their tail between their legs and congratulate MVR on its win.

    How do you think this will go?

    On December 5th, Opposition party leaders will...

    Allege fraud
    Blame the abstentionists
    Congratulate MVR for its win

    Current Results

    Free Web Polls

    November 17, 2005

    Imaginary Memo to the EU Election Observation Mission

    Lets be clear. The basic reason the Opposition will lose the Dec. 4th parliamentary elections is that more people want to vote for the government than for the Opposition. Denying this would be an idle exercise in buck passing - though one so comfortable for Oppo leaders, we can be sure we will hear it. For too long, the Opposition has used CNE's partiality as an excuse to avoid the work of building up its political support. Until it does that, it won't win an election even if a gaggle of angels is put in charge of CNE.

    With that proviso firmly in mind, it's also important to understand that CNE is not run by a gaggle of angels. The list of grievances with the Elections Authority has grown longer, not shorter, since last year's referendum. At the moment, the key items are:

  • Dodgy Voter Roll: The Permanent Electoral Registry grew from 12.310.031 voters to 14.245.614 voters - 16% - in just seven months, from December 2003 to June 2004. Basic safeguards to ensure that all those registered are eligible to vote were not applied. Opposition parties cannot audit the voter roll, because the CNE refuses to publish it.

  • Unexplained "Migrations": As many as 30% of voters have been "migrated" (switched) from one voting center to another, with no explanation.

  • Opaque tallying: CNE has consistently ignored its legal obligation to tally votes publicly.

  • Voter Intimidation: The use of electronic voter lists together with electronic voting machines allows CNE to infer which voter voted for which party, undermining the secrecy of the vote. Given the history of using information about voter preferences to discriminate against opposition supporters, this system results in voter intimidation.

  • Possibility of electronic tallying fraud: Electronic voting machines will connect with CNE headquarters before each machine produces a print-out of its voting results, opening the possibility of "bi-directional electronic traffic" - meaning that machines may end up producing a tally report beamed back to them from CNE headquarters. In last years referendum, there is evidence that there was back-and-forth electronic communications between voting machines and CNE headquarters throughout the day.

  • Absence of a credible audit: The all-important "hot audit" - the manual recount of paper ballots in a representative sample of voting centers - will be published five weeks after the election, giving plenty of time for manipulation.

  • Morochas: Through administrative fiat, CNE will allow the use of the "morochas" - a mechanism that deliberately and unfairly manipulates of the mixed uninominal/list venezuelan voting system. The trick is designed to magnify the number of parliamentary seats allocated to the largest party, in violation of the constitutional principle of Proportional Representation.

  • Abusive use of state resources: Though not directly under CNE control, the government continues to use state resources to give unfair advantage to pro-Chavez candidates.

  • It's true that even without these various manipulations, the government would still win the election. That does not make them acceptable. Hopefully, the EU elections observation mission will take note.

    Just last week, the OSCE produced a harsh report on the Azerbaijani elections for irregularities roughly comparable to those outlined above, despite the fact that the Azerbaijani government would likely have won those elections even without fraud. We urge the EU EOM to apply European standards consistently.

    November 16, 2005

    Clues from Azerbaijan on EU Elections Monitoring

    The major innovation in the upcoming Dec. 4th parliamentary elections is the presence of an EU monitoring mission in Venezuela. How tough will the new observers be? Hopefully, at least as tough as the OSCE mission the EU sent to monitor parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan last week.

    From Radio Free Europe

    November 7th, 2005
    OSCE, EU Question Azerbaijani Vote

    Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said today that parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan that culminated in yesterday's voting failed to meet several international standards, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported.

    The OSCE's election-observation mission noted some improvements in the way the election was run, but it said the shortcomings that were observed led the mission to believe that the election "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections."

    The international observers in Baku said the elections' shortcomings included, among other things, a faulty count of the ballots and interference by local authorities.

    Citing alleged massive irregularities, opposition representatives have said they it will not recognize the outcome of the vote. The opposition has called on its supporters to hold a peaceful march in Baku tomorrow.

    Meanwhile, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said earlier today that she regrets reports of electoral violations in Azerbaijan's legislative elections.

    "While we are still not knowing all elements in order to draw our conclusions, we understand there are reports of some violations of election procedures and also of the rights of opposition candidates that have been occurring throughout the country, especially in provincial and rural areas," Ferrero-Waldner said.

    So that's a fairly tough assessment. In its preliminary document on the conduct of the elections, published just a day after the voting, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in charge of running the EU monitoring mission, noted the following shortcomings:

  • Local executive authorities often interfered in the campaign and failed to act impartially, and were regarded by many as serving only the interests of pro-government candidates;

  • No effective sanctions were imposed on representatives of local executive authorities who, in violation of the law, interfered in the election process, diminishing confidence in the rule of law;

  • The composition of election commissions favored pro-government candidates, at times undermining confidence in the independence and impartiality of the election administration;

  • Restrictive interpretations of campaign provisions and pressure on an independent TV channel limited voters’ access to diverse information;

  • The CEC and constituency election commissions (ConECs) generally failed to address a number of issues in an effective manner, such as the use of voter cards, military voting and the handling of complaints;

  • There was a lack of uniformity in updating voter lists and issuance of voter cards;

  • At least 38 constituencies deviate from legal norms regarding the number of registered voters per constituency.

  • On the inside pages of the OSCE preliminary report, we find bits like:
    There are still shortcomings in the legal framework that have had an adverse effect on the conduct of the elections. The composition of election commissions favors the incumbent authorities and undermines confidence in the independence of the election administration. The provision for voter cards would only be effective if there was strict control and accountability in their distribution.

    The OSCE/ODIHR Elections Observation Mission observed cases of abuse of administrative resources such as the use of offices, vehicles and employees for campaign purposes.

    In its prime time news and current affairs programs, the AzTV (Azerbaijan's VTV) demonstrated clear bias. Media monitoring results show that in the eight weeks preceding the election, AzTV provided 97 percent of its political and election prime time news coverage to the activities of the President, the presidential administration, the government and the YAP. This coverage was overwhelmingly positive in tone. In contrast, the news programs on AzTV largely ignored activities of opposition candidates. Thus, AzTV failed to meet its legal obligation to create equal conditions for the candidates and political parties. No legal sanctions were imposed on AzTV.

    There was a presence of candidate representatives and non-partisan domestic observers in nearly all polling stations visited. However, there were observations of domestic observers and PEC members being expelled or dismissed from polling stations. The international elections observation mission observed local executive officials and observers of YAP candidates interfering in or directing the process, or otherwise attempting to influence voters. The presence of video cameras filming voting and, in some instances, individuals - including exit pollsters in some cases - attempting to influence voter choices or identify voters with their votes, appeared intimidating to voters.

    Overall, I think if the EU brings this level of scrutiny to the Dec. 4th election, CNE has something to worry about.

    November 15, 2005

    Not so hot...

    Last year, Venezuela had a big debate over the importance of the "hot audit" (auditoria en caliente) for the credibility of electronic election results.

    A hot audit is when the paper-trail produced by the voting machines is audited on election night. It means the paper ballots the machines produce are counted immediately after voting ends in a representative sample of voting centers, and the results of the hand-count are compared against the electronic results right away.

    Today, Sumate told the OAS Elections Observers that the National Electoral Council's plan for the Dec. 4th election is to publish the results of their "hot" audit next year!

    Cripes, it'll be deep frozen by then.

    November 14, 2005

    Do you swear to tell the truth, 85% of the truth, and no more than 15% of lies, so help you God?

    In the very first post to this blog, all the way back in September 2002, I wrote that, "these days, what I find it hardest to convey to my friends who live outside Venezuela is this strong undercurrent of farce that now permeates public life here." Three years later, I still have the same problem.

    Consider, if your patience allows, the Danilo Anderson Case. (Newbies can read a highly simplified summary of it here.)

    So far, the official version is that the CIA wanted to have him killed. So, how did they go about this? Apparently, the cleanest, simplest, most low-risk way the CIA could think of having a guy killed was to outsource the job to a sprawling conspiracy including a high profile journalist, a catholic cardinal, an anti-Fidel cuban exile, a pro-government General, an anti-government General...along with others to be named as the prosecutors think them up, I guess. Then the CIA arranged for that motley crew to travel to Miami, Santo Domingo and Panama to plan the hit abroad. (Seriously, this is the government's story!)

    Now, you might think "well, if it's not true they'll surely have alibis, and they'll be able to show they weren't in Miami Santo Domingo and Panama on the dates when the alleged conspiracy took place." But not so fast! Sure they have alibis, and sure there are no records of them traveling to those places on those dates, but as the Prosecutor General knows, that's only because the CIA provided these people with "doubles" back home to shore up their alibis, and arranged secret international travel for them so no records of their movements could be found in any subsequent investigation. Clever, those gringos, huh?

    Well, maybe not so clever. Apparently, these same hyper-sophisticated CIA agents able to find exact dopplegangers for dozens of suspects and to move them all over the hemisphere without anyone noticing weren't quite sophisticated enough to tell the Generals involved to, erm, remove their uniforms and name-tags as they carried out this conspiracy, since the government's one and only witness claims he could identify them because they were wearing their uniforms, name tags and all, as they conspired!


    This key witness, the guy on whose testimony the Prosecutor General is hanging the entire indictment on, was later found to have a long criminal record in Colombia, mostly for crimes centered on his, erm, difficulties with truth-telling. Among the seven indictments he's faced we find one that led to a conviction for passing himself off for a forensic expert, a physician, and a psychiatrist. This was back in 1999. Yet just a few days ago, our Prosecutor General went in front of the cameras to bolster his witness's credibility because the guy guessed it, a psychiatrist!

    Then, this weekend, the whole superwitness farce took an even more improbable turn as the Prosecutor General gave an interview to Caracas daily Ultimas Noticias and said that after careful study of the guy's testimony, the Prosecutor General's Office had collectively determined that "at least 85% of what he says is true." Puzzle this one through...doesn't that imply that a good 15% of what he says is a lie?

    But hey, what's a lie here and there between friends? It's not as though he'll be under oath or anything...

    Moderating the comments forum

    It's with a heavy heart that I've decided to turn on the Moderation option on the Haloscan comments forum. This will unnecessarily slow things down, but the discussion was getting ridiculous. For the moment, I'll moderate the thing myself, but if anyone else would like to volunteer to help me (Torres?) that would be great.

    I hate the idea of having to post explicit rules on these things, common sense ought to be enough. Obviously it isn't, so here are the rules.

    The Rules

    The moderator(s) have the right, but not the obligation, to edit or delete:
      - Posts that are defamatory, libelous, obscene, abusive, harassing, threatening, off-topic, unintelligible, or unnecessarily antagonistic, or in any other way inappropriate, as determined exclusively by the moderator(s).
      - Posts which are submitted repetitively, without bearing on the discussion topic, or otherwise deliberately disrupt the forum.
      - Posts which attack or insult another forum user or the moderator(s), or their families.

    The moderator(s) will strive to make decisions on which topics to post on the basis of relevance and civility rather than ideology.

    ...heavy sigh...

    Illiberal Democracy

    Ibsen Martínez has a lovely - if typically pedantic - article in yesterday's El Nacional. The gist? Venezuela has become the "most perverse and polimorphous, evanescent and changing example of Illiberal Democracy", as conceived by Fareed Zakaria. Ibsen is too hard to translate, so I'll just point to it for the Spanish readers.

    One bit, though, is too lovely to pass up:

    "This is a country where, in just one recent day, Chavez can hold a friendly meeting with Felipe González, prince of the modern European social democrats, at the same time as the police raids and closes down the newspaper El Impulso on a flimsy tax pretext. A country whose Public Prosecutors openly intimidate opponents, and whose head of government, at the same time, spends its time designing continental integration strategies based on oil diplomacy; where the prison overcrowding crisis and extrajudicial executions, which today have reached their highest level in decades, coincide with acts revindicating the human rights of afrovenezuelans and indigenous peoples; where the electoral registry has been used to call almost a dozen elections in the last seven years and to institute, in parallel, a political apartheid that violates the right to work...To combat this diabolical complexity we will need a politics that is more realistic and assertive than the sifrino hissyfit of staying home on election day 'because Jorge Rodriguez sold out,' hoping perhaps to see Oswaldo Alvarez Paz and Cardinal Castillo Lara announce, around 7 p.m. on Globovision, the definitive 'endogenous delegitimation' of the regime."

    November 13, 2005

    CIA ex machina

    One thing the Anderson Case has made clear is how the Chavez government intends to put its anti-gringo rhetoric to work. See, from now on, everything bad that happens in Venezuela is the CIA's fault. It's fantastic! Any hole in any official story can be papered over with that old fidelista standby - the vague allusion to the CIA.

    Say the Anderson conspirators have alibis. No problem! The CIA instructed them to get dopplegangers to fake them! Say there are no records of them being in Panama or Miami on the dates of the supposed conspiracy? Of course! The CIA obviously helped them to get around undetected!

    It's so simple, yet so effective. There's no need to prove anything. Just say the magic word, and all your problems magically disappear!

    Too good to be true? It's even better than that. It's not just that you can justify any authoritarian excess with some murky CIA allegation, it's that the International Ñángara Batallion eats it up with mustard! They love it! They'll line up behind you, endorse any unhinged theory you want to throw at them! They'll toast you as a revolutionary! Folks...authoritarianism has never been easier...