According to Jennifer McCoy, the director of the Americas program at the Atlanta-based Carter Center, Venezuela’s electoral system is one of the most trusted in the world, and is audited and verified at every stage of the process.
McCoy was interviewed by the Venezuelan newspaper Panorama. She arrived in Venezuela several days ago and observed the simulated vote that took place last Sunday in the coastal state of Vargas. She said the Carter Center is currently evaluating whether it will serve as an electoral accompanier during the October 7 presidential elections.
Below is McCoy’s interview in Panorama:
What was your impression of the simulated vote?
It was very interesting, the reaction of the people was very positive, the process of voting was very efficient, nobody encountered any problems.
What did you think of the Integrated Authentication System [the fingerprinting machines used to identify voters at the polls]?
Electronically it is the most comprehensive thing I have seen in the world, because all the steps are automated. In the United States, where I vote, it’s only automated when I touch the screen. Here it’s very interesting. This new identification system is novel in the world, we understand it is an advance that prevents the possibility of double voting and identity theft. We have heard rumors that it was possible in the past for the president of a voting table to enter many votes by pressing the button, now that’s not possible because the fingerprint must be identified to activate the system. We saw people trying it out, and the person gives their fingerprint and if it coincides, the machine authorizes them to vote.
Based on your experience, how does the Venezuelan electoral system compare with those of other countries?
There are many mechanisms of control, of security in the system, but the most important thing is that it can be verified and audited. The CNE [National Electoral Council] works with political parties so that they can participate in the audits, the transparency is what instills confidence. Any system has its advantages and disadvantages and none is 100 percent infallible, for example there are still some errors in the electoral registry. Every society has to determine what system is best for it and when they choose it the important thing is that there are systems of verification and that the political parties send their witnesses and the citizens verify it. With this system the possibility of error is removed because it’s all automated, as long as the audits are done to verify that the software isn’t manipulated.
Fifty four percent of the voting machines are audited. Do you think that’s enough, or too much?
Statistically you don’t need that much, you can take a simple with much less, three of four percent of the machines but that was agreed on with the political parties and it instills confidence.
After almost 15 elections [since 1999], what do you think of our electoral system?
We have observed that another possible audit is the receipt [issued by the machine after voting], which is something we don’t have in the United States. This can also be audited. It’s good that the citizens can verify their choice.
And what do you think of the attitude of Venezuelans toward voting, because we have consistently higher rates of participation
I admire that. In the United States and some countries in Latin America there is a lot of apathy in elections. In Venezuela there’s a lot of interest and that’s important for any democracy.
How are your conversations with the CNE [National Electoral Council]?
We are always in conversation. The CNE made the decision as of 2006 not to invite international observers, so we haven’t participated since. Instead, they use the model of accompaniers that are invited, and we are evaluating the possibilities to collaborate this year. We hope to follow the process in some way, whether it is more academic or participatory, we’re evaluating that.
So the Carter Center hasn’t responded to the CNE’s invitation?
We’re going to evaluate the possibilities, because the Carter Center isn’t very big. We have to evaluate our human and financial resources to participate here.
Why do you think the model of observers was replaced by that of accompaniers?
As I understand it, it reflects the CNE’s belief that they have the confidence and participation of the parties and the voters in the system and now they don’t need the participation of third parties in order to lend confidence, as in past when there was a lot of lack of trust.
How does Venezuela in 2012 compare to the country [as you saw it] in 2004?
Ten years ago there was a high possibility of violence, very deep divisions. Now we see that there are still divisions regarding the future of the country, but the difference is that everyone accepts that the path of elections is the only way to choose leaders. At that time, in 2002 and 2003, there were other options. We think it’s important that the country is seeking ways to coexist, that everyone feels that they belong to the same country.
Do you think Latin America should have institutions in to review elections?
UNASUR [the Union of South American Nations] has an electoral council and is going to organize its own mechanism for observation. As far as I know, CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States] doesn’t have an organization to undertake that kind of mission, it might in the future but doesn’t yet. That also means that member states would have to provide financial resources and organize secretariats and all that is costly.
What is the climate like in the United States, which also has elections?
It’s heating up. One of the debates is over financing, limits on the possibility to make unlimited anonymous donations and organizations that advertise to promote a candidate. There are strict controls on President Obama who must distinguish between his government and campaign activities, when he uses his airplane for his campaign, the campaign has to pay, not the government.
Do you think the United States should improve its electoral system?
There are many things to improve, but we should recognize that the system is decentralized, there isn’t a national council that administers it. One thing [to try] is the receipt, because the people are demanding ways to increase confidence.
Panorama / Press – Venezuelan Embassy to the U.S. / August 13, 2012