CARTER CENTER ISSUES REPORT ON VENEZUELA ELECTION
The Carter Center today released a preliminary report on Venezuela’s April 14, 2013, special presidential elections recommending electoral reforms to ensure greater campaign equity, increased efforts to improve the electoral climate for voters, and more information about the effectiveness of the biometric identification system and procedures to prevent usurpation of voter identity and multiple voting.
The report finds that the Venezuelan population, and the political parties and candidates in general, have demonstrated confidence in the performance and integrity of the automated touch-screen voting machines in accurately counting the votes cast on April 14.
There is not agreement, however, about the quality of the voting conditions and whether every registered voter is able to vote one time, and only one time. In addition, the report finds a series of inequities in campaign conditions in terms of both access to financial resources and access to the media, which diminish the competitiveness of elections, particularly in a legal framework that permits indefinite reelection of public officials.
The report was based on the information and perspectives gathered from a variety of Venezuelan actors as well as the personal observations made by the Center’s field office staff and election experts in Caracas during the entire series of electoral events (February 2012-June 2013) and the small accompaniment delegation that traveled to the country at the invitation of the National Election Council (CNE) from April 12-17, 2013. It builds on and adds to the Center’s Report on the Study Mission to the Oct. 7, 2012, Presidential Elections in Venezuela. The Carter Center did not deploy a comprehensive observer mission; it is therefore unable to give a comprehensive evaluation of the presidential elections of April 2013 as a whole.
As The Carter Center stated in an April 18 press release, the narrow difference in electoral results, coupled with strong societal polarization, call for the initiation of a new political dynamic characterized by a frank and sustained national dialogue in order to facilitate the creation of a national consensus on the pressing problems that affects the life of all Venezuelans.
While The Carter Center regrets that the electoral dispute has deepened the divisiveness among the Venezuelan people, the Center welcomes the decision of all parties to participate massively in the next December 2013 municipal elections.
In this context, the report offers observations and suggestions for consideration by the authorities, National Assembly, and people of Venezuela, including the following:
1. Clarify the regulations governing the participation of public officials and civil servants in campaign activities. Election law and regulations prohibit Venezuelan public officials and civil servants from conducting campaign activities in the exercise of their public duties. However, The Carter Center noted an extensive participation of public officials and civil servants in campaign activities. In order to limit and eradicate these practices, the regulations governing these matters should be clarified to determine whether such activity is allowed off-duty (and define “off-duty”) or not at all. The electoral authority, in turn, should determine ways to strictly enforce the agreed regulations.
2. Ensure greater campaign equity. Although the constitution requires elected officials below the rank of president to step down from their positions in order to declare their candidacy for president, it does not require a president running for re-election to do so. This gives an unequal incumbency advantage to a person running for re-election to the highest office in the land. In addition, Venezuela (alone in the region), provides no direct or indirect public financing for electoral campaigns or political organizations. Drawing on comparative experiences within the region, Venezuelan legislators and election authorities could consider several options:
a) Provide free and equitable access to public and private media for campaign messages.
b) Regulate and enforce equally campaign messages in the pre-election period.
c) Limit or prohibit the use of cadenas and inauguration of public works in a specified period prior to the elections.
d) Limit the right of public officials to campaign for members of their own party or coalition.
3. Better enforce the regulation of the use of state resources for political purposes. Venezuela law prohibits the use of public resources for political campaigns; yet national observer organizations and other NGOs have documented the use of public resources for political purposes.
4. Clarify the role of the paper receipts. Extensive pre- and post-audits have demonstrated the accuracy of the automated voting machines. Nevertheless, election regulations that provide for verification of the electronic results through a count of the paper receipts emitted by the machines for purposes of “transparency and confidence in the system,” do not specify contingencies should there be a significant discrepancy in this verification (see Carter Center report on the 2006 Venezuelan Elections).
5. Provide more information about the performance of the biometric identification system and include audits of the duplicity of fingerprints and incidences of the SAI in the published chronogram of audits. The System of Integrated Authentication (SAI) was introduced in the October 2012 elections at least in part to authenticate that the voter casting the ballot is the voter properly registered at that voting table, and to prevent multiple voting or usurpation of identity. Providing additional information after the scheduled audit in August about the performance of the machines in their first uses (October and December 2012 and April 2013) will help inform all Venezuelans about the extent to which the new system serves its intended purpose.
6. Improve the quality of the voting experience on election day. A number of observations by national observer organizations and political campaigns indicated serious issues of influence or pressure on voters. Provisions to improve the quality of the voting experience and ensure that each citizen is able to vote freely and voluntarily could include:
a) Instruct the security and election officials tasked with ensuring the security and conduct of the elections to ensure that all accredited party witnesses, and national observers properly accredited by the CNE, are guaranteed access to the voting centers the entire election day, according to the norms.
b) Instruct voting table volunteer workers on the proper procedures for assisted voting, including the specified limits for each assistant to help only one person.
c) Examine ways to better enforce the electoral regulations regarding limits on campaign propaganda and the guarantees of free access, without intimidation, of voters to the voting centers to vote and to participate in the citizen verification afterwards.
d) Define the criteria for receiving CNE credentials as a party witness and consider providing them with pins or apparel that identifies them as such.
7. Audit and update the electoral registry. The CNE has achieved a very inclusive voters list, with 97 percent of the population inscribed. Questions about the list in Venezuela have tended to focus more on the possibilities of over-inclusion (unremoved deceased persons, homonyms, foreigners not eligible to vote) than on exclusion of citizens from the list. Although the campaigns received a copy and participated in and signed off on a review of the electoral registry used for both the October and April presidential elections, continuous updating of electoral registries poses a persistent challenge, particularly when removal of deceased persons requires action by a family to provide a death certificate to the civil registry and in turn to update the electoral registry.
8. Examine the legal framework. From January-March 2013, the Venezuelan Supreme Court made several interpretations of the constitution that were subsequently questioned by the opposition, including some individual suits presented to the Supreme Court. The disputed interpretations arose in part because the constitution does not clearly specify every contingency for the temporary or permanent absence of a re-elected president. Given the constitutional modification in 2009 to permit indefinite re-election of president, governors, and mayors, examination of the implementing laws to clarify these issues may be warranted.
9. Appoint election authorities. Article 296 of the Venezuelan constitution provides for the appointment of the rectors of the National Election Council for seven-year terms by a two-thirds vote in the National Assembly, from nominations made by civil society, law faculties of national universities, and the Citizen Branch of government. It further specifies that these rectors should be persons without ties to political organizations. The terms of three of the current five rectors expired at the end of April 2013. Yet given the current stand-off in the National Assembly it is highly unlikely the necessary two-thirds vote will occur. Agreements between the parties to ensure the election of an independent and impartial electoral authority would help strengthen confidence in the electoral system.
The Center will release a final report at the conclusion of the electoral process. The final report will include the response from the Supreme Court to the opposition’s legal challenges and the upcoming audit of the fingerprint machines. The Carter Center mission was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct for International Observers that were adopted at the United Nations in 2005 and have been endorsed by more than 40 intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations.