Sunday, June 04, 2006

How does the CNE fraud works? Arguing with academia


Since 2004 there has been a generalized mistrust of the Venezuelan Electoral Board, CNE, which is considered by a large sector of the Venezuelan electorate to be rigging the elections to favor Chavez and his candidates. This mistrust has been duly noted by the international observers which have been urging the CNE to take corrective steps to bring people back to the voting stations. Last December the catastrophic 75% abstention (the official, but very questioned number) indicates clearly that the huge majority of Venezuelan people see little point in voting (no to mention that to this date we still officially do not know the result of the null votes of last December, reported to be unusually high). Today I did get a confidential survey about to come out (or so I was told) where one question as to the CNE trustworthiness indicates that only a third of the country had a favorable opinion of the CNE, obviously coinciding with the hard core chavismo who does not mind if Chavez gets some suspicious help in getting good electoral result.

Now, assuming that indeed the CNE is cheating, how does this take place? There have been uncounted numbers of accusations, hypothesis and tall tales going around. This blogger personally at this point is convinced that some form of cheating is taking place, if anything by the intimidatory nature of the voting act which scares away people. This is enough for me to condemn unambiguously the CNE even if I were shown that there is no trickery in the ballot counting per se. The CNE should promote voting and not scare people away with finger printing machines, illegible ballots that are not counted anyway, doubt about the secret of voting, and more.

The main problem

Of all of these theories a consensus has emerged. The more than suspicious inflation of the electoral rolls has led to believe that there are thousand of fake voters that can be easily made to vote electronically somewhere. Evidence comes from two directions: numerous reports of irregularities from an unusual number of 100+ year old folks, to scores of people with the same last name born on the same day. But the more damming evidence is the refusal by the CNE to let a real independent audit take place. For all its excuses the CNE stalling continually raises more and more suspicions. It cannot be helped.

How would cheating work? Very simple. If the paper ballots are not counted, it is very easy with a few operators to program remotely some Smartmatic machines to have “electronic” voting of way more people than actually showed up to vote (remember that voting machines were not supposed to communicate with Caracas CNE during the voting hours, but they did before the tallies were printed!). Since the CNE now names the voting stations attendants and limits citizen participation and surveillance, not to mention that it does not count paper ballots, who knows what really happened. Adding a million ballots in a one question vote (a president election or a referendum) would not be difficult at all. Removing a million from the opposition candidates to switch them to Chavez would be equally easy. Remember: paper ballots are not counted and the CNE decides which centers are audited and when.

At some point inside the CNE (and presumably in Chavez offices) the notion that such a doubt could cast on Chavez own legitimacy dawned. Thus an international organization, CAPEL, was called to make an audit. Once the methodology was published, very few people outside of the CNE of chavismo supported such an audit. As expected that audit found only “minor” problems. Thus mistrust grew even more and the new CNE nomination did not help at all in dispelling some of that doubt.

The current situation

Something had to be done. Since the CNE was obviously paralyzed on that issue, the three main universities of Venezuela, the only ones with the expertise and resources to undertake such a statistical analysis, offered to set up an audit. The CNE could not refuse outright, of course, but it limited itself to say that it would receive the proposal and consider it. Quickly the CNE realized that indeed such a proposal was coming and they decided to stall again by “inviting” other campuses to present proposals. Unfortunately the other campus were mediocre to underachieving universities that have cast their lot with chavismo hoping to get an increase in funding.

In Venezuela only the UCAB, UCV and USB have the personnel and resources to conduct such a complicated audit. The other that joined the process are UBV, UNERG, UNERMB, IVIC, UMC, UNESR and are little bit more than Mickey Mouse campuses, but how so “Bolivarian” (I have my own source to confirm that, working in the appropriate ministry). Let’s just go over three of them. The UBV is that famous Bolivarian University founded in 2003 and which has still to graduate its first student. The IVIC is the once prestigious research institution which was imposed a chavista director in spite of a non chavista being elected by its staff and whose delegates to the CNE are of course appointed by such director and thus make it as irrelevant as the other ones. The UNERG of which I had the sad experience to hire one of its graduates to have to let it go within a couple of months realizing that if this kid was one of the best of his class, then I did not want to know whether the lower ranking kids knew how to resolve and plot y=ax+b… No, anyone that knew of the Venezuelan university situation knew off the bat that the invitation made by the CNE to these universities was a delay tactic.

Sure enough they quickly came out with a proposal that strangely resembled the CAPEL one. Whereas UCAB, USB and UCV came with another one that included crossing the CNE electoral roll with other registry systems such as the national identity cards or the demographic evolution of the country. Any real scientist will tell you that to check a probelem you need internal and external control methods, and the CAPEL like proposal lacked such controls. Since the CNE asked that all campuses agree on a single proposal, stalemate became unavoidable. When the three “serious” campus emitted a communiqué to state their position, CNE head Tibisay Lucena was prompt in coming out and pretend to be “shocked” by the position of these campus. Not only she revealed her true colors in the matter (in case anyone had any doubt) but it also revealed that the way things are going on: if there is a real audit at the end, it will be too late to be considered for the December election.

The solution?

Time runs. There is no point in arguing with the CNE. The only thing left is to count all the ballots next December (Colombia and Chile do, what is the problem?). If the Electoral Registry is as trustworthy as the CNE claim, there should be no inconsistency between the counted ballots and the electronic ones. That will rest the issue once and for all and the opposition would look like the paranoid fools that chavismo has been claiming they are.

It is just that simple. The opposition candidates should 1) not argue needlessly with the CNE, it is clearly useless, and 2) not delay in taking a stand on this subject otherwise they will be alone at the polls. Let the CNE assume its responsability alone: if it does not mend its ways, there will always be time to do anything from withdrawing from the race to riot in the streets. With a Chavez by the way who will have a hard time to explain how he got 10 million votes when no one lined up at the polling stations to vote.

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