A 48-member international delegation observed the July 30 elections in 16 states and the Federal District. The Carter Center observers visited more than 270 mesas. Our observers were welcomed throughout the country by the Venezuelan authorities and citizens.
We congratulate the Venezuelan people for their enthusiastic participation in yesterday´s elections. We are extremely impressed with citizens´ desire to exercise their right to vote and commend them on their patience and peacefulness. Our delegates found political party witnesses in almost all voting sites, representing a variety of parties at the national and local levels. In addition, the voting table workers had the basic knowledge necessary, worked diligently to instruct the voters on properly completing the ballots, and strived to overcome the difficulties of this complicated election process.
We found the new CNE to be a professional group who, under difficult circumstances, organized a complex election in a short time period. The Plan Republica (military forces) again provided the voting centers with superb logistical support and order on election day. Finally, domestic observation groups and other international observers positively contributed to this election.
A variety of factors led to long delays in voting in all parts of the country. In the sites that we observed, we found that on average voting tables did not open until between 7 and 8 a.m., mainly due to technical problems and a lack of table workers. Moreover, in approximately 20 percent of automated tables that we observed, the machines did not function properly. The primary problems observed were voting machines that completely failed to work and machines that did not accept presidential or gubernatorial ballots.
Another cause of delay appeared to be the lack of voter understanding about how to mark ballots, and therefore they required additional time and assistance to complete their voting. Finally, we found that at some sites the number of registered voters exceeded the tables´ capacity. Although there was understandable frustration on the part of voters, we again commend them on their patience and toleration of delays.
The Carter Center observed the December 1998 elections and has had a continuous presence in Venezuela since the Constitutional Assembly elections in July 1999. Generally, the campaign climate for the July elections was improved in terms of reduced violence and negative rhetoric. However, we continued to receive some complaints of harassment of journalists, candidates, and opposition supporters. The media coverage of the July elections appeared more limited, perhaps due to election fatigue or lack of resources by opposition candidates.
In the spirit of international cooperation and respect, we offer the following recommendations for future electoral processes:
- Venezuela uses state of the art automated systems that require continued maintenance and testing. We urge more attention to and transparency in these two aspects in future elections. Additionally, contingency plans and back up materials should be available and made known to poll workers to deal with instances of machine and ballot failures.
- Confidence in automated systems is raised through public testing, national simulations, and widespread dissemination of those results. This election lacked these elements, and we urge the CNE to insure that they occur in future elections.
- Storage and security of voting machines and materials is vital in any election, but was even more so after the suspension of the May elections. Reports of electoral machines and ballot failures and other problems with control of the ballots and machines indicate the need for greater attention to the manner of storage and security.
- A fundamental element of democracy is the right of people to choose their representatives. An informed choice requires information about the candidates, their messages, and how to properly cast the ballot. In this election, late distribution of the list of candidates and the educational voting materials compromised the ability of the voters to make this choice.
- In the future, we recommend early distribution of Gacetas and sample ballots; greater attention to voter education, particularly through the news media, political parties, and civil society; and clearer posting of corrections to the ballots within the voting stations.
- In addition to training voters on the correct procedures, we would suggest more comprehensive training of all poll workers and political party watchers on such issues as dealing with problems, manual voting procedures to ensure consistency of decision making in the vote count, closing the table, and the importance of a secret vote. In some cases, we also noted an absence at the tables of CNE employees, who could have assisted with voter education and helped resolve emerging problems.
Undoubtedly there will be problems in this complex election. We encourage all parties and candidates to use the legal dispute resolution process to voice any complaints.
The pivotal July 30 elections provided opportunity for many different political parties to compete for office from the mayoral to the presidential level. The emergence of new political organizations, domestic monitoring groups, and civil society involvement in these elections is a hopeful sign for democratic institution building in Venezuela.
With the completion of the July 30 elections, an opportunity now presents itself to conduct a review of the entire election process, giving special attention to updating and validating the electoral registry and to candidate and party registration criteria and deadlines.
We will closely follow the planned audit process, the final announcement of results, and any appeals that may follow the peaceful election day. We will make our final conclusions, in a written report, at the end of this period.
We would again like to thank the electoral authorities, the candidates, political parties and Venezuelan citizens for their invitation and warm welcome to us as international observers of this important democratic exercise.