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Pre-Election Statement on Venezuela Elections, May 25, 2000

The Carter Center continues to observe the electoral process, postponed since May 25th. At that time, we applauded the decision to postpone the "Mega-elections" so that electoral authorities could have the opportunity to better prepare and inform the citizens of Venezuela about their election options and how to vote. The resignation and reselection of the Consejo Nacional Electoral was a step toward credibility.

To further strengthen confidence in the process, we suggest that a concerted effort be made to educate voters, as well as carrying out public testing and simulations of the vote-count system, development of the proposed audits of the vote-count machines, and an open policy of communication among the CNE, the candidates and political parties.

The Carter Center and its Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers were invited by the CNE and the three presidential candidates to observe the elections. Since August 1999, The Carter Center has maintained a constant presence in Venezuela, closely monitoring the constitutional process. Between December 1999 and July 2000, we have sent six official missions. Since April, we have established an office in Caracas, which is directed by Andrés Araya Montezuma, for the purpose of following the campaign.

A delegation of forty election monitors, headed by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Rodrigo Carazo, was present to observe and analyze the suspended Mega-elections of May 28. We will return on July 27 with an international delegation led by former president Jimmy Carter, former Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo and former Uruguayan president Luis Alberto Lacalle.

As international observers, we attempt to analyze the process in its entirety, including the preliminary phases, during the election and after the electoral process is completed. On this occasion, the Carter Center has returned to Venezuela with a new pre-electoral delegation including former president Rodrigo Carazo, Dr. David Meyers and Dr. Laura Neuman, who have had the opportunity to meet with the new Consejo Nacional Electoral, the vice president of Venezuela, the candidates, the political parties and other political actors, and the Audit Committee.

After speaking with the candidates and political parties, we believe that the continued involvement of non-governmental organizations in the electoral process is extremely positive.

Our preliminary observations are as follows:

1. The Supreme Court (TSJ) postponed the Mega-elections, planned for May 28, 2000. The Court's decision emphasized the need for increased voter information, particularly candidate names and the correct way to vote. We share the TSJ's belief than an effective informational campaign for voters is essential and we recommend that the CNE make its best efforts to: .

a. Freely distribute the electoral materials to all of the States, such as the Electoral Lists (Gacetas Electorales) with the names of all candidates and sample ballots;

b. Disseminate complete and simple voting instructions, utilizing all media sources;

c. Give voters the opportunity to verify their correct polling site;

d.. Explain to all voters the formula used for determining representatives chosen by proportional and nominal votes in the National and State Assemblies. .

We believe it is very important that the political parties and the media continue making a concerted effort to assist in the distribution of information, and that they be given access to the electoral voter registry and database of candidates.

2. Testing and simulations of the automated voting system are a way of improving the process. We suggest that these be carried out publicly, along with the participation of political parties and civil society organizations, allowing for the greatest amount and quality of technical information.

3. The Carter Center has supported the Audit Committee, which is made up of members of Venezuelan civil society, since its formation in April in their preparation of terms of reference and in choice of companies to carry out audits of the automated voting system, with the goal of creating transparency and confidence in the process. We believe it is fundamental for the CNE to continue supporting external audits by experts, in order to improve confidence in the process. We regret the CNE's delays in approving the audits since, due to the lack of time, it will now be more difficult. However, we hope that, through extraordinary efforts, the audits can take place..

We are concerned about indications that the July 30 elections may have a high abstention rate. We understand that in the past two years, there have been a number of elections and that there may be voter fatigue. However, high voter participation is essential to guarantee the strengthening of Venezuelan democratic institutions and a democratic institutional framework. The Carter Center hopes that all Venezuelans will use this opportunity to elect their authorities and that no obstacles are created that may impede turnout.

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