More Links in News & Events


By Jimmy Carter

After the scheduled May 28 elections were abruptly but wisely postponed, The Carter Center maintained a small staff in Caracas. We organized another observer delegation for the rescheduled elections on July 30. This was inevitably an extremely complicated procedure, with every mayor, governor, legislator, and national incumbent required to face reelection as a result of a new constitution adopted late last year.

Adding to the complexity was the use in Venezuela of a unique electronic system for tabulating and reporting ballot results for 93 percent of the voters. (The other 7 percent are in very small or remote voting places where the ballots are hand-counted.)

Directed by Laura Neuman, we assembled a superb delegation of observers, mostly scholars and experts from 18 nations, with two members of our Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers, Presidents Rodrigo Carazo of Costa Rica and Luis Alberto Lacalle of Uruguay, joining me as co-chairmen. Rosalynn and I were with the delegation for extensive briefings.

On Saturday, July 29, teams were dispatched in advance to 16 states, and we met with President Hugo Chavez, his former coup partner and now opponent, Francisco Arias Cardenas, members of the reconstituted National Election Council (CNE), U.S. Ambassador John Maisto, and a U.S. congressional delegation headed by Representatives Bill Delahunt and Cass Ballenger. One of them is likely to become chairman of the Western Hemisphere committee next year.

We found President Chavez, joined by his wife Marisabel, to be relaxed and confident about the forthcoming election, and quite interested in relations with the United States and in some programs of The Carter Center, especially our Global Development Initiative (GDI) that has been so successful in Guyana. This is an effort to recruit maximum involvement and cooperation among the general public, contending political and ethnic groups, national and international donors, and others in preparing long-range strategies for the country's development. I discussed the program with all three presidential candidates.

Candidate Arias had some concerns about the election process but expressed confidence in his ability to prevail in the upcoming contest and in the CNE, whose newly chosen members are known to be highly qualified and to represent a wide range of civic and political interests. The chairman has a graduate degree from Massachusetts Institution of Technology and is president of a major university.

We questioned the CNE about the lack of adequate and public testing of the voting machines, a post-election audit procedure that would be delayed by 12 hours, and an excessive number of voters assigned to some voting sites (mesas). They expressed confidence in the planned procedure.

On election day, our observer teams assessed voting procedures at 270 mesas and witnessed a number of problems. Contrary to the CNE claims, about 20 percent of the voting sites had serious problems with the machines, some not functioning at all and others rejecting ballots for governor or president unless they were tried repeatedly. Despite this, most voters were very patient and insisted on repeated efforts to use the machines instead of the fallback system of manual counting.

Rosalynn and I visited 36 mesas with machines and two small ones using manual counting; seven of the machines experienced difficulty during the day. Voting was finally completed throughout the country with high turnout.

Candidate Arias publicly claimed victory early in the evening, based on his own exit poll results, but our quick count and returns from CNE showed that Chavez was being reelected by a margin of 20 percent, with his coalition winning about 60 percent of the parliamentary seats and about half the governorships.

Overall, despite many malfunctioning machines and unanticipated high voter participation, the election was peaceful, and the results seemed to represent the will of the people, at least in the presidential contest. Final tabulations and audit procedures will be necessary to determine if the same statement can be made about other offices.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top