The U.S. Should Learn From Venezuela How to Hold Elections


Hugo Chavez won the lengthy and polarized presidential race in Venezuela last month by 11 points. Many anticipated that the contest would end in a dead heat and lead to an extended, contentious battle to determine the winner, but the voting process proved to be technically error-free, and the results were uncontested.

On Election Day in the U.S., with the presidential race going down to the wire and predicted to be among the closest in history, concerns are being raised by both parties about the possibility of a drawn-out battle over the reliability and accuracy of polling systems and vote counts. Should this happen, it may be time for the greatest democracy in the world to take a lesson from Venezuela on how to develop and administer an efficient electronic voting system spanning across all stages of the electoral process.

I’ve covered Venezuelan elections as a journalist for the past 14 years. I have published dozens of articles emphasizing why the results of Venezuela’s elections truly reflect the will of the majority. During the last eight years Venezuelan electoral authorities developed a truly reliable voting system. Technically speaking, our elections are impeccable.

This year’s contest represented the first in which Chavez’s incumbency was truly at risk. His opponent, Henrique Capriles, seemed to have every advantage. Despite Chavez’s mastery of campaigning and retail politics, Capriles was younger and more athletic. Chavez’s bout with cancer had dominated Venezuela’s political media, and Capriles had Chavez on the ropes regarding his administration’s poor record of inefficiency, soaring crime rates, rising debt, high inflation, and stuttering social services.

But despite the dire predictions, the handicappers and media experts who forecast a Chavez loss and potential ensuing chaos were wrong. Capriles conceded shortly after the Consejo Nacional Electoral, Venezuela’s electoral body, announced the results. The two candidates then engaged in an informal chat that restored a sense of civility in a nation marked by upheaval.

With the implementation of a new technology-based voting system developed by a company called Smartmatic, accurate results were available almost instantly. Minutes after the last precinct closed, authorities were able to announce official results with approximately 90% of the votes accounted for. It all went off so smoothly that even Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, chief coordinator of Capriles’ supporting organization, deemed the process positive and successful.

The veracity of the voting went unchallenged thanks to an unprecedented level of auditability. Technicians from both parties and outside observers participated in more than 16 audits and tests leading up to Election Day. More than 50% of the polling stations were audited after they closed, double-checking their machine-printed tally reports by comparing them with the printed votes placed in the ballot boxes.

The result was historic. No convincing argument demonstrating electoral malfeasance has surfaced. The system worked, and the transparency of the technological process and testing of the system precluded any protest or complaints. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has called the Venezuelan electoral technology a model for other democracies.

Last month, as Venezuelans once again demonstrated their determination to solve differences through that most peaceful means, democratic elections, turnout was unprecedented, at 81%. That represented a cry for reconciliation and lasting democracy and peace. As our electoral technology continues to become stronger, I have no doubt that it will prove to be a model for elections around the world.

Eugenio Martinez covers elections for Venezuela’s newspaper El Universal and is the host of the weekly TV show El Termómetro. 

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