Re-arranging the Pieces

A massive, last-minute relocation of polling stations was just announced by CNE ahead of Sunday's elections, in a move that is dim and sneaky and should surprise no one.

“I’m looking for the address but it’s not even on Google Maps.”

Alfonso, a 26 year old from Caracas, just found out that he will no longer vote in Universidad Nueva Esparta, his regular voting center, but in the Unidad Educativa Nacional Bolivariana La Unión, a place he has never been to and has no idea where it is.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) just changed the location of several voting centers, mostly in densely opposition states, in an apparent gambit to win the upcoming gubernatorial elections.

“What a shitshow” Alicia, a young woman from Chacao, tells me. “I vote with my grandpa here in the neighborhood, and now I don’t know where we’re supposed to go on Sunday.”

The actual number of centers relocated is 205

Although there’s no official statement from the CNE, boardmember Tania D’Amelio announced the relocation via Twitter, citing “safety” and “infrastructure” concerns as the main reasons, and asking voters to call 0800 VOTEMOS (08008683667) to check which and where their new voting stations are.

With four days to go, that’s all she said.

“They are making it harder for people” says Liliana Hernández, MUD’s elections coordinator for this election. “The government knows what we know, and this is their way to dupe the voters on October 15th.”

The actual number of centers relocated, she adds, is 205.

According to Eugenio Martínez, a journalist and expert on the Venezuelan electoral system, the decision jeopardizes victories for the opposition in the states of Miranda (30 centers affected) and Aragua (36 centers affected). Overall, this decision could affect 500,000 registered voters.

“The decision was made, allegedly, for security reasons” he said, “repeating a speech from July 30th that doesn’t make sense. They’re moving voters from San Ignacio, where everything is usually calm, to Campo Alegre, where a few months ago there was nothing but tear gas.”

But the CNE’s move makes sense if you consider the political and economic meltdown, and all the polls predicting a major opposition triumph. And Martínez agrees: “They’re changing centers from cities to rural areas, with the obvious purpose of affecting voter’s rights to participate in the election.”

Overall, this decision could affect 500,000 registered voters.

“For example, they switched all the voters from [middle class] Universidad Metropolitana to a poorer area where you can’t add more voting booths. They need the opposition to abstain. They are trying to take control in centers where, in normal conditions, the opposition could have an easy victory.”

The MUD faces a new challenge with little time and tools, so Martínez advices strategic thinking: people at the voting centers must inform their fellow voters and guarantee their transportation.

Perhaps this move might even change the minds of some disaffected opposition voters who now see casting a ballot in a far away polling station as a way to push back on the regime’s authoritarian practices.

“I don’t care if I have to drive 30 minutes” Karina, a 26 year old caraqueña says, while learning the news. “This means that the Government is scared. I don’t know where I’m voting, but I’ll find out and I’ll definitely vote.”

It seems that the government just did the opposition a favor by giving Sunday’s election the epic narrative that no amount of campaigning and mediocre candidates could, up to now.