De Reserva a Presidente: My Day as a CNE Table Member

It wasn’t a part of the plan, but last Sunday I had to be “presidente de mesa” at my voting center. It would eventually prove to be a day full of improvisation, order and plot twists.

A CNE official dropped in for a visit during the hours when I was presidente de mesa of our voting station. Someone on our team asks him, casually, why they had to move voting centers from its original location and the answer killed us because it was so honest:

“We relocated all those that refused to join for the ANC.”

“If a center was to choose which electoral event it was going to participate in,” he said, “then that center couldn’t be trusted.”

It was of the highlights (or low points) of a day full of plot-twists. I’d planned a trip to the beach with the family but, as a matter of habit, I always check my ID on the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) page prior to every election.  Lo and behold, I was on the reserve as team member taking charge of my center.

“We relocated all those that refused to join for the ANC.”

How did I end up as president?

Well, I was told to be at the Ricardo Peñalver voting center, in Chacao, at 5 a.m. on Election Day. I arrived at 5:15; the school where I’ve always voted was part of the CNE’s “nucleación,” a fancy word meaning that it’s been merged with another, less accessible, voting center. This one’s open (unlike many I saw on the way) and, as I enter, the dim light makes for a somber atmosphere — even the Plan República soldiers, here to safeguard the show, are in a dark mood. None of the presidentes de mesa had arrived, so we sit and wait: voting stations cannot be installed without them. Almost an hour later, we get a bathroom, a porta-potty on the sidewalk about 50 meters away from the front door.

Dawn breaks, in walks the first presidente, and off we go.

In Table 7, only two reserve guys show up, including myself. The MUD witness is an outspoken yet pleasant lady and the PSUV witness is a nice man in his 40s. The CNE operator is an 18 year old firecracker and the presidente de mesa is the most confounding member of the team; she clashes with the PSUV witness right away, over non-existent issues with his attitude, which, up to that point had been flawless. Then she gets into it with the CNE operator, and things really start to heat up. She berates her for being constantly on that phone (true), and how that’s affecting her work (false). The CNE coordinator is called, and she explains to everybody that the operator has to be on her phone constantly, to “send important codes to the CNE.” Our dear leader is having none of it, though; and as soon as the coordinator leaves, she resumes the back-and-forth with the operator.

Eventually, it’s enough; the firecracker operator contacts a CNE Supervisor, asking for the removal of the presidente. At this stage, I was a jack-of-all-trades in our table, but with our president removed, I found myself nominated for the spot. Being honest with you, it was intimidating, but it also gave me a front row seat to the show… I mean, process.

The CNE coordinator is called, and she explains to everybody that the operator has to be on her phone constantly, to “send important codes to the CNE.

One of the first things you notice is how the CNE logistics team had their personnel well fed and hydrated, ignoring us simple folk. A small team of very motivated MUD volunteers had a never-ending string of food and drinks available for everyone, thank God. This helped smooth out the political differences and everyone got their share.

At 5:00 pm, the stream of voters slowed down to a trickle. I was no longer the acting president — the real one had groveled her way back to the table, but my tenure was truly eye-opening. The process is crazy strenuous. Our PSUV witness, now friends with everyone at the station, showed his expertise and technical prowess in the closing stages of the show. Everything is checked and double checked, everyone gets his or her copy of the totals and actas. Three ballot boxes are picked at random for manual counting, and they’re audited vote by vote against the tally. Then these results are given to both the MUD and the PSUV, and both witnesses and the presidente de mesa have to sign on everything.

That was the biggest twist of all, our Cotillón Electoral was flawlessly prepared and the actas system is impressive. It makes the whole thing seem clean for everyone involved… and maybe that’s where the devil’s at.