Reality Check: Fair Elections Will Take Time

The third item in Caretaker President Guaidó’s plan, organizing free and fair elections, would take three months at the very minimum. And it's not just about getting rid of the chavista die-hards on the electoral board.

The head of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena (C), offers a press conference in Caracas on August 2, 2017 during which she denied allegations that the turnout figure over Venezuela's new assembly was manipulated. The legitimacy of a powerful new assembly in Venezuela being sworn in on Wednesday was thrown further into question when the voting technology firm involved in its election said the turnout figure was "manipulated." Lucena, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, had said there had been "extraordinary turnout" of more than eight million voters, 41.5 percent of the electorate. / AFP PHOTO / Federico PARRA
Photo: Noticiero 52, retrieved.

Restoring trust in the electoral system to guarantee competitive elections that allow alternation in power is a task that can’t be resolved in the short term, regardless of what Article 233 of the National Constitution establishes. In today’s Venezuela, 30 days won’t be enough to celebrate a presidential election.

The manipulation of turnout data in the process to elect National Constituent Assembly members in 2017, and tampering with regional elections held in August that year, swelled the ranks of abuses that electoral observation organizations have been systematically decrying about the National Electoral Council.

Guaidó himself has explained that the path to competitive elections goes through, at least, four factors:

  • Renewing the CNE;
  • Updating the Electoral Registry;
  • Prior inspections;
  • Void political disqualifications.

The appointment of new CNE authorities is a political issue unresolved in recent years, and it was one of the main causes behind the failure of negotiations between Nicolás Maduro’s government and the Venezuelan opposition in the Dominican Republic.

The eight CNE authorities were appointed between 2013 and 2015 by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, usurping the National Assembly’s functions. Unlike what happened in 2003, when the TSJ temporarily appointed the electoral authorities for the recall referendum against Hugo Chávez, this time the TSJ made the appointments explicitly saying they weren’t temporary. For instance, Tibisay Lucena was appointed as chairwoman until 2023.

New authorities aren’t enough

In today’s Venezuela, 30 days won’t be enough to celebrate a presidential election.

One of the main demands of the international community is for new elections held with the presence of qualified international observation. If this holds, it’d be at least three to six months before technicians and specialists from the European Union or the Organization of American States can join the electoral process. Besides the obligatory political guarantees (such as legalizing political parties that have been invalidated) the main requirements of a new election that complies with the majority of international standards can be comprised in six broad topics:

  • Guaranteeing that Venezuelans abroad can vote.

According to the latest update of the Electoral Registry, scarcely 101,431 Venezuelans abroad are authorized to vote, even though the amount of Venezuelan immigrants is estimated at four million citizens.

  • Inspection of the voter registry.

In the elections of 2017 and 2018, CNE authorities violated the National Constitution and the Framework Law of Electoral Processes by holding the processes 10 weeks after the official call. If all the minimum periods established in the Venezuelan electoral legislation are tallied up, there must be at least six months between the formal call and the elections.

  • Regulation about closing times of the electoral stations.

According to the Framework Law of Electoral Processes, voting stations must close at 6:00 p.m. on election day, unless there are voters still in line. However, the review of electoral results shows that tables (in historically chavista areas) usually remain open between 6:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. These tables usually show superior vote counts in favor of chavista candidates.

If this holds, it’d be at least three to six months before technicians and specialists from the European Union or the Organization of American States can join the electoral process.

  • Non-partisan appointment of electoral boards.

The law for appointing regional and municipal Electoral Board members must be carefully followed, particularly regarding the appointment of voting station members. In the last elections, 90% of regional board members were hand-picked by the CNE.

  • 19 technical inspections for the voting platform.

At least 19 inspections for the voting platform must be guaranteed, on the software in general, the production of voting machines, indelible ink (the CNE eliminated this part of the process for the last three electoral processes), voting logbooks and sorting out voting centers and stations on election day.

In practice, most of these elements depend on what the electoral authorities decide, which means that the proper renewal of the CNE is an essential matter, and that would take much more than 30 days, even without the existing political crisis.

In other words, chavismo corrupted Venezuelan elections to its core, and fixing that could be the first step to the reconstruction.

Eugenio Martínez

Journalist (UCAB), who has covered 23 elections in Venezuela. He worked at El Universal for 17 years. He has authored two books about the 2006 elections and the Venezuelan student movement.