All Venezuelan Migrants Must Vote Too

We're all waiting to see how the current stalemate in Venezuela will be resolved, but free and democratic elections should be the outcome of the crisis, and that means including around 3 million Venezuelans of the diaspora, even if they have no regular status.

Photo: The Conversation, retrieved.

A January 2019 Special Report on Electoral Conditions by the ONG Súmate spelled out 12 conditions that must be fulfilled for Venezuela to hold free, democratic and constitutional elections. Our January “reality check” article also enumerated the hurdles to a free and fair election, but there’s one that, at least I, as an advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees (and as a migrant myself) must ensure we all pay extra attention to: the right of Venezuelan migrants and refugees to vote in the next election.

According to official data, between 2017 and 2019, 3.2 million Venezuelans were forced to leave the country. 80% of them are in South American countries, the same that have recognized Juan Guaidó as caretaker President. Estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) project that, by the end of 2019, this number could rise to 5.4 million.

Would these Venezuelans be able to vote?

According to the Venezuelan Constitution, yes. Since 1993, voting in presidential elections and referenda are guaranteed to Venezuelans abroad. The conundrum here is that, while our Magna Carta enshrines this right for all Venezuelans, the Ley LOPRE, or the regulatory instrument for electoral processes, contradicts the Constitution, indicating that “only those voters abroad who have residency or any other regime that certifies regular status outside of Venezuela will be able to vote.”

While our Magna Carta enshrines this right for all Venezuelans, the Ley LOPRE, or the regulatory instrument for electoral processes, contradicts the Constitution.

This is a major problem: around 60% of Venezuelans in the diaspora have irregular status, according to recent data by the OAS and the Migration Policy Institute. If Venezuelan legislators don’t fix this, around 1,920,000 Venezuelans, that is 60% of the 3.2 Venezuelans in the diaspora, won’t be able to vote.

More than 100 countries in the world have external voting without special or restrictive requirements. The few that have them, generally include two: those relating to either the circumstances of the stay abroad (activity-related restrictions) or the length of time for which the citizen has been out of the country (length of stay abroad restriction). “If large groups of citizens have left the country for political reasons,” IDEA says, “it can be assumed that the ruling party will not favor extending voting rights to these groups.” This helps explain why the LOPRE law contradicts the Constitution and why Venezuelans are facing restrictions to exercise their vote abroad.

The current Venezuelan Electoral Register only has 101,431 voters abroad with authorization to exercise this right. That’s only 22.89% of the overall universe of Venezuelans abroad who should vote, according to 2013 data reported by an International IDEA report. Even then (2013), this right was excluding around 80% of Venezuelans abroad.

A group of countries in Europe (Croatia, France, Italy and Portugal), others in Africa such as Algeria, Angola, Cape Verde and Mozambique, and at least three in the Americas (Colombia, Ecuador and Panama) allow their nationals not only to vote abroad, they also facilitate their right to elect their own representatives to national legislature.

Perhaps now, with 3.2 million Venezuelans abroad, this is a discussion we should have. Allowing a representative of the diaspora to have a voice in the National Assembly would establish a more deliberate link of Venezuelans abroad, the promotion of their agenda and those of their children, and influence on the political decision making of the country.

For now, time to work on eliminating the residency requirement, and to register these millions of Venezuelans in the Electoral Registry abroad.


*** Points of view are personal. They do not represent the position of the OAS.