Our elections are very unique with many checks and balances. They are one of the most secure in the world

Dozthor Zurlent

Before Chavez, most poor people could not vote, since they did not have IDs. In Venezuela, you need an ID to vote. In the preChavez period, when poor people wanted to get an ID, they would have to go the night before or in the early morning to the place where IDs are made. People would lose a whole day or night, waiting in lines for an ID.

Then, if they made it through hours of waiting in line, they would only receive a paper receipt showing that they applied for the ID. To people’s frustration, it could take weeks or months for them to actually receive their ID. In some cases, the government would even “lose their application” and they would have to wait in line again. The wealthy didn’t worry about waiting in line because they could pay the workers to receive their IDs immediately.

This wasn’t the conservative government’s only way of suppressing poor people from voting. They also placed the voting centers mostly in middle class neighborhoods. Many poor people had to walk very far distances to find a polling place and when they arrived at the polling places, lines would go on for blocks and blocks.

If people were able to overcome all these obstacles and arrive at the polling station, they were greeted with more hurdles. At the entrance of the polling station, everyone is given one card for each political party or person. To vote, they had to place the card of their preferred candidate in the ballot box.

To exit, they had to return all the cards of candidates they didn’t vote for to militants of right wing political parties waiting at the exit of the voting centers. The people collecting the cards then knew exactly who they voted for. They would proceed to bully or threaten people who didn’t vote for their candidates. If someone was a government worker, they could be threatened with losing their job.

This cumulation of voter suppression and the frustration with corrupt candidates of the ruling class caused extremely low voter turnout of the poor Venezuelan people, living in las favelas. Since over 60% of Venezuelans lived in poverty, the ruling class preferred them staying home, rather than voting.

What most people don’t realize, in 1998, when Chavez was elected, it was mostly middle class people who voted for him. Many poor people did not vote for him because of the voter suppression. Many middle class people favored Chavez since they were becoming increasingly worried about how the conditions of Venezuela could cause a poor person revolt against them. Many liked that Chavez was from the military and could “restore order” to the country. They did not know that he would spend the rest of his life and his presidency, fighting for the rights of the poor people, improving their living conditions and strengthening their voice in determining the direction of the country.

After Chavez won the 1998, election, he was determined to fix the voting system, so ALL Venezuelans could vote, without difficulties. He started by creating a program that would provide people with immediate IDs, so they didn’t have to wait in line or wait months to receive their IDs.

Chavez also made voter registration almost automatic. When children are 9 years old, they are brought to an office to get an ID number. When they turned 18, this number meant they were already registered, so they were able to vote. They just had to register their voting center based on their address of residency.

This ID number also prevented voter fraud. When a Venezuelan leaves the country, the ID is checked off. This way, someone else in Venezuela cannot pretend to be them and vote. The person traveling is able to vote abroad. Also, when someone dies, their ID number is immediately marked as deceased to prevent people from voting for the dead.

But presenting the proper ID is not enough to vote. There is a fingerprint machine checking the real identity of the voter. When people arrive at the polling room, they cannot vote without placing their fingerprint on a fingerprint machine and matching that fingerprint with their ID. Each ID number is assigned a specific room to vote in. If the voter passes the fingerprint test, then the fingerprint machine would activate the voting machine allowing the voter to exercise their vote.

To make voting more accessible in every neighborhood, Chavez opened up voting sites in poorer areas and added more voting rooms in each site, so voting would be faster and people wouldn’t have to wait in line for too long.

All these improvements helped people arrive at the polls to vote, but Chavez’ administration knew he had to fix the internal voting ballot system. To find the system that could provide the results faster, they analyzed voting systems from around the world. Also, companies from various countries submitted voting machines to the Venezuelan government. Interestingly enough, the Venezuelan government caught several loopholes in some of the proposals submitted by US corporations.

In the end, Chavez administration chose a system that was most democratic, with many checks and balances. The system changed where the candidate/political party cards still existed but the voter had and electronic sheet with all the candidates cards included. They just had to press the option or options of their preferences depending on the type of election and then press the VOTAR button. It was an electronic vote.

Immediately, the machine would print a paper stating how they voted. They would then proceed to deposit the paper in a sealed cardboard box. Afterwards, they would go to a table to sign the voting notebook on the page and row corresponding to their name and ID number, stating that they voted.

Once the voting process ends, the members of the voting room would proceed to electronically transmit the local results to the national servers center. Once the transmission is successful, they proceed to print the machine local results on a paper roll. They would provide a printed copy to all political parties witnessing the process which are allowed to be present during the whole journey. They would then proceed to turn off the voting machine and open the sealed box with the printout voting papers and proceed to count them. The total results on the paper roll, the signatures on the voting registration, and the voting papers must add up to be the same number.

Fifty percent of the voting rooms results are audited in the presence of the public willing to participate and the political parties witnesses, by counting the voting printout papers and matching the results with the voting machine paper roll. They must match again for every political party or individual candidate results.

While this counting is taking place, there are plenty of national and international observers from all over the world. Every Latin American country usually sends observers as does the UN.

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with this new democratic process. The opposition wants to return to the way elections were run before Chavez, to disenfranchise poor black and brown voters once again.

During the 2018 Guarimbas, President Nicolas Maduro called for people to elect a National Constituency Assembly. The opposition had, again, organized this Guarimba to create conditions for a civil war, by inciting violence. They built huge barricades, started to burn tires and placed armed gangs all over Venezuela’s voting areas. These Guarimbas blocked the streets so people could not drive. They would not even let people walk past, they would threaten to shoot them if they wanted to vote. If you read the previous blog posts, these armed gangs were funded and supported by the CIA.

The electrical system was also attacked during the time of the election through bombing and burning of electrical poles, towers and stations.

I had to leave my house at 3am, with no electricity, to go vote. It was pitch black outside. The opposition had also cut down several trees so cars couldn’t pass. My friends and I used brooms to sweep the ground to find our way and get rid of spikes that the opposition had put all over the ground to destroy the tires of vehicles daring to try to pass through. We had to cut tree trunks in several pieces and collect the spikes to open the road for people to be able to reach the voting centers. In some places, things got worse, and when armed gangs saw people willing to vote, they started shooting at them. A lot of people experienced this. In Tachira State people crossed rivers to bypass the armed gangs and be able vote. At the end of the day people had elected a new National Constituency Assembly. Peace won and guarimbas were finally defeated.

Dozthor Zurlent

EDIT (07/14/19): This post previously stated that the Carter Center supported the Venezuelan elections, as stated by one of the members of our collective. It has been brought to our attention that this was not the case, and the statement has been redacted.