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VENEZUELAN REGIONAL ELECTIONS NOVEMBER 23RD 2008 INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS PROJECT FINAL REPORT


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The state and regional elections held on 23 November 2008 in Venezuela were largely peaceful and well-organized. Turnout was high, with the CNE reporting that 65.5% of the registered population participated.

The National Guard, Plan República,

maintained order throughout election day. The entire voting process across the country was fully automated and a fingerprinting system was also implemented. However, there were irregularities observed throughout the voting process, some of which were consistently observed at multiple polling centers and multiple tables within individual centers. Nuevas Premisas, a group composed of students from Universidad Metropolitanta, Universidad Simón Bolívar, and others, deployed a total of 21 international observers and 18 national observers to approximately two dozen polling centers around Caracas. The international observers, representing the United States, Kenya, Brazil, Chile, Canada, Spain, and Turkey, were accredited by the CNE through four political parties: Acción Democrática, COPEI, Jusiticia Primero and Podemos.

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OBSERVED IRREGULARITIES

Political Campaigning Overall, the rules regarding political campaigning around and within polling centers were poorly respected. Campaign advertisements appeared within 200 meters of a majority of the observed polling centers. The following irregularities were among those observed: -

Red trucks broadcasting propaganda on loudspeakers outside Liceo Andrés Bello, Escuela Coromoto in José Félix Ribas in Petares,

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Waters distributed inside polling center Rafael Napoleon Baute in Petares by a man in a PSUV hat; meals were distributed by people in PSUV apparel outside the center,

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Candidates Emilio Grateron and Liliana Hernández were observed shaking hands and conversing with voters in line for the polls inside the center at Liceo Andrés Bello while being interviewed by the press.

Military Presence Some voters reported feeling intimidated by the military presence in the polling stations. The National Guard exercised discretion over who was allowed to enter the stations, as well as which election rules were enforced. In one of the observed polling stations, some of the armed guards stood in close proximity to the voting tables and citizens in the process of voting. The following irregularities were among those observed: -

At the Centro Formación de Socialismo, armed National Guardsmen stood beside voting tables,

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A man reported being threatened with arrest for complaining about the wait at Liceo Andrés Bello on Avenida de Mexico in Chacao,

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At Colegio Corazón de María, voters were initially turned away from the voting 3


center for improper attire, defined by the National Guard as shorts or tank tops, -

International observers were not granted immediate access to polling centers despite valid accreditation.

Operational Irregularities There was a pattern of illegal direction from within the voting booth, in which one table member or witness would direct and assist multiple voters from within the voting booth. Faulty machines were not replaced in due time, and manual voting was not implemented when necessary. -

In INCE polling station, time-extension tickets were placed into the ballot boxes along with standard voting receipts,

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Tables were rarely fully-staffed by members of the required professional categories,

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In JosĂŠ Felix Ribas center in Petares, the president of table ten, who was without a badge, stood within the voting booth and indicated a specific candidate to a voter on the machine touch pad (See Figure 1),

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Witnesses’ identification did not state which parties they represented,

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Machine misprinted voter choices and was not replaced in Post Grado de la Universidad Metropolitana.

Figure 1:

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Table 10 of JosĂŠ Felix Ribas in Petares, Photo by International Observer

Post election irregularities Some polling stations did not close on time, even when there were no voters left in line. In some polling stations, the public was not immediately allowed to participate in the auditing of the votes. There were also reports of intimidation of the public by armed men in partisan-colored shirts on motorcycles circling the polling stations. -

At Liceo AndrĂŠs Bello on Avenida de MĂŠxico in Chacao, the National Guard barred entry to the public audit process. When questioned, representatives of the Guard said that there was not enough space for observers; this later proved untrue. Members of one table said that the table members had voted not to admit auditors. One auditor was ultimately admitted to observe this table. Members of another table said that auditors were not admitted because it would take too much time. No auditors were admitted to observe at any of the other 22 tables.

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At Santiago León de Caracas, there was a dispute at eight pm, over whether the backlog of voters at one table should prevent the remaining tables from closing. The official CNE director of the center prevented tables without voters from closing until no voters remained in the center.

RECOMMENDATIONS  Provide more comprehensive voting instruction with sample ballots in the months leading up to the election and inside the polling centers,  Increase public awareness of the roles of table members and witnesses in order to allow citizens to identify irregularities,  Establish a channel for reporting complaints in which voters would have confidence in their anonymity,  Increase diversity of international observers,  Publicize the right to the auditing process,  Respect the privileges of accredited observers,  Simplify ballot design as much as possible,  Provide expedited and ground-level access to voting tables for elderly voters,  Reexamine the fingerprint process for purpose and efficiency,  Ensure that those responsible for keeping polling centers free of political campaigning enforce those regulations,  Allow the public full access to the auditing process, with no intimidation.

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CONCLUSION This report represents the observations of the 21 international observers coordinated by Nuevas Premisas. In general, the election was peaceful, orderly, and generally democratic. However, our observation efforts identified several significant irregularities that should be considered by Venezuelan authorities and the international community. We found the observation process vital to improving the general transparency of the election and strongly urge that international observation of Venezuelan elections be continued and expanded.

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Election Report Venezuela