Vote tam­per­ing charges rock Venezuela regime’s plans for as­sem­bly.

Maduro sup­port­ers push for­ward


CARACAS, VENEZUELA | The gov­ern­ment and elec­tion of­fi­cials found them­selves on the de­fen­sive Wed­nes­day fol­low­ing rev­e­la­tions that turnout fig­ures had been ma­nip­u­lated in a cru­cial vote for an allpow­er­ful con­stituent as­sem­bly in Venezuela, cast­ing a dark shadow over so­cial­ist Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s hopes to use the as­sem­bly to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion and ce­ment his hold on power.

The of­fi­cial count of vot­ers in Sun­day’s elec­tion was off by at least 1 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the head of the vot­ing tech­nol­ogy firm Smart­matic — a find­ing cer­tain to sow fur­ther dis­cord over a body that has been granted vast au­thor­ity to over­ride every branch of gov­ern­ment.

Re­sults re- corded by Smart­matic’s sys­tems and those re­ported by Venezuela’s Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil show “with­out any doubt” that the of­fi­cial turnout fig­ure of more than 8 mil­lion vot­ers was tam­pered with, com­pany CEO An­to­nio Mug­ica told re­ports in London. The in­ter­na­tional soft­ware com­pany has pro­vided vot­ing tech­nol­ogy in Venezuela since 2004.

He did not, how­ever, spec­ify whether his com­pany’s fig­ures showed 1 mil­lion fewer, or 1 mil­lion more, vot­ers par­tic­i­pated in the elec­tion.

“Even in mo­ments of deep po­lit­i­cal con­flict and di­vi­sion we have been sat­is­fied with the vot­ing process and the count has been com­pletely ac­cu­rate,” Mr. Mug­ica said. “It is, there­fore, with the deep­est re­gret that we have to re­port that the turnout fig­ures on Sun­day, 30 July, for the con­stituent as­sem­bly in Venezuela were tam­pered with.”

The rev­e­la­tion drew an im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion from op­po­si­tion lead­ers, who have con­tended since Sun­day’s re­sults were an­nounced that the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil had in­flated the turnout count. Julio Borges, the pres­i­dent of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional As­sem­bly, said law­mak­ers were ask­ing the na­tion’s chief pros­e­cu­tor to in­ves­ti­gate elec­tion com­mis­sion mem­bers for po­ten­tial crimes.

“They are go­ing to in­stall a fraud­u­lent con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly and no one can say with cer­ti­tude that these peo­ple ... were those who won or if they were the prod­uct of a scheme,” Mr. Borges said.

De­spite the fraud al­le­ga­tions, Mr. Maduro’s sup­port­ers moved quickly in­stall the new as­sem­bly on Thursday. Around the na­tion, the 545 newly elected del­e­gates, many dressed in the rul­ing So­cial­ist Party’s sig­na­ture red, were hon­ored in cer­e­monies and given cer­ti­fi­ca­tions ac­knowl­edg­ing their new pow­ers.

Tibisay Lu­cena, the head of the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil, dis­missed Smart­matic’s voter tam­per­ing claim, call­ing it an “opin­ion” of a com­pany that played only a sec­ondary role in the elec­tion and had no ac­cess to com­plete data. “A com­pany lo­cated out­side the coun­try does not guar­an­tee the trans­parency and cred­i­bil­ity of the Venezue­lan elec­toral sys­tem,” she said.

Even be­fore Smart­matic’s al­le­ga­tions, there were grow­ing doubts over the ve­rac­ity of the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil’s of­fi­cial turnout count of 8 mil­lion. The op­po­si­tion — a siz­able por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion — boy­cotted the vote, and an in­de­pen­dent exit poll con­cluded that less than half that num­ber cast bal­lots. Op­po­si­tion lead­ers said counts from ob­servers sta­tioned in each mu­nic­i­pal­ity also sug­gested the gov­ern­ment’s num­bers were in­flated.

In an elec­tion in which vir­tu­ally all the can­di­dates were sup­port­ers of Mr. Maduro’s so­cial­ist party, voter turnout is one of the only in­di­ca­tors of how much pop­u­lar sup­port the con­stituent as­sem­bly might have.

Luis Emilio Ron­don, one of five mem­bers on the elec­toral com­mis­sion and the only who has sided with the op­po­si­tion, said Tues­day he had grave doubts about the ac­cu­racy of the vote count, in part be­cause the com­mis­sion had or­dered fewer au­dits than in pre­vi­ous elec­tions. He also said it did not use per­ma­nent ink to mark vot­ers’ fin­gers to en­sure no one votes twice.

Smart­matic, which sup­plies ser­vices world­wide, was founded by Venezue­lans in Caracas and be­gan pro­vid­ing vot­ing tech­nol­ogy dur­ing the pres­i­dency of the late Hugo Chavez, an anti-U.S. pop­ulist who was a men­tor to Mr. Maduro. In the past, op­po­si­tion mem­bers have ques­tioned the va­lid­ity of re­sults, but the firm has main­tained its im­par­tial­ity.

Luis Vi­cente Leon, pres­i­dent of Datanal­i­sis, a Caracas-based polling agency, called Smart­matic’s find­ings, “with­out a doubt, the most dev­as­tat­ing pro­nounce­ment yet for the cred­i­bil­ity” of the na­tion’s elec­toral coun­cil.

Mr. Maduro called the vote in May af­ter weeks of protests fed by anger at his gov­ern­ment over food short­ages, triple-digit in­fla­tion and high crime. He has ar­gued that the body will help end the vi­o­lence and protests that have left at least 125 dead, while also vow­ing the use the sys­tem to tar­get en­e­mies and so­lid­ify Venezuela as a so­cial­ist state.


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