Monday, October 8, 2012

Venezuela pulls it through

Photo: (AP /Fernando Llano)
Last Sunday (October 7, 2012) Venezuela held a presidential election featuring six candidates. Since the very beginnings of the official campaign, three months ago, the voters’ intent was polarized towards two contenders, the incumbent President Hugo Chavez Frias, and Henrique Capriles Radonski, representing the Coalition for Democratic Unity (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, MUD).

In spite of a heated campaign, which included radically contrasting proposals, and even physical violence between the opposing sides, the election ran smoothly and voters were able to cast votes in a peaceful and civic environment. Moreover, official results were published only minutes after last precinct closed. Around 10 pm, on Election Day, Hugo Chavez was declared winner with approximately 54% of the votes, and immediately after, Henrique Capriles conceded the defeat and congratulated the re-elected President.

Besides the fact that President Chavez, and his 14-year revolution, were in for review, the Venezuelan election caught the attention world-wide as the inclusion of the biometric identification system that initiates the voting session, made of this, the first end-to-end automated national election ever. The robust platform used in Venezuela comprised 39.018 Smartmatic voting machines, with its corresponding electronic ballot and fingerprint reader device. Also, the hardware was complemented with software solutions to create electoral instruments, monitor the development on Election Day, and consolidate and publish results.

In our opinion, the transparency, efficiency and accuracy of the robust automated platform used, played a key role in shielding the vote of Venezuelans, and providing uncontested results. All parties involved in the process participated in the seventeen audits and five test carried out prior to the event. Above all the security features the system includes, the voting machines provide a paper trail record for post electoral audits. Each voter has the possibility to verify his/her vote is recorded accurately through the printed version of the vote. Also, after polling stations closed, citizens and authorities audited approximately 53% of the machines by comparing the electronic results with the paper trails deposited in the ballot boxes. In the US, voting advocates are fighting to achieve the audit of 3%-5%, this gives you an idea of how audited the results are. With such level of scrutiny possible, there was little room for shenanigans.

During the months preceding the elections, the traditional Venezuelan opinion research firms, forecasted contrasting results. A few weeks before the election, both sides were very confident of their victory. However, as with every election, the results favored only one side. The audits performed to approximately 15,000 voting machines after polls closed confirmed the accuracy of results in 100%. Both, the digital results coincided with the paper trails. The audit mechanisms gave no room for interpretation.

In these elections, automation proved to be the way to go when political and social stability at stake.