What do I think: Was there fraud or not?

August 22, 2004

A lot of people have written to me asking me what I think, if there was fraud or not. The answer is I don’t know. On Monday I said unless there was evidence of fraud, the No had won, OAS and the Carter Carter had endorsed it and other than the exit poll evidence, there was no additional evidence to say there was a fraud.

Now, one has to be analytical about things. That there was fraud does not mean in my mind that Chavez lost. I have always defended Venezuelan pollsters; they have been reliable in all Presidential elections. None of them were saying that Chavez could win by such a large margin. Curiously, they were saying the SI had a chance to win by a large margin if abstention was high, and it was. But still, the margin did not get to 16% in any poll under the scenarios we have seen.


There are four possibilities in my mind:


-Chavez won by the range announced by the CNE, fraud was small, essentially irrelevant.

-There was machine malfunction

-Chavez won by a smaller margin, but the polling was too close for comfort and someone decided to do something about it.

-Chavez lost, there was massive fraud.


As far as I know, nobody thinks the machines may have malfunctioned. They had never been used under such stressful situations, I would do a test any way, and these same machines will be used in the future.


With respect to the fraud, whether massive or not. There remain in my mind a number of questions in the way things were handled that simply do not help. I have always argued that in Venezuela we have (this is not new!) a complete disregard for professionalism. People here believe in amateurs. Neither Carrasquero, nor Battaglini, nor Jorge Rodriguez have ever managed any system as complex as the CNE. In fact, Rodriguez’ managing experience was limited to his medical practice.


So maybe I am expecting too much from them. But this is one of the tragedies of Venezuela. Venezuelan Government banks are run by people with no banking experience, state companies by people with no industrial experience, the exchange control office by a former military who proves he has no knowledge of financial issues when he testifies in front of the National Assembly (but he ran a bank first!).


Thus, maybe I am being picky expecting too much from these guys. The referendum was supposed to bring peace no matter what the result; the steps should have been taken to guarantee it. Before the recall vote, I thought the worst case scenario would be a close vote, never did I imagine such a large spread could be questioned too. But there were procedures that were not followed and one has to wonder why:


-There was supposed to be a live audit of 192 machines. If this had been done, little could be said. Instead, the opposition witnesses were allowed only in 27 of these audits. Gaviria blamed it on military ignorance (an oxymoron), to me that is irresponsible. The military should have known, there is no excuse, The results of those 27 machines (see below) are 63% for the Si, 37% for the No. Gaviria called the sample too small. I agree! That is why a large one was supposed to be made!


-The CNE never answered the letter by the opposition asking for a meeting to set the rules of the audit. The decision was not even made in a meeting of the CNE Board. Why? The CD wanted to audit some centers where it thought the Si should have won as well as some where the numerical problems had surfaced. Why not allow this?


-When people began questioning the coincidences, the CNE (and the CD!) should have released the data. Instead, each side was using different terminology, which made things even more confusing. It was not until yesterday that I was able to get my hands on the data for the voting machines themselves, rather than the mesas and some 4800 mesas are still at zero votes which does not help.


-When I heard the first press conference by the President of Smartmatic I thought it was stupid not to allow questions. Well, now I understand, he can’t keep his stories straight. He has said in separate occasions: “There can be no fraud with these machines”, “If there was fraud, we did not do it” and “I can not guarantee there was no fraud”. But in any country with a semblance of a legal system, somebody should be asking him how come he said in Thursday’s Tal Cual that he knew by noon on Sunday that the “No” was winning. If the machines were not supposed to transmit until the voting center closed, how come he knew?


None of this makes me comfortable. But it does not prove anything either. Most of the questions above will never be answered. At this time, I would like somebody to model the voting process and demonstrate statistically that the coincidences in the voting machines are or not significant. I have the file at the machine level for anyone that wants to try it. (Or look at it).

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