In May, I arrived in Caracas, Venezuela, as part of an international group of elected officials invited to observe the country's presidential elections on May 20.
The invitation was extended by the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is a separate branch of government charged with ensuring the reliability, transparency and efficiency of the electoral process. Under the Venezuela Constitution, adopted in 1999, there are five branches of government - Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Citizen, and Electoral.
The purpose of the international observer group was to provide independent witness to the electoral process that was in place and had been used in previous elections. We were shown the procedures that were used to test the machines and how they were stored and secured before being sent to more than 14,000 polling sites. It was impressive to see the level of detail and the procedures developed to maintain the integrity of the process.
The international group met with representatives of the presidential candidates, including two of the candidates themselves, Nicolas Maduro and Reinaldo Quijada. During the question and answer period, members of the opposition parties openly expressed their support of the electoral process managed by the CNE.
Election Day observations
On election day, the observers were divided into groups to visit different polling locations and observe the voting process first hand.
We were clearly identified as International Election Observers with our beige cap and vest. My group included an elected official from Ireland; representatives from Angola and Mozambique, who were members of their countries' Electoral Commission; and two university professors from Brazil with election experience.
We visited five polling sites in the state of Miranda, about one and one-half hours outside of the capital Caracas. Miranda is one of the areas of the country that has a large population of African descendants because of the cacao plantations.
We observed a very orderly process. Registration lists were posted to indicate which polling station a voter was assigned. There was staff available to assist persons needing help.
A biometric system was used to activate the voting panel; it had a photograph of the candidates and party colors to help voters who had difficulty reading.
Most interesting was the fact that a paper receipt was produced for each voter. The receipt was then placed in a secured box. As part of the verification process, paper ballots from some of the polling stations were counted to confirm the votes registered by the machine at the polling station.
Some of the polling locations had more activity than others. Each location also had observers representing the candidates. The persons we spoke with included CNE poll workers, opposition candidate observers as well as voters, who stated that there had not been any problems and that they did not have any concerns. Members of our group, with the exception of the representative from Ireland, speak Spanish, and we were able to speak directly with the Venezuelan population.
We encountered people who were strong supporters of the current government as well as those who were not. We did observe that one of the polling sites had voting stations in a building with two floors and no elevator. A recommendation was included in the Final Report on the Elections that future consideration should be given to ensure adequate accessibility for all voters.
On election night after the polls closed, it was estimated that 47 percent of the eligible voters took part in the elections. Of the 8 million votes cast, the incumbent Nicolas Maduro was returned to office with 67 percent or more than 5 million of the votes cast. The second-place presidential candidate, Henri Falcon, received about 1.5 million votes.
While driving throughout the capital of Caracas and parts of Miranda before, during and after the elections, we did not observe any type of civil unrest or turmoil.
People appeared to be carrying out normal everyday routines. People were shopping in stores; driving cars or motorbikes; walking or sitting in groups.
At the same time, people did talk about how expensive everyday items had become as a result of inflation and that some items such as medicine were not accessible or available.
The monthly salary is less than $5 for many Venezuelans. U.S.-imposed sanctions and those of its allies have exacerbated the situation with the falling price of oil, which is Venezuela’s primary source of revenue.
The efforts to discredit the Venezuelan election process and results are not justified or supported by what we were able to observe.
There is no election anywhere in the world that has not had any problems; for instance, there were reports of a few machines breaking down. Overall, the international observers were consistent in their views that the May 20 election process was orderly; had appropriate checks and balances to ensure impartiality; and represented the will of the Venezuelan population that participated.
Therefore, the results of the election should be respected by the international community.
– Deborah Jackson is the mayor of Lithonia.