Lithonia Mayor Deborah Jackson is one of 200 elected officials from around the world who will be observing Venezuela's presidential election on May 20 in Caracas.
Jackson and the other U.S. officials were invited to be poll observers by the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, an independent body that is paying for their May 17-21 trip.
They flew to Caracas, Venezuela's capital, and will visit different polling areas and observe voters on election day.
Jackson, who is fluent in Spanish, is the only elected official from DeKalb County making the trip. Not everyone making the trip speaks Spanish, and Jackson said it was not a requirement, but is helpful.
“My role basically is to meet with representatives of different organizations and observe the election,” Jackson said May 14. “It’s a very short time we’re there, but I think we’ll receive a presentation about what’s been happening in the country and what’s being done to make the election free and fair.”
Venezuela’s socialist incumbent Nicolas Maduro and his government have come under widespread international scrutiny over the presidential election. Opponents have called the election a farce intended to legitimize his dictatorship.
The main opposition coalition is boycotting the polls, and Maduro’s two strongest opposition rivals – Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles – are both barred from standing.
Western nations and a dozen Latin American neighbors have reprimanded Maduro’s government over unfair conditions for the vote, and the United States is considering imposing sanctions on the OPEC member’s crucial oil sector.
Jackson said she is not expecting too much turmoil from voters.
“I’m hoping it will be well managed,” she said. “There may be some opposition, but the goal of having elections is it’s an organized way of people expressing their views about what’s happening within the country, and I’m hoping we’ll see that all possible steps are being taken to ensure that the election is free and fair.”
Jackson's invitation came just a week prior to her departure. It will be her first time in Venezuela, but not her first time observing an international election.
In 1994 she observed the first democratic elections in South Africa, as a member of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.
Jackson said she doesn’t have any direct ties to Venezuela, but she has been a part of legal organizations that have supported human rights efforts throughout Latin America and in other countries.
“It’s all about seeing what’s really going on,” she said. “There’s been a lot of negative press about what’s been happening in Venezuela.”
Jackson is also looking forward to experiencing some of the Venezuelan culture, and applying what she learns as an election observer within her own community.
“We have issues of voter suppression in this country as well,” she said. “There’s always room for improvement with elections and it’s good to see what other countries are doing and how we can make it easier for people to participate, such as through online voting.”