Vote tampering claims jolt Venezuela
Caracas, Venezuela — Revelations on Wednesday that turnout figures were manipulated in a crucial vote for an all-powerful constituent assembly in Venezuela cast an even longer shadow over the controversial body hours before it was to convene.
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 rewrite Venezuela’s constitution and override every branch of government.
Results recorded 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,” 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,” Borges said.
Despite the fraud allegations, preparations proceeded to quickly install the new assembly on Thursday. Around the nation, the 545 newly elected delegates were honored in ceremonies and given certifications acknowledging their new powers.
Many paid homage to President Nicolas Maduro in accepting their posts.
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 turnount count of 8 million. The opposition — a sizeable 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 in each municipality also suggested the government’s numbers were inflated.
In an election in which virtually all the candidates were supporters of 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.
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