Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Jimmy's "democracy": Last month, the people of Venezuela went to the polls to vote on whether or not to recall their strong-arm, Castro-loving dictator Hugo Chavez. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan citizens had signed petitions to bring the issue to a vote -- and then a massive fraud occurred.
Exit polls had the recall effort succeeding by about 60 to 40, but when the votes were "counted" the referendum was failing 60 to 40. As the Wall Street Journal editorial page noted at the time [subscription required]:
On referendum day, there was no open audit at the polling stations to reconcile the paper ballots to the electronic voting machines, as the opposition requested, because Mr. Chavez would not allow it. There was also no closed-door audit with all of the National Electoral Council members present because the Chavez-controlled Council did not allow it. There was no inspection of the electronic voting machines immediately after the vote because Mr. Chavez would not allow it. And there was no impartial impounding of the election data -- paper or digital -- because ... you get the idea.
We also know that Mr. Chavez sharply limited the number of international observers allowed into the country, something that hasn't been done (outside of Cuba) in Latin America since Manual Noriega used it as a way to steal elections in Panama in 1989. The European Union refused to send observers because Mr. Chavez so severely limited the size of the team and its ability to move about.
Something stunk, but former president Jimmy Carter -- who has done great work with Habitat for Humanity -- chose instead to back a "democratically-elected" dictator and thug. In a letter to the Journal, prompted by a piece alleging widespread voting fraud, had the following to say:
The Carter Center has monitored more than 50 troubled democratic elections, all of them either highly contentious or a nation's first experience with democracy. We are familiar with potential fraudulent techniques and how to obtain a close approximation to the actual results to assure accuracy.
One of our prerequisites for involvement is to be invited by all major political parties and by the central election commission, so it is necessary for us to remain absolutely neutral. These criteria obviously apply to Venezuela.
In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela. There was a subsequent referendum to approve a new constitution, and in 2000, another nationwide election for local, state and national offices, with Mr. Chavez prevailing by close to 60% in both presidential elections. Accuracy of results was accepted, but the opposition remained determined to remove him from office.
A military coup against Mr. Chavez was successful in April 2002, but an aroused Venezuelan public and condemnation of the coup by Latin American governments resulted in Mr. Chavez being restored to office after two days in custody. The next attempt to depose him was a series of nationwide strikes that shut down oil production and almost destroyed the nation's economy. The government survived, but the political confrontation continued.
In January 2003, I proposed that a provision in the new constitution be implemented, providing for a referendum on whether Mr. Chavez should leave office or complete his term. Both sides agreed to this proposal, and the Organization of American States joined our Center in monitoring the gathering of necessary petitions and observing a recall referendum. An organization known as Súmate served as the opposition's driving force in encouraging signatures to depose Mr. Chavez and providing technical advice for their campaign efforts.
The Aug. 15 vote was the culmination of this process, and extra care was taken to ensure secrecy and accuracy. An electronic system was developed by a Venezuelan-American consortium led by SmartMatic that permitted touch-screen voting, with each choice backed up by a paper ballot. International machines were tested in advance, and we observed the entire voting process without limitation or restraint.
During the voting day, opposition leaders claimed to have exit-poll data showing the government losing by 20 percentage points, and this erroneous information was distributed widely. Results from each of the 20,000 machines were certified by poll workers and party observers and transmitted to central election headquarters in Caracas. As in all previous elections, paper ballots were retained under military guard. As predicted by most opinion polls and confirmed by our quick count, Mr. Chavez prevailed by a 59% to 41% margin.
Subsequently an audit was conducted to assure compatibility between manual ballots and electronically transmitted data, but opposition leaders insisted that their exit polls were accurate and that all other data were fraudulent. We met the following morning with Súmate, and they reported their own quick count showing a 10% government victory. Since their only remaining question was the accuracy of the audit, we developed the procedure for a second audit. Súmate and election commission members (government and opposition) agreed with our proposal. The second audit revealed no significant disparities.
Our responsibilities do not end when votes are counted. We seek acceptance of the results by all sides, and reconciliation if distrust or disharmony is deep. We have already begun efforts to establish a dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the still-antagonistic opposition leaders.
When local citizens or foreigners disapprove of a political decision made in free and fair elections, the only legitimate recourse is to honor the decision, cooperate whenever possible, and promote future leadership changes through democratic means.
Well, it turns out that former President Carter might want to reconsider. Yesterday two Ivy League academics came out with a study that shows there is a 99 percent probability that Chavez stole the election -- as Carter looked on.
Two Venezuelan academics claim to have found statistical evidence of fraud in last month's referendum on President Hugo Chavez, fueling the opposition's claims of a rigged vote and raising the possibility that despite Mr. Chavez's victory, the country's tense standoff will continue.
The claims were made Sunday by Ricardo Hausmann, a professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and former chief economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, and Roberto Rigobon, a professor of applied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management.
The pair issued a report that tried to measure the possibility that the vote was clean using two separate analyses of the official results. In both cases, they said, the chances of a clean vote were less than one in 100.
The study by Messrs. Hausmann and Rigobon suggested the government may have tampered with only some of the machines, leaving others clean for observers to audit. They said the sample used for the audit, which was carried out days after the election, wasn't randomly chosen and limited to the "clean" machines.
The study says the computer that determined which ballot boxes were to be subjected to a recount belonged to Venezuelan election officials. However, the Carter Center's Jennifer McCoy has said the group tested and verified the computer program used to select the sample.
The study compared the votes obtained by the opposition during the recall vote with the signatures gathered in November 2003 requesting the referendum. For the recounted votes, the correlation between the number of "yes" votes matched the 2003 petition numbers at a rate that was 10% higher than in the ballot boxes that weren't recounted. They calculate the probability of this taking place by chance at less than 1%.
The government's sample recount "was not a random sample, and I can say that with 99% confidence," Mr. Hausmann said in a telephone interview.
The academics used another technique to look for suspicious patterns in the results, using the 2003 petition and an exit poll on the day of the vote as a vague measure of a voter's intention. Because both measures are imperfect for different reasons, the academics argued, the measures should make different mistakes in predicting the final result.
But the academics found that each method had similar margins of error when compared with the official results, something that would happen only one in 100 times without fraud, they argued.
The U.S. government must sometimes resort to realpolitik (I would argue that this is not such an instance) -- and the State Department echoed Carter's claims that a valid election took place -- but one of the perks of being an ex-president is that you don't have to coddle dictators.