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Venezuela election results ‘manipulated’ by at least 1 million votes, polling company says

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THE WASHINGTON POST

 

 Election results decried by government opponents as a brazen power grab were manipulated by at least 1 million votes, the company that provided Venezuela with its voting system said Wednesday.

Antonio Mugica, chief executive of London-based Smartmatic, which has provided technology for Venezuelan elections since 2004, said it detected an inflated turnout figure Sunday through the nation’s automated balloting system.

“With the deepest regret, we have to say that the turnout data presented on Sunday, July 30 for the constituent election was manipulated,” Mugica said at a news conference in London.

His company’s analysis of the data, Mugica said, suggested an inflated number of “at least 1 million” — a potentially important difference that would allow the government to claim a higher turnout than an opposition-held unofficial ballot last month.

The announcement adds to growing allegations of massive irregularities in the election, which selected a new pro-government super congress with vast powers to change the constitution and supplant the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The vote has been internationally condemned. The Trump administration, which slapped sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro on Monday, described it as a “sham election” that has turned Venezuela into a de facto dictatorship.

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Responding to the company’s disclosure, Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, tweeted: “The biggest electoral fraud in Latin America’s history in percentage and in millions of votes is confirmed.”

In a sense, there was no way the government could lose Sunday’s vote. All candidates, including the wife and son of Maduro, were backers of the Socialist administration. There was also no threshold of voter participation needed for the outcome to be valid.

But obtaining a high turnout was considered vital to proving public enthusiasm for the new Constituent Assembly that gives the government effective control over all branches of government. Polls show the new body — and Maduro himself — both deeply unpopular.

The government claimed a turnout of 41.5 percent — more than 8 million votes. That figure would be highly symbolic if true, as it is greater than an unofficial ballot held by the opposition last month in which it said that nearly 7.6 million Venezuelans turned out to reject plans for the new, all-powerful legislature.

Typically, Mugica said, the election system is designed to provide figures that are reviewed and confirmed by auditors. At each table at voting centers, there are witnesses from different parties who can compare their results with the ones published by the electoral council online.

 By adding all of those together, it is generally possible to compare and confirm results, he said. Auditors from different parties are also present in counting rooms, where they can access totals reported by the automated system.

That wasn’t possible last Sunday.

“In this case, there were no witnesses,” he said.

However, the automated election system used in Venezuela is designed to self-report any attempt to interfere with it, the company said, meaning alerts are produced by possible manipulation. The system, the company said, has fail-safe systems to prevent circumventing the controls.

The opposition boycotted Sunday’s vote. On Tuesday, two top opposition leaders who were under house arrest were taken away by security forces to a military-run detention camp.

Also Tuesday, one of the five directors of the country’s election system broke with the body’s official position validating the vote, saying he could not “guarantee the veracity of the results.”

That director, Luis Emilio Rondon, tweeted Wednesday that Smartmatic’s announcement had confirmed his assessment of fraud.

“The electoral commission has to respond to the country for the denouncements made today by Smartmatic about manipulation of turnout numbers,” Rondon tweeted. He added, “the electoral body is obliged to conduct an audit process to clarify this situation as soon as possible.”

The government’s election commission could immediately be reached for comment.

On Wednesday, the Reuters news agency reported that it had reviewed internal electoral council data showing that only 3.7 million people had voted by 5:30 p.m. Most polling stations closed at 7 p.m., but some stayed open later.

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