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How did things go so wrong in Venezuela?

  • Dayton Daily News
  • 28 Jun 2019
  • By Kristen Nyman Kristen Nyman is a government affairs specialist with the R Street Institute. She wrote this for

Venezuela uses what has been called the most secure voting system in the world. Its Smartmatic voting machines are theoretically tamper-proof, requiring biometric voter authentication twice during the process.

Yet Venezuelans are violently protesting in the streets less than a year after the vast majority apparently elected President Nicolas Maduro using these machines.

So how did Maduro go from winning almost 70 percent of the vote one year to hanging onto his presidency by a thread the next? The short answer: he never had the support of the people to begin with, and his second term was the result of a fraudulent election.

Venezuela has been in disarray for years as political protesters and national police clash in the streets over economic and political crises. The unrest began with the controversies leading up to and culminating in two national elections: one in 2017 for the National Constituent Assembly and one in 2018 for the presidency.

The inciting incident for all of this political chaos occurred in 2015. Maduro was in his first term as president and his party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, had majority control of the unicameral NCA. In anticipation of the 2017 NCA vote — which his party was sure to lose — Maduro made an 11th-hour power grab. Using the outgoing, lame-duck assembly made up of loyalists, he filled 13 seats of the Venezuelan Supreme Court with allies. The court — now in Maduro’s pocket — quickly approved a massive expansion of executive power and stripped opposition leaders of their seats in the assembly.

Meanwhile, throughout the country, violence and hunger ran rampant, inflation skyrocketed, and Maduro refused and even sabotaged humanitarian aid from what he considered to be hostile nations. Finally, in 2016, opposition leaders demanded a recall referendum against Maduro. Maduro’s loyal National Electoral Council canceled the vote.

After this, Maduro lost the trust and respect of his people. On April 19, 2017, more than 1.2 million Venezuelans flooded the streets for what is now known as the “Mother of all Marches.” Yet the election for NCA went ahead as planned. The outcomes were not what was expected.

The 2017 NCA election used the highly secure Smartmatic voting machines. However, after the elections, Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica revealed that, according to the company’s audit data, the election was manipulated by as many as 1 million votes.

But how? Aren’t Smartmatic’s machines tamper-proof ? Sophisticated security is simply not enough to protect elections. In this case, unchecked government officials loyal to Maduro were responsible for releasing the vote count and verifying the election. Not even paper trails and biometric data can compel honesty when a country lacks checks on political power.

Protests erupted once again demanding another vote. Maduro and the National Electoral Council did not comply. And so began another wave.

The country needs to honest leaders who will conduct legitimate elections and have the results verified by a trustworthy third party, such as the United Nations. Only then can the people begin to heal government and establish lasting democracy.

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