2004-08-27 16:39:00
Embassy Caracas
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C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 002730 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2014

Classified By: Abelardo A. Arias, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, for R
easons 1.4(b) and (d).


C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 002730



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2014

Classified By: Abelardo A. Arias, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, for R
easons 1.4(b) and (d).


1. (C) The Venezuelan opposition has developed theories --
though no solid evidence -- of alleged fraud and
irregularities in the August 15 presidential recall
referendum. Among the theories, mathematicians have proposed
that the election results were manipulated using a
pre-determined percentage by state and a cap on "Si" votes
that added votes to the pro-Chavez "No" option. At the
operative level, Chavez opponents charge, there was lack of
appropriate custody over the software used to program voting
machines and an unexplained 17-minute failure of the CANTV
transmission network at a critical time. The GOV's alleged
manipulation of the electoral registry before August 15, the
bulge in the electoral registry a month before the
referendum, and unusual changes in poll workers immediately
before also boost the opposition's doubts about the
referendum. While the opposition's theories, if true, would
indicate manipulation and irregularities on a large scale,
none alone would appear to be of sufficient magnitude to
change the results. End summary.

Fraud Theories Abound

2. (C) In the wake of the opposition's 40-60 defeat in the
August 15 recall referendum against President Hugo Chavez,
fraud and conspiracy theories have proliferated.
Coordinadora representative and Gente de Petroleo leader Juan
Fernandez laid out the principal arguments to poloff on
August 24. There are two mathematical observations that to
the Coordinadora suggest electoral fraud:

-- "2,1,0" The opposition claims a state-level analysis
suggests that each state was assigned one of three possible
percentage outcomes (mathematically expressed as a 2,1,0
series). States with high opposition support, for example,
were assigned a closer percentage split between the "Si" and
"No" votes (prejudicing the "Si" votes); areas with lower
opposition support were assigned wider spreads that gave more
votes to "No" than were actually cast.

-- "El Tope" Some mathematicians looking at the voting

machine level note an unusually high recurrence of similar
numbers (affecting between 3,000 and 4,000 machines) for the
"Si" votes, leading them to conclude that a cap ("tope") had
been applied. According to this theory, votes cast for "Si"
in excess of this cap were applied to the "No" option, which
did surprisingly well in some pro-opposition strongholds.
Fernandez said the mathematicians believe that the cap and
"2,1,0" phenomena are connected. Fernandez also said that
mathematicians confirmed evidence of tampering by applying
the "Law of the First Digit" (aka Benford's Law),the same
mathematical principle used to detect Enron's manipulation of
energy markets.

3. (C) Constitutional lawyer Tulio Alvarez_, who is leading
the Coordinadora's special commission to document the alleged
fraud, told reporters August 22 the mathematical phenomena
would have been undetectable had it not been for the
unprecedented 27 percent abstention rates. The high voter
turnout, he claimed, forced many more "topes" to be imposed
by the machines than what was previously planned.

CNE Response: Jorge Rodriguez told reporters August 17 that
it is expected that voting tables would have similar results.
In presenting examples to support his argument, he showed
data from similar tables, not/not from the voting machines,
which misrepresented the opposition's argument about similar
results at the machine level.

International Observers Response: The Carter Center's
Jennifer McCoy told reporters August 17 that the cap

phenomenon could be seen among "No" results as well. McCoy
later sent a letter to the Coordinadora August 26 stating
that, after consulting a Stanford mathematician and a
Bolivian pollster, the Carter Center concluded that the
recurrence of similar numbers is statistically probable. The
OAS's Edgardo Ries told poloff August 21 that similar results
in a voting center tends to reinforce the validity of the
results; it would have been more suspect had voting machines
in the same electoral precinct varied substantially.
Comment: Post does not have the expertise to judge the merit
of these mathematical arguments.

Ghosts in the Machine

4. (C) Fernandez gave two possible explanations for how the
mathematical manipulation was carried out. Either the
software had been tampered with, he said, or the data
transmission was compromised. Fernandez complained that the
CNE had not given them full access. He claims Coordinadora
informatics specialists were only given limited access to
portions of the code. Coordinadora representatives also
charged publicly that the CNE distributed thousands of
machines to centers prior to the audit.

CNE/Smartmatic Response: The CNE's Rodriguez said publicly
the Coordinadora had full access to the software used to
program the machines and had representatives present when the
machines were individually programmed before being sent to
the field. Smartmatic officials told emboffs in June that
the CNE and political actors would have access (read-only
copies) to only about five percent of the total code used to
operate the machines, principally because of proprietary
reasons. Mugica said the CNE and political actors would be
allowed to audit -- but would not be able to alter -- the
relevant codes for tabulating votes thanks to a three-step
verification process within the company to certify the
software was as advertised. Smartmatic officials claim the
programs exhibit a unique digital signature that would be
altered had the source code been altered. Smartmatic
President Antonio Mugica told poloff August 18 his company
had given the Coordinadora copies of the digital signature of
every machine to check the authenticity.

International Observer Response: Observers were not present
for most of the software development process, though they
have publicly expressed confidence in the performance of the
voting machines.

Comment: It appears likely the Coordinadora did not have
sufficient participation in the development and loading of
the software and transportation of the machines to voting
centers, making manipulation a possibility. Also, the audit
of the machines was a one-day affair with a sample of
machines. Some 14,000 of the more than 19,000 machines had
already been distributed around the country.

5. (C) Fernandez also called into question an unexplained
outage of the CANTV transmission network between 8:12 and
8:29 p.m. on election night. A Venezuelan judge documented
it at CANTV's request. According to Fernandez, CANTV said it
could not account for the data transmission of at least 200
machines, though Fernandez believes there were more.
Fernandez said that since the voting machines can receive
data as well as transmit, it was possible for a "phantom
server" to intercept the data and send altered data to the
CNE as well as back to the voting machine.

Smartmatic Response: Mugica claimed his machines cannot be
remotely re-programmed and noted that the machines are only
connected to the network for transmission, amounting to no
more than two minutes per machine.

International Observer Response: OAS and Carter Center
observers found no evidence of manipulation, though Carter
Center observer Edgardo Mimica confirmed the outage had taken
place. Observers did not perform audits of CNE servers
handling the information.

Comment: CNE rules had the transmission taking place
before/before the tally sheets were printed. The timing is
significant because CNE Director Rodriguez announced at 7:50
p.m. that polling stations would stay open until midnight,
instead of 8:00 p.m. as previously announced. As CNE public
announcements are notorious for not filtering down to the
voting centers, it is likely that many of the 19,662 voting
machines attempted to connect to the network a few minutes
after 8:00 p.m., coinciding with the reported blackout. This
fact is significant in that only voting machines closing at
8:00 p.m. would have been affected, and might not be detected
by the two supposedly random samples taken by the CNE for
audit purposes.


6. (C) A few press reports surfaced on election day that some
voters noticed on their paper receipt that their "Si" vote
was preceded by the number Q" rather than the number "2",
the code assigned to the "Si" option.

CNE/Smartmatic Response: Smartmatic officials said such an
occurrence was impossible.

International Observer Response: Both Mimica and OAS chief
observer Edgardo Reis told poloff they did not find any such
cases in the 354 machines audited.

Comment: This alleged fraud was the product of election day
rumors. It probably had some resonance later among Chavez
opponents because the results announced by the CNE were the
reverse of what exit polls showed.
Masters of The Electoral Universe

7. (C) The Coordinadora also goes back to the weeks before
the election with its theories and allegations when the
electoral registry plumped up by an unprecedented two million
new voters in the two months before the referendum,
attributed mainly to the GOV's massive identity card/voter
registration drive. Coordinadora electoral chief Amado
Dounia estimated prior to the election that a registry of 12
million would give the opposition 3.8 million votes, just
over the threshold needed to recall Chavez. He estimated the
GOV would get just 3.4 million voters, using available
polling data and time studies of the election procedures.
The addition of two million new voters (from mostly pro-GOV
social classes),however, changed his analysis to show a
possible GOV victory.

8. (C) Dounia doubted the new voters actually turned out to
vote based on his tracking of the flow of voters on election
day. The Coordinadora's network of witnesses at each table
reported that nearly seven million people had voted by 9:00
p.m. on election day. By midnight, however, the system was
projecting 10 million voters. Three million additional votes
in three hours, Dounia estimated, would have required all
machines to be working at a rate of one minute per vote, much
faster than what had generally been observed during that
time. Dounia suggests that the new voters were fraudulently
added en masse to the "No" option late in electoral day. He
had no theory, however, for how such a fraud could be carried

9. (C) Dounia also told poloff that the CNE changed voting
centers for some 300,000 voters just days before the
election. Forty thousand of these voters were able to
correct the problem, but the remaining 260,000 voters were
forced to go to centers far from home or to abstain from
voting. Dounia accused the CNE of intentionally trying to
eliminate "Yes" votes using this method. The quantity could
have been important, he noted, were it a tight race.
Additionally, Chavez opponents allege that last minute
changes of poll workers affected the efficiency of voting

CNE/Smartmatic Response: The electoral registry was a source
of contention within the CNE. CNE Director Rodriguez even
filed charges against fellow Director Sobella Mejias because
the latter allegedly had failed to expunge thousands of
deceased persons from the registry. The pro-opposition
Mejias claimed she had been shut out of changes to the

International Observers: The Carter Center's Mimica told
poloff privately the last minute changes to the electoral
registry were unfair, though the observers did not criticize
the CNE publicly.

Comment: The GOV's "Mission Identity" to give identity cards
to millions of Venezuelans and foreigners had few controls to
ensure integrity of the cards, the only proof needed to vote.
The CNE was a doormat to the new names presented by Mission
Identity, pouring them into the electoral registry. Also,
some 200,000 names were added to the registry days after it
was closed. Coordinadora representatives complained to
emboffs that the registry was changing daily even the week
before the referendum. The GOV's manipulation of the
registry was a significant factor in Chavez's victory.


10. (C) We do not know whether the opposition's allegations,
if they turn out to be true, would sufficiently alter the
results to overturn Chavez's victory. No one theory alone
appears to be of sufficient magnitude to be a silver bullet.
The technical arguments raised by the opposition will have to
be evaluated by experts in light of realities of the voting
system. International observation, though imperfect, did not
detect any evidence that would support the opposition's
claims, but then again, these would not be things readily
evident to persons eyeing the process at the voting
precincts. Some opposition allegations would require a
significant number of accomplices in the CNE, the military,
Smartmatic and even CANTV. It seems reasonable that
Smartmatic and CANTV, both firms that have an interest in
avoiding allegations of impropriety, would probably not risk
company health by engaging in fraud. This would not rule
out, however, the actions of specific employees, and in fact,
the opposition's theories aim more at the GOV and the CNE,
not the companies. Chavez opponents remain intent,
nonetheless, on swimming against the strong tide of opinion
blessed by international election observer organizations.