Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Peer-Reviewed Statistical Report Says 2004 Smartmatic Vote in Venezuela Was Fraud

El Universal

Caracas, viernes 23 de marzo, 2007

25% statistically proven irregularities during the Recall Referendum show that electronic elections have flaws. The opposition and observers better get up to speed regarding the new technology.
Three years after the fact, the recall referendum is news again thanks to an article written by the International Statistical Review (ISR) based on a research study titled, "A statistical focus for evaluating referendum process results: the 2004 Venezuelan Recall Referendum" ("Un enfoque estadístico para evaluar resultados de procesos referendarios: el referendo revocatorio venezolano de 2004,") which statistically analyses referendum results and uses Venezuela as its reference. The authors, more than wishing to claim fraud, though they assure that there were significant irregularities with the official results, want to call attention to the importance of being up to date with the technological aspects of the electronic electoral process.
The Venezuelan opposition as well as the international observers have made a monumental error up to now which is being technologically unprepared for the changes related to an electronic election, says María Mercedes Febres Cordero, a specialist in mathematics and co-author of the study. "Traditional observers by themselves are no longer good enough. They only evaluate if there is freedom of the press, if the voting centers are operational, among other things which are important too, but they do not have the expertise to do the type of auditing that is required now-a-days," insists Febres Cordero.
Elections of the future, todayElectronic elections are a relatively new phenomenon on the global scene. According to Febres Cordero, only a dozen countries hold electronic elections, which leaves a lot to be learned to guarantee a clean and just process.
"Now-a-days, the democratic process is legitimized by info-elections or electoral process associated with information technology which can be very vulnerable. The problem is that there are not any citizens, inside as well as outside the country, that will truly assume the responsibility, and though political watchdogs have tried to have elections monitored, it is impossible to have clean elections based on an electronic process without any controls."
Febres Cordero insists that the electoral observation process needs to be updated, and a technical component must be added to its monitoring scope.
While political observers contribute to promote democratic and transparent election processes, try to help solve conflicts between the political parties involved, and defend free speech and human rights, the technical component of the group would be in charge of ensuring the transparency of the electronic electoral process, participate in technical auditing process according to their specialty, strengthen security mechanisms for the processed information, and audit the results with statistical confidence. This technical component would have to be made-up of specialists, personnel specifically trained in this area.
According to Febres Cordero's vision, by introducing the technical component into the electoral observation team, a number of problems would be avoided, including manipulating votes by wire or wireless means, introducing virtual votes, and the inference of intermediate agents in the voting centers and counting rooms. "I am not trying to say that it was even the Government that manipulated the results, that is not important, but that the system is highly vulnerable. The system can be manipulated by intermediate people. They do not even have to be in Venezuela, they only need to have access to the communication passwords. This is something that can happen in Venezuela, and in any country that holds electronic elections."
The disadvantage of this type of elections is that they imply an enormous risk, explains Febres Cordero. To use an electronic platform you need to have "passwords" so that you can communicate between the electoral machines and the counting center. These can be infiltrated in order to introduce any kind of interference or manipulation of the results by third parties. In the blink of an eye the system can be tampered with and millions of votes introduced that can make the auditing process a real nightmare. In an electronic electoral process, the citizen's role of the electoral witness has been eliminated.
Despite the disadvantages, Febres Cordero assures that this type of system has its advantages too: the process is simple, fast when it comes to announcing results, and there is less possibility of error in totaling up the votes.
Proven flawAccording to Febres Cordero, the electronic electoral system flaws are more than just simple speculation. In the study she did along with Bernardo Márquez, Febres Cordero clearly identifies the irregularities which occurred during the presidential recall referendum. "What we did was to analyze the whole country, all the parishes, all the electoral centers, and all the completed ballot records, the almost ten million votes. Then we divided the electoral centers into three groups: coherent, intermediate coherency, and not coherent."
The centers classified as coherent were those where the ballots reflected the general voting tendency of the center. "In a center that has three voting machines, for example, one of the candidates registers 56% of the vote; you would expect that each one of the machines in this center would register results similar to the percentage result of the center, which is to say, 57%, 56%, 55%, explains Febres Cordero. In a center classified intermediate coherency, the percentages registered by the machines vary a bit more from the percentages registered by the center. And in not coherent centers, the machine percentages significantly differ from the percentages the center registered; which is to say that if one of the candidates registered an average of 33% of the vote, the percentage of the ballots registered between machines could go from 70% to 15% between machines with regard to the 33% percentage votes obtained by one candidate in a particular center.
These variations reflected by the different electoral centers are quite illuminating because the machines were assigned randomly, by using the person's identity number, and not according to political affiliation, therefore it is statistically improbably that the percentage of ballots registered by a voting machine vary much from the general average of the center.
According to the study done by Febres Cordero and Márquez, the percentage of coherent centers was 20%, while the non coherent centers made up 25% of the total. The rest of the centers showed an intermediate coherency tendency. Based on these results, both researches drew the final conclusion: "the irregularities observed were consistently detected in numerous voting centers, and the magnitude of the irregularities implies that the official results do not reflect the voters' intentions with statistical certainty." In other words, the official results from the recall referendum are not to be trusted.
Febres Cordero and Márquez then took the percentage of regular votes and made a different calculation. According to their calculations, the "yes" vote was getting between 52% and 56% of the votes. "No marketing study uses 20% of the population, nor do surveys. They only use 2% or 3% of the population. In other words, this is a completely significant group of coherent votes, and out of these votes you do get that the "yes" vote was winning by 56%," assures Febres Cordero.
However, irregularities allowed for a different result to be totaled, says Febres Cordero: "When you work up the graph concerning how the coherency levels are related using the study we are proposing, you see that as the incoherency level increases, the "yes" vote drops, and that cannot be random."
A serious studyFebres Cordero and Márquez's study was published in the ISR magazine, an informative publication issued by the very recognized International Statistical Institute, established in 1885, headquartered in Holland. This institute serves as a consultant to the UN Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) as well as to the Unesco. In order to publish an article in this review, the authors have to present a statistical analysis which is then analyzed by at least four of the institute's specialists. The authors do not know who it is in charge of reviewing their work. After having checked the statistical analysis, which can take up to a year, the article is then published in the review. In Febres Cordero and Márquez' case, the reviewing process took a little more than six months to complete.