Election Fraud In Venezuela?

This is an exercise about planning to steal the referendum.

From El Universal, here are the figures:

* Total number of voting centers: 8,500

* Automated centers: 4,766 (90 percent of voters)

* Voting tables: 18,000

* A total of 216,000 people were chosen in a randomised selection to work at the tables: 72,000 as members and secretaries, the rest as substitutes.

* Number of balloting papers printed to be used in case of irreversible flaws of machines: 4,500,000 (30 percent of voters)

* Number of machines: 20,200

* Spare machines: 1,000.  The SBC Holding will only be able to replace 5 percent of the machines.

* Computers per center: approximately four

* The national telecommunication company Cantv will provide 13,000 people for the recall: 11,005 employers, 280 call center technicians, 50 follow-up analysts, 1,097 support technicians (to solve failures in voting equipment), 175 technical supervisors, and 31 project coordinators.

* The data transmission to the main counting center and the alternate center will use 7,153 fixed lines, 500 wireless modems, 162 satellite connections, and 10,300 cellular lines.

* Number of officers from the Plan República (a military-led security operation to protect elections): 118,000

* Venezuelan voters abroad: 50,588. A total of 9,000 voters are in Miami

* Voting centers abroad: 115.

* Number of signatures that triggered the recall vote: 2,569,584

* Number of signatures needed to be gathered to convoke a recall vote: 2,438,083

* Number of votes needed to revoke the presidential mandate: 3,757,773 (plus more SI's than NO's).

* Opposition's electoral base, gathered during the campaign for a consultative referendum, and the first and second signature collections for the recall vote: 4,700,000.

* Total votes in previous elections: In 1988, Carlos Andrés Pérez gained presidency with 3,870,000 votes. In 1983, Jaime Lusinchi won 3,780,000 votes. In 2000, Chávez was re-elected as president with 3,757,773 votes.

* The budget of the National Electoral Council (CNE) to pay for international observation logistics is VEB 448,800,000 ($234,000). The most outstanding items in this budget are: gifts (VEB 13 millions), parties for 300 guests (VEB 30 millions), car renting (VEB 90 millions), food (VEB 24 millions), lodging of observers (VEB 145 millions), air tickets (VEB 39 millions).

* In March, the CNE bought 20,200 voting machines from SBC Holding for $63.5 million. The transaction included voting equipment, license for the use of firmware, 44,000 balloting papers, energy support system for 50 percent of the machines, software and counting hardware.

* The CNE bought 14,000 fingerprint-reading machines from Cogent System for $53.9 million. It also signed a contract for satellite transmission of results with Gilat Network, for $13.2 million.

* The definitive electoral registry approved by the directorate of the National Electoral Council includes 14,245,615 voters. Since 215,587 of them are foreigners (and cannot vote in the presidential recall), only 14,037,900 voters could possibly vote in the referendum against President Hugo Chávez.

Fact #1:  There are 8,500 voting centers of which 4,766 have automated voting machines.  In order to commit fraud at the level of voting centers, it is necessary to recruit thousands and thousands of conspirators.  All it takes is for one of them to turn, and the whole deal is blown.  This is not a good way to go.

Fact #2:  A voter must go to the voting center in which he/she is registered to vote, where he/she must present his/her identity card.  The voting center has a list of all eligible voters, and the voters will be logged in when they present themselves in order to prevent multiple votes.  At the end of the day, the number of voters is known.  This is an open process which can be monitored by observers.  In the event of a dispute about the number of voters, the list of identity card numbers can be audited.  Therefore, it would be hard to create phantom voters.

In 3,000 of the voting centers, voters are required to have digital images of their fingerprints taken.  This is an additional impediment against creating phantom voters who would be caught sooner or later.

Again, to make an apparent 2,000,000 difference in the number of votes, it means having to send hundreds of thousand of people to cast fake votes.  This would be an impossible movement to conceal.

Fact #3:  Ten percent of the country will vote using paper ballots due to the difficulty in setting up the automated machines in their locations.  Paper ballots can be switched, and that is the purpose of having observers and monitors who witness the physical tallying.  However, all election results will be published and such anomalies will be glaring (e.g. the NO vote getting 99% in the places with paper ballots).  In any case, the discrepancy being argued about here (namely, a 18% swing from the claimed 60% SI to the reported 42%) is far too large to be accounted for by this channel alone.

Fact #4:  Ninety percent of the country will vote using automated electronic machines.  The voter is presented with SI or NO on a computer screen and selects one option.  Then a piece of paper is printed to indicate the choice.  The voter verifies that this was the selected option and drops the paper receipt in a ballot box.

This is a redundant system.  In the first place, the counts in the automated electronic machines can be transmitted immediately after the polls closed to the central location, where they are tallied.  Thus, the electronic machine tallies will be known within hours.  This number is subject to manipulation with just one person pushing a button somewhere along the way, or a piece of rogue software embedded in the system (e.g. all SI's are recorded as NO's and vice versa, except the paper printouts say the truth).  That is why the system was built to be redundant with the paper trail.

At a later point, the ballot boxes containing the paper receipts will be shipped to a central location where they can be opened up and physically counted.  In principle, if a certain machine counted 400 SI's and 600 NO's, the corresponding ballot box should have the identical distribution of paper printouts.  If the box shows 600 SI's and 400 NO's instead, this is evidence of fraud.  There are more than 20,000 machines out there, so it will be a major project involving hundreds, if not thousands, of workers to create 20,000 ballot boxes full of 9 million paper receipts that have to match exactly the already released machine counts.  Again, it will take only one leaker to blow the whole thing away.  The ballot boxes have not been counted yet since they have to be transported to the CNE facility, but it is for certain that they will be counted either in full, or a randomly selected sample thereof.  Such being the case, what is the purpose of lying about the machine tally?

At this point, the opposition is crying "Fraud!" upon seeing a result that they didn't like.  But I think it is necessary to come up with a working model of how fraud can be perpetrated.  This particular system was accepted by the international observers precisely because it is hard to see where fraud could be perpetrated.

An audit was in fact conducted on a random sample of 150 voting stations, and there were no major discrepancies.  The following news items are about that audit.

(Venezuelanalysis.comVenezuelan Opposition Demands Recount of Referendum Votes.  By Robin Nieto.  August 17, 2004.

Opposition leaders in Venezuela are calling for a recount of referendum results, despite repeated assurances by both the Carter Center and the Organization of American States (OAS) that their numbers coincide with those announced by Venezuela’s national electoral authority (CNE), which gives President Hugo Chavez a win over recall efforts.

Leaders of the opposition refused to accept the CNE’s announcement of results that showed that more than 58 per cent of voters favored Chavez to stay on as President of Venezuela during this past Sunday’s historic presidential referendum. Opposition leaders had said they would abide by CNE results before the referendum.  With their refusal to accept the CNE’s results after the referendum, opposition leaders said they would only accept the judgment of international observer organizations.  However now, with the Carter Centre and OAS supporting the CNE and its figures as well as categorically refuting the possibility of fraud, the opposition is demanding a recount of votes.

Jesus Mendez Quijada, leader of one Venezuela’s main opposition parties, today continued to call the referendum a fraud and called for a manual recount of votes while spokespeople for Sumate, a civil association with ties to the opposition, said they had serious doubts that the numbers provided by computers used during the elections were accurate, have also called for a manual recount.

Jorge Rodriguez, President of the National Electoral Directorate, called the opposition coalition’s accusations of fraud “criminal,” noting that the opposition had played a part in all preparations for the referendum and during the process and for them to call fraud is to condemn themselves as “accomplices,” given their full participation in the electoral process.  

However, Rodriguez said yesterday that the CNE is open to a recount and opposition leader, Julio Borges of the opposition party, Primero Justicia (Justice First), today assured support for results done after a manual recount of votes.

(Venezuelanalysis.com)  Venezuelan Opposition Rejects Audit of Referendum Vote.  By Josh Gindin.  August 19, 2004.

In response to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías’ victory in last Sunday’s referendum, opposition leaders are refusing to accept the results of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), despite the fact that they have been corroborated by the Carter Center, the Organization of American States (OAS), and by independent international observers.

On Monday afternoon, former US-President Jimmy Carter, head of the Carter Center, and OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria held a press conference at which they stated that they had received absolutely no indications of fraud.  They expressed complete confidence in the results published by the CNE, and noted that the quick-counts that both organizations conducted at several voting stations provided results that matched the CNE’s results almost exactly.

Furthermore, Carter noted that quick-counts conducted by opposition group Súmate also corresponded very closely to CNE figures.  Although, that did not prevent Súmate from expressing that they have “serious doubts” with respect to the official results, or from releasing exit polls giving the opposition a 60%-40% victory that directly contradicted their own quick-counts.

In order to address opposition concerns of possible fraud, the Carter Center and OAS suggested in a press conference yesterday that the CNE conduct an additional audit, to which the CNE agreed.  Carter noted that “it is possible that there may be small discrepancies [between paper ballots printed upon voting, and the electronic votes], but not sufficient to change the outcome of the referendum.”

Opposition allegations of fraud have so far been based on the suggestion that there was a ‘ceiling’ on ‘Yes’ votes, resulting in all ‘Yes’ votes beyond the ceiling being changed to ‘No’ votes by some internal mechanism in the voting machines.  This suggestion has been contested by the CNE and international observers on several grounds.

According to Carter, the possibility of fraud using ceilings can be addressed by comparing the ballots printed out upon each vote, thus, his suggestion that an audit be conducted at 150 voting centers across the country.

In a press conference this afternoon, electoral council board member Jorge Rodriguez contested the oppositions’ ‘proof’ of the existence of ceilings.  Rodriguez pointed out that similarities in results between voting machines in the same voting center are not only statistically possible, but highly probably. It also occurred with ‘Yes’ votes. The explanation, according to Rodriguez, is a simple matter of statistics, in that each voting machine registered a random sample of voters at that particular voting center, so that each machine should reflect the general voting trend at the center as a whole.

As an example, Rodriguez compared results from two voting tables at a voting center in the wealthy Caracas neighbourhood of El Cafetal.  Both voting tables provided almost the exact same results: table 1 resulted in No: 8.3%, Si: ,91.7%; and table 2 in No: 8.5%, Si: 91.5%.

While Jorge Rodriguez was making these comments, Enrique Mendoza, spokesman for the opposition umbrella-group the Democratic Coordinator, held a press conference in which he called on “all representatives of the opposition not to participate in the audit.”  His justification was the charge that the National Guard who have been guarding the paper ballots may have conspired with the government (and the CNE, and the Carter Center, and the OAS) to alter or replace ballots.

Rodriguez responded to the suggestion that the opposition would not participate in the audit saying, “we are not conducting this audit for any political actors, but for the peace and tranquility of the Venezuelan people.”

“We are also doing this for the employees of the CNE,” he continued, “who merit much better treatment than they have received from the private media.”  Rodriguez stated plainly that if the opposition does not wish to participate in the audit, the CNE, along with the Carter Center and OAS will conduct the audit without them.

Maripili Hernández, spokewoman for the committee in charge of the government’s referendum campaign, responded to the opposition’s position in harsh terms.

“These people have been saying that there’s been a fraud since Sunday,” noted Hernández, “and it is important to clarify that to commit a fraud with these characteristics is no small thing, one would have to have committed an immense fraud to affect the referendum by two million votes.”

Hernández accused the opposition leaders of acting irresponsibly for not accepting the referendum results when they have been so universally accepted by international organizations, governments, and observers.

(The Wall Street Journal)  International Observers Say Fraud Claims Are Unmerited In Chavez's Recall Victory.  By David Luhnow and Jose de Cordoba.  August 20, 2004.

As cries of election fraud continued in Venezuela, international observers poured cold water on opposition claims that President Hugo Chávez owed his lopsided victory in Sunday's recall referendum to massive tampering with electronic voting machines. To put to rest lingering doubts that the election was stolen, members of the Carter Center in Atlanta and the Organization of American States spent the day monitoring a hand-count by Venezuelan election officials of 150 tables at polling stations.  The final results of the audit were due late yesterday. 


Opposition leaders first began raising the issue of fraud when an exit poll commissioned by businesspeople close to the anti-Chávez movement showed the opposition winning the recall handily. Government officials said their own exit polls tracked closely with the official results. In any case, the fraud cries increased during the week when opposition leaders began to detect the pattern of matching tallies. Despite the Carter Center findings, some opposition members were insistent in charging irregularities.

They refused to participate in the audit conducted by the Carter Center and the OAS, charging that the boxes of paper ballots, which were produced by the machines as records of a voters' choices and then put into ballot boxes, had been held at military bases since the vote and could have been tampered with.

"At this point, the only way of finding out if the votes have been tampered with is opening up the machines and checking the software," said Jesus Torrealba, an opposition spokesman. Since Sunday's vote in this polarized nation, international observers have urged opposition voters to accept the official result.

"I'm sorry that they didn't take part in the audit so they could see it firsthand themselves," Ms. McCoy told reporters. However, one Carter official acknowledged that their initial monitoring of Sunday's vote left some questions unanswered. Venezuelan election officials had agreed with the opposition to audit 1% of the 19,200 voting machines -- or 192 machines. The Carter Center was supposed to audit five machines, and the OAS another eight, of that number, according to officials from the Carter Center.

On the night of the vote, however, the Carter Center and OAS audited only one machine each -- in part because voting didn't end until early Monday and workers from both organizations were exhausted. They say, however, that results from both audits matched the electronic record. The wider audit also had problems. Just 84 of a planned 192 audits were carried out, according to the National Electoral Council.

The government says opposition members were present at 64 of those, but opposition officials say they witnessed just 27 audits. Furthermore, some of the government's audits weren't carried out properly, officials from the Carter Center say. For instance, officials counted the total number of ballots, but not how many were "yes" votes and how many were "no" votes.

Despite the problems, both former President Jimmy Carter and OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria publicly endorsed the results at a news conference midday Monday, based mostly on a so-called quick count of computerized results from the stations -- something that wouldn't have detected manipulation of the electronic vote count.

Venezuela's controversy over computerized voting, even if it eventually is resolved, doesn't bode well for coming elections in the U.S. As many as one in three U.S. voters will use ATM-like machines to punch in their choices. Unlike Venezuela, there will be no paper trail to check in the event questions arise.

"I am very concerned about what the controversy in Venezuela means for the U.S. elections," said Johns Hopkins's Mr. Rubin, who has done extensive research on electronic voting. "Our e-voting machines do not have paper-ballot backups, for the most part, and if the election is close -- which apparently Venezuela was not -- we will not have the opportunity for recounting."

(Associated Press)  Venezuela Audit Results Support Vote Count.  By Christopher Toothaker.  August 21, 2004.

The results of an audit support the official vote count showing that President Hugo Chavez won this month's recall referendum in Venezuela, the head of the Organization of American States said Saturday.

Venezuelan election officials, along with observers from the OAS and the Atlanta-based Carter Center, conducted the audit by inspecting ballots from 150 voting stations to dispel opposition claims of fraud during the Aug. 15 referendum.

"With this process concluded, we think the results released by the National Elections Council are compatible with the check we have done," OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria said. "In our opinion, the type of check used in this audit of the electronic system doesn't leave us much doubt regarding the result."

Gaviria did not provide specific details of the audit result. Chavez trounced his enemies by capturing 59 percent of the vote, according to the official results released earlier by Venezuela's elections council.

Chavez foes refused to participate in the audit, saying the methodology was inadequate and would fail to detect fraud.

Opposition leaders claim touch-screen voting machines at hundreds of polling stations produced the exact same number of "yes" votes in favor of ousting Chavez, a result they say was statistically impossible. Chavez foes argue the supposed finding indicated the machines were rigged to impose a ceiling on "yes" votes.

"It's evident that the opposition has huge doubts" regarding the results, said Gaviria. "We cannot say categorically there was not fraud, we are saying we didn't find it."

(South Florida Sun-Sentinel)  Venezuela's Chávez win confirmed, but doubt persists.  By Vanessa Bauza.  August 22, 2004.

A two-day audit aimed at investigating allegations of fraud in last Sunday's presidential recall referendum confirmed President Hugo Chávez's overwhelming victory but did little to satisfy many opposition leaders, who claim the audit was insufficient to detect perceived irregularities.

After comparing a random sample of paper ballots from 150 polling stations to the results produced by controversial touch-screen voting machines, the Carter Center and the Organization of American States yesterday reiterated their initial judgment that Chávez's victory — he received 58 percent of the vote — was clean and legitimate.

"We respect the doubts the opposition may have," said Cesar Gaviria, OAS secretary general. "We, the Carter Center and the OAS, can say the results published by the National Electoral Council are compatible with all our controls."

Opposition leaders, who had requested the international observers, rejected the audit as incomplete. They called for a wider investigation into the software and servers used by the touch-screen voting machines.

The referendum was an "electronic fraud, which has mocked the popular will," Asdrubal Aguiar, of the opposition coalition Democratic Coordinator, said minutes after the audit results were announced.

Jesús Torrealba, spokesman for the opposition coalition, said the Carter Center and OAS have acted in good faith to try to resolve Venezuela's political crisis but were too hasty in legitimizing Chávez's victory Monday morning.

The OAS and the Carter Center, which have observed about 50 elections around the world, initially conducted a quick count that endorsed electoral authorities' results.

They said yesterday they were confident the additional audit would have detected any alleged fraud. They urged the opposition to accept the results and forge a path toward reconciliation but added that they will continue to listen to the concerns of the opposition.

"In a democracy it is very important for the winner to know how to win and for the loser to know how to lose, because democratic systems allow these conflicts to be resolved on that basis," the OAS' Gaviria said.

"If things remain as they are today it will be very difficult for the country to reconcile. That's why I think it is important to work until any doubt is resolved."

Torrealba and others said the two-day audit of 150 voting stations was not conclusive because the paper ballots could have been tampered with while they were in the custody of military guards.

"Our international-observer friends say they don't think the ballots were manipulated; we are allowed to differ from that [opinion]," Torrealba said.

In order beat the system, it is necessary to fix the machines as well as the paper ballots.  The following news articles are about how certain numerical outcomes from voting machines were regarded as "anomalous" and that they would be undetectable because the paper ballots were also changed to match that outcome on all the machines.  This is easy for an armchair conspiracy theorist to say, but I would like to give Sumate control over the voting machines and the paper ballot boxes to run a simulation exercise to see how they could create an audit-proof pre-defined election outcome.

(Miami Herald)  Chávez foes boycott audit, urge tests of vote machines.  By Steven Dudley and Phil Gunson.  August 19, 2004.

Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Wednesday refused to take part in a special audit of the results of the president's landslide victory in a recall vote, despite the participation of international observers.

The National Electoral Council reported that with 96 percent of the votes from Sunday's referendum counted, its tallies showed 59.06 percent of the 9,402,892 voters backed Chávez while 40.94 percent voted to recall him.

Observers from former President Jimmy Carter's Atlanta-based Carter Center and the Organization of American States (OAS) have said their own checks on tallies matched the Electoral Council figures giving Chávez victory.

Observers said that on Tuesday, several leaders of the loosely knit opposition coalition known as the Democratic Coordinator had agreed to the terms of the audit, to be carried out by the Electoral Council, Carter Center and OAS.

The audit, which began Wednesday without the Democratic Coordinator, is expected to be finished today.

On Wednesday, however, the group said it wanted more tests on the machinery that tabulated the votes, saying the Electoral Council-Carter-OAS audit would not be able to answer the right questions.

Opposition leaders have said their own exit polls during the balloting Sunday showed Chávez losing the referendum by a vast margin.


The OAS and the Carter Center have observed dozens of elections, and the opposition coalition had said before Sunday's vote that it would accept the results if they were validated by those observers.

Since Sunday, the OAS and Carter Center have said their ''quick counts'' -- random and representative samples of voting tallies from polling stations around the country -- matched Electoral Council tallies showing Chávez as the winner. ''Quick counts'' are the most common, respected means by which observers verify elections worldwide.

The Electoral Council also performed an audit of 199 of the 19,800 machines used in Sunday's vote to make sure the paper receipts that voters deposited into ballot boxes matched the results issued by the voting machines.

International observers said the Democratic Coordinator had also inspected the machines before the elections and had agreed to their use.

Chávez government representatives reacted vehemently to the coalition's announcement that it would not participate in the extra audit.

''Let's be serious,'' said Mari Pili Hernández. "They ask everyone to get ready to do the audit. Now they don't want to do the audit. That's a lack of respect for the country.''

The voting machines used Sunday were supplied by Boca Raton-based Smartmatic and used software provided by Bitza, a company registered in Venezuela and Florida. Bitza came under some scrutiny in May when The Herald reported that the government owned a 28 percent stake in the company. After the report was published, Bizta announced it would buy back the government's shares.

Smartmatic representatives have said the machines, originally developed in Italy to sell lottery tickets and used in an election for the first time here on Sunday, were safe from fraud and that there are numerous ways to audit them.

(Miami Herald)  Chávez foes boycott audit, urge tests of vote machines.  By Steven Dudley and Phil Gunson.  August 19, 2004.

Opposition legislator Nelson Rampersad said the opposition coalition had discovered major anomalies in the tally sheets produced by the touch-screen voting machines.

In 25 percent of the results for the state of Aragua, for example, the number of YES votes produced by at least two machines in one polling station were either identical or nearly identical, Rampersad said, suggesting that voting machines had been tampered with. He showed reporters atally sheets showing the anomalies, but offered no other evidence.

''This is mathematically impossible,'' he asserted. In other cities and states, the Democratic Coordinator claims, the pattern of identical or nearly identical YES votes repeated, reaching 40 percent in the western state of Zulia.

(International Herald TribuneEvidence of an electoral fraud is growing.  By Enrique Ter Horst.  August 18, 2004.

Three machines in a voting center in the state of Bolivar that has generally voted against Chávez all showed the same 133 votes for the Yes option, and higher numbers for the No option. Two other machines registered 126 Yes votes and much higher votes for the No. The opposition alleges that these machines, which can both send and receive information, were reprogrammed to start adjudicating all votes to the No option after a given number of Yes votes has been registered.

What is the deal here?  There are two issues here.

First, what is the probability of something or the other happening on a random basis alone?  I'll give you an example using a hypothetical daily three-digit game.  Every day, three digits are random selected on live television using mechanical balls.  Each lottery ticket costs US$1 and the payout is US$500 for the winning three-digit number (which means that, on the average, US$500 goes to operations and education).

For three days in a row, the winning number was 133.  The likelihood of that happening is (1/1000) x (1/1000) x (1/1000).  One is more likely to be hit by lightning than getting these numbers.  What gives? 

Consider another case: on day 1, the winning number was 245; on day 2, the winning number was 971; on day 3, the winning number was 457.  The whole world thinks that everything is normal.  But what is the likelihood of getting that sequence?  It is the same (1/1000) x (1/1000) x (1/1000)!  But no one would give it another thought!  

This difference in treatment between these two cases has much more to do with human psychology than objective statistical odds.  They have the same probability of occurrence, but humans think one outcome is unusual and the other one is unremarkable.  Of course, it is possible that the three consecutive 133's were due to fraud, but that can only ascertained by an examination of the device that generates the numbers and there are cases in which people have rigged them.  The numbers themselves do not constitute definitive proof.  All possible combinations of numbers have equal probability of being selected.

Second, the operational situation here is not the same as described in the lottery example.  The CNE information suggests that there are about 20,000 automated voting marchines located at about 5,000 voting centers (note: there are other voting centers which use paper ballots).  This means approximately four automated voting machines per voting center.  When registered voters come in to vote, they join a single line which may go on for hundreds of meters in length.  When they eventually reach the voting center, they are checked in and directed to one of the four voting machines to cast their votes.  Their probability of being assigned to a particular machine is random, because there is no way that anyone can know how they intend to vote.  I will illustrate with a hypothetical example.

Suppose a voting center processed 4,000 voters during this day, and it had four working voting machines.  Each machine processed exactly 1,000 voters.  Eventually, it was determined that the total number of SI's at that station was 2,000 at 50%.  What is the distribution of SI's by voting machine?

Under a completely random model, as in the daily three-digit lottery game, you may see numbers like 121, 340, 698 and 841.  But if these people come through the door randomly and they are randomly assigned to the machines, you are more apt to see 493, 497, 501, 509.  And if you look across thousands of these machines, you just may find 497, 497, 497 and 509!  This is no more or less likely than 493, 497, 501 and 509, but the human mind thinks that three 497's is anomalous.

I am not arguing that there was no fraud.  But, as in the daily lottery case, there has to be physical evidence to support a case against "seemingly anomalous" numbers which are still physically possible.

(Houston Chronicle)  Fraud claims by Chavez critics rejected.  By Dudley Althaus.  August 20, 2004.

International observers overseeing an audit of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's victory in this week's recall referendum concluded Thursday that the opposition's key fraud allegation was baseless.

In pressing their claims, opposition leaders argued that a computer program used Sunday in the electronic voting process had limited the number of anti-Chavez votes, automatically switching those above the cap to votes in favor of the president.

As evidence, the opposition pointed to hundreds of cases in which different voting machines in the same precincts recorded the exact or nearly exact number of anti-Chavez votes.

But a computerized review Thursday of the electronic ballots cast nationwide found that parallel vote totals appeared both for and against Chavez in more than 700 of 12,000 polling stations.

The review, conducted by experts from the Atlanta-based Carter Center and the Organization of American States, found exact or nearly matching anti-Chavez vote totals on different machines in 402 stations. But the study also found nearly identical tallies in favor of Chavez in 311 voting places.

While seemingly suspicious, the incidence of parallel counts fell within the range of mathematical probability, a Carter Center official said.

"The main point here is that it affects both sides," said Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center, the organization headed by former President Jimmy Carter that observes elections worldwide. "That indicates a random mathematical effect."

(The Wall Street Journal)  International Observers Say Fraud Claims Are Unmerited In Chavez's Recall Victory.  By David Luhnow and Jose de Cordoba.  August 20, 2004.

Opposition leaders, stung by the dimensions of their apparent 59% to 41% loss Sunday, had charged that voting machines used during the recall had been manipulated. They cited about 500 instances where votes to oust Mr. Chávez tabulated by one voting machine matched the result in a nearby machine -- which they said suggests the machines had been preprogrammed to cap the number of anti-Chávez votes.

Carter Center officials said the pattern detected by the opposition, which showed up in groups of machines at about 700 voting tables out of a total of about 12,000 nationwide, appeared to be a naturally occurring effect that surfaced in tabulations of both pro- and anti-Chávez votes. The fraud claims have stoked tensions in the world's No. 5 oil exporter, a country plagued for more than two years by political violence between supporters and opponents of Mr. Chávez.

"What was a vote that was supposed to bring the country together instead threatens to bring more division, more ungovernability," said Margarita de Tablante, a member of the opposition Democratic Coordinator. From the beginning, Mr. Chávez's government angrily denied the accusations of fraud. Smartmatic, the Boca Raton, Fla., company that makes the machines, also has said the machines are foolproof. The Carter Center said it found a pattern of matching "yes" votes to oust Mr. Chávez at 402 voting tables, which each have one or more machines.

It found a similar pattern affecting support for Mr. Chávez in machines at 311 tables. "The most important thing is that it affects both sides," said Jennifer McCoy, the director of the Carter Center's mission to Venezuela. "It would appear to indicate a random mathematical effect." Experts seemed to agree.

Aviel Rubin, a computer-science professor at Johns Hopkins University, said he calculated odds of roughly one in 17 that two of three computers at a voting table would have identical results. That compares to about one in 15 that so far have shown similar results in Venezuela's referendum.

(Venezuelanalysis.comThe Statistical Fraud of Venezuela’s Opposition.  By Gregory Wilpert.  August 21, 2004.

The second “proof” of fraud involves the supposed existence of a “ceiling” on the “yes” vote. That is, the opposition has identified hundreds of instances where the number of “yes” votes, in favor of recalling Chavez, are oddly similar to each other, from one voting machine to the next. The first example that appeared of this came from Bolivar state, where the following numbers were presented for a voting center with three voting machines: 383 no – 133 yes; 345 no – 133 yes; 369 no – 133 yes.

The opposition has made a big deal of these “ceilings” claiming that it is statistically impossible for these numbers to repeat themselves so often. Some opposition leaders have compared this to a lottery, where it would be very rare to get the same three numbers in a row, as one would with a slot machine’s jackpot. They have even marshaled statisticians to explain that the odds are in the millions to one, especially if one considers that this pattern repeats itself in over 1,000 voting centers throughout the country. The opposition’s argument is these patterns prove that there was a massive fraud, that the machines were programmed in such a way as to limit the number of “yes” votes and to turn them into “no” votes once that limit had been exceeded.

It would seem, though, that no one in the opposition has ever taken statistics 101 in college. If they had, they would know that the comparison to a lottery is completely false. What most people do not realize (which could explain why some statisticians seem to agree with the opposition), the voting machines randomly sampled up to 650 voters of any given voting center. That is, each voter was assigned to a specific voting machine, based on the last two digits of their identification document. In other words, the votes in each machine represented a systematic random sample of the “yes” and “no” votes of any given center. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, if you randomly sample a population (the voting center) several times, then each sample should have more or less the same result. Thus, it should come as no surprise that three machines at the same voting center display the same result. As a matter of fact, it would be much more suspicious if each random sample (each machine) displayed very different results. That in some cases the number of “yes” votes should be identical should come as no surprise, given that there already is a tendency for each machine to approximate the other. If one were to look, one would almost definitely find a similar number of “no” votes that are repeated from one machine to the next in several different voting centers.

Perhaps an analogy would help. If we have a box with 1,000 balls, 400 of which are white and 600 of which are red and you randomly take 100 balls out of this box, the chance of selecting 40 white balls and 60 red balls is extremely high. 40-60 might not be the exact number that comes up every time, but if you take enough consecutive random samples, say 100, then the number 40-60 should come up quite frequently (a statistician could tell you with a fair degree of accuracy about how many times).

A lottery or a slot machine selection does not represent a random sample of a white/red or a yes/no population, but of a population that is much, much more complex. Rather, each number or symbol is represented only once. Thus, the odds of getting the same number from three successive samples is extremely small, about 1 in 10,000 for a population of 100 (with unique numbers ranging from 1 to 100) – the parallel that the opposition keeps making thus makes no sense whatsoever.

(The NarcoSphere)  The Venezuela Opposition Splits in Two.  By Al Giordano.  August 29, 2004.

Today, exactly two weeks after the historic August 15 presidential referendum in Venezuela - won by President Hugo Chávez with around 59 percent of the vote - the Venezuelan "opposition" is dividing into two distinct camps: Those who admit that they lost and are analyzing why so that they can live to fight another day; and those who still can't or won't admit it, at least not in public.

Many members of the latter tendency, still accusing that an election fraud took place, but still unable to offer any convincing evidence - including the controversial U.S.-funded Súmate group - seem to be entering a genuine identity crisis. "Sumate is now cautiously saying that 'the numerical patterns found in the actas do not constitute conclusive proof of fraud' (El Nacional, Aug. 23rd, page A3)," notes anti-Chávez journalist Teodoro Petkoff of the daily Tal Cual in Caracas. And yet Súmate drifts deeper into its own stormclouds, as if on autopilot, still looking for that missing proof of a "fraud" that doesn't exist.

Petkoff's own coming-to-terms with the new Venezuelan (indeed, new American) reality makes for interesting reading. Francisco Toro translated Petkoff's August 25th editorial...

What if there was no fraud? What if the results of the referendum reflect the will of the voters? Today, CANTV reaffirms, on the basis of technical arguments, what the Coordinadora Democratica had said before the referendum about the adequacy of the automated voting system. We recommend reading CANTV's statement because it leads to another question: isn't it possible that the vote remains a trustworthy democratic instrument and that refusing to use it could leave that huge mass of at least 40% of the voters without any kind of alternative vis-a-vis those in power?

Clearing up this matter quickly is crucial for the immediate future, but also for the long term. We have to get past our shock, depression and anger to examine more clearly and lucidly what happened… if the results of the manual voting tables, which constitute a gigantic sample of one million of the country's poorest voters confirms the general tendency registered in the poorest areas; if OAS and the Carter Center, whose guarantees were previously said to be sufficient to accept the results, did not "rush to judgment" but instead correctly judged reality; if the exit polls, which are now thrown around as though they were Moses's Tablets, were not trustworthy enough, as expressed by one of the main pollsters in Venezuela (whose own exit polls, incidentally, had detected the trend in favor of the No from early on); if, all things considered, it does not appear to be a coincidence that all the pre-vote polls (except UCV's) had the No ahead, isn't it about time, then, to leave behind the listlessness produced by the results and to start to admit that the evidence indicates that Chavez won the referendum…?

Refusing to capitulate goes beyond mere rhetoric.

It means giving up the consoling conspiracy theories about Bush and "that old wanker" Carter, supposedly in favor of the oil interests of the empire, with the complicity of - wait for it - the Colombian oligarchy as represented by "that fucking Colombian" Gaviria; it means discarding the "pregnant bird" stories about the "Russian superprogrammer" who supposedly tampered with the machines and other such nonsense, and recognizing rather that something must have happened in these last few years in this country to allow the victory of a rhetoric of social redemption in the mouth of a strong leader who knows how to communicate it, and who despite heading one of the worse governments in recent memory, manages to hang on to the affection and the backing of millions of our fellow citizens who do not "sell" their votes but rather identify themselves still - though less and less so - with that hawker of illusions and hopes called Hugo Chavez.

For those who refuse to capitulate, digesting all of this and metabolizing it is indispensable: we need to lick our wounds, jump back into the ring, and fight.

That is the sort of discourse that sportsmanship, at the hour of a defeat, requires in an authentic democracy: to live to fight another day. I'm no fan of Petkoff, one of those professional "former leftists" who found greener pastures by throwing in with the folks that sign the advertising checks, but he's a good barometer of realpolitik and he's obviously concluded that the fraud dog don't hunt.

So what is with the other camp inside the opposition, the one that still can't admit what Petkoff, and Toro, and some others have come to terms with?

Chávez opponent Victor García Crespo has published an essay that reflects the other tendency, that which still cries fraud but laments that fewer and fewer people take its claims seriously:

For, no matter the OAS resolution, and for that matter Jimmy Carter's opinion, I strongly believe this referendum was a fraud. Perhaps, one of the biggest frauds ever committed in an electoral process. And please, do not ask me for proofs.

Did you get that, kind reader: He cries "fraud," but asks, please, don't ask him for proofs…

All that I have are indications, signs, clues and traces in a nutshell, what I offer is pure circumstantial evidence coupled with my common sense, my observation of the whole process, and the perception I had when I lined up, for more than five hours, to cast my "YES" vote by touching the screen of a voting machine, and depositing the physical evidence of my vote…

García Crespo then invents a series of knowing falsehoods that his former allies in the opposition movement have already discarded:

As the process continued, the news had already spread to different countries, for instance in New York this news was already on: "From Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, an independent New York-based polling firm, show a major victory for the 'Yes' movement, defeating Chavez in the Venezuela presidential recall referendum. The poll showed 59 percent in favor of recalling Chavez, 41 percent against." The same result was obtained by SUMATE and others serious pollsters…

When García Crespo says "the same result was obtained by SUMATE," he seems either unaware, or intentionally hiding, of the fact that the Penn, Schoen & Berland "exit poll" was the Súmate poll: They were not two different exit polls. They were the same, solitary, poll: Súmate's partisan "volunteers" did the exit polling for Penn Schoen, which then sent out an international press release, five hours before polls closed, as part of an intentional montage of disinformation.

We keep hearing talk of "other serious pollsters" who supposedly had the same result. Not one has come forward, or been cited by name, much less disclosing the methodology (the Sina Qua Non required to take any poll seriously is the disclosure of the methodology, something, interestingly, that Penn Schoen has also refused to disclose for the past two weeks: to me, that indicates the Doug Schoen has already committed some very damaging ethical and professional lapses regarding his methods, and through his childish shouts of "fraud," so that he must now duck and cover, hide and hope, that he receives no further scrutiny about his poorly conducted "exit poll")… it's simply a Big Lie that keeps getting repeated by those dwindling few who have not yet learned the sportsmanship required by democracy.

García Crespo continues muddying the waters with this statement:


This also was the proportion that existed in most of the polls before the referendum regarding the percentages of support for the opposition and government, respectively…

That claim is also demonstrably untrue, and there is a record to prove it's falsehood: The Narcosphere, and Venezuelanalysis.com, both published the various poll results prior to the referendum of which the large majority of the polls said, in advance, that Chávez was going to win. See, for example, Three New Polls Show Venezuela's Chávez Winning Recall by 11% to 25%, by Martín Sánchez and Greg Wilpert. Chávez won by 18-percent, exactly midway between those two numbers.

But I've come to a disturbing conclusion that the shouts of "fraud" by those like García Crespo and others of his tendency are simply a tactical decision by the least ethical elements of an opposition that, after all, first tried every undemocratic means (coups d'etat, lockouts of workers from their jobs, Commercial Media efforts to cause panic with disinformation, etcetera). García Crespo and his ilk know damn well there was no fraud (others, still, are saying that even if there were flaws or problems in the voting tallies - a factor that would not be surprising in any large country on earth with a national referendum or election - that it's obvious that Chávez won the vote; they simply hold out hoping against hope that maybe it the Gods should have given them a smaller margin of defeat to work with).

It is that search for "little problems" - a machine tally here that might be off… a poorly reported result from another district… - that the fraud conspiracy theorists are searching for, so far in vain. It's impressive, actually, that with so much looking for fraud by such a well-financed opposition, nothing has been found now after two whole weeks! At some point, their true friends should whisper: Hey, pal: maybe you did really lose your car keys at the bar! Stop accusing everyone else of stealing them!

The way the Commercial Media works in Venezuela is that any small or tiny problem found in a single locale is then broadcast nationwide, sensationally, as if it represents a universal truth of what happens everywhere. (Globovision, in particular, ought to feel shame and embarrassment over falling for J.J. Rendón's "rumorology" in which he claimed statistical aberrations in the results that real statisticians quickly batted down… not that the slimebuckets over at Globovision are capable of feeling shame over anything… When you've already fomented a coup d'etat, a few fibs from a professional liar sure ain't gonna change the results at the end of one's life as to whether one goes to heaven or hell.) It's that dynamic that the "pro-fraud" tendency in the opposition is looking and hoping for: one small error or flaw that it can count on the national Commercial Media to amplify as if it is a universal truth… and, yet, they can't even find or manufacture any credible such claim at that.

García Crespo, however, gives away his game in the following passage of his essay, urging the pro-fraud camp on…

The ominous aftermath of this referendum demands from the leadership of the democratic opposition to gather all the necessary information and evidence to support the claim of a fraudulent action. This will not be an easy task, but there are sufficient elements from which intelligent and expert personnel can formulate hypothesis, research into them and provide conclusions that never can dissipate the clouds of illegitimacy in the Chavista firmament…

The goal, García Crespo admits, is not to clarify the results, but, rather, it is to place "the clouds of illegitimacy" over "the Chavista firmament."

As a writer, I find his use of words interesting and revealing. He assigns to his enemy the role of "firmament" or light, and to his own side the role of making clouds to create darkness, to block the sun of democracy itself.

He's not looking for "proof" anymore: he's just looking for a saleable "hypothesis." And it's clear that those elements of the opposition who remain on the side of trying to cloud the truth are, simply put, intentionally trying to do so.

Open the window, García Crespo, get up from your computer and take a walk outside… The sun is already shining over América and Venezuela… Your wishful clouds, like your claims of fraud, have already dissipated, and real life marches on.

(The Economist via Venezuelanalysis.comWhat really happened in Venezuela?  By Jennifer McCoy.  September 3, 2004.

Opponents of President Hugo Chávez have claimed that fraud thwarted their recent attempt to remove him from office in a recall referendum. Venezuela's election agency declared that Mr Chávez won the referendum by 59% to 41%. How can we assess these competing claims?

The opposition's suspicions are based on three things. First, an exit poll supervised by Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates (PSB), an American polling firm, and conducted by volunteers from Súmate, an opposition civic group, showed the opposition winning by 18 points. Second, there was a pattern of polling stations where several electronic voting machines returned an identical result, in what looked like a pre-programmed “cap” on the number of opposition votes. Third, in some places the “Yes” votes to recall the president were fewer than the number of signatures on a recall petition last year.

I was there directing the Carter Center's election-monitoring efforts. I was concerned when I heard from both sides during the vote that their exit polls each showed them winning by 18 points. In my experience, competing exit polls are normal. But I was concerned about the size of the discrepancy (36 points), knowing that both sides in this deeply polarised country expected to win. Many in Venezuela and in the United States have called into question the referendum's result, as well as the ability of international monitors from the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center to detect fraud. Others have raised the spectre of electronic fraud in the American presidential election, citing the Venezuelan experience with new touch-screen voting machines.

Prior to the vote, Venezuela's National Election Council (CNE) threatened to limit the number of observers, and access to voting sites and some technical aspects of the vote. This generated suspicion among Venezuelans. The Carter Center urged the CNE to lift these restrictions, which it largely did. In the end, we received authorisation for all of the observers we requested, access to many of the technical components we asked for, and freedom of movement on election day. Both the OAS and the Carter Center had been mediating in Venezuela for two years and had already observed the signature collection and verification process. We observed all of the prior simulations conducted on the new electronic voting machines.

We planned three tests of the new electronic voting system. First, with the OAS, we conducted a “quick count” in which our observers at a random sample of polling stations (mesas) called results in to mission headquarters. This was to check the official results that were transmitted from the machines to CNE headquarters. Second, we drew a larger sample of poll results from those received electronically at CNE headquarters, to test the accuracy of tabulation by the CNE's computers. These tests confirmed there was no manipulation of the software or data transmission.

Missing from those tests was what happened within the black box of the voting machines. Fortunately, the Venezuelan machines were programmed to produce a paper trail: after each vote, a paper ballot was printed, inspected by the voter, and deposited in a cardboard ballot box. We had urged a “hot audit”, an immediate count of the paper ballots. At the last minute, the CNE approved an audit of 1% of the voting machines. But this was only half completed, because of the high turnout, late closing of the polls (some as late as 3am) and poor instructions to CNE auditors. We were only able to observe a few of these “hot audits”, as we needed to be at other mesas for our own quick count.

We therefore proposed to the CNE a second audit, three days after the vote, to check the paper slips. We agreed a methodology with the opposition's technical advisors, but its political leaders decided not to participate (they had wanted to negotiate directly with the CNE). We tested and verified the CNE's computer programme to draw a new random sample of 150 mesas, comprising 334 voting machines, and observed the drawing of the sample. We put observers in the main military garrisons where the boxes of paper receipts were stored, before the sample was drawn, to avoid any tampering with the chosen boxes. The observers accompanied the boxes to Caracas, and then watched over a meticulous count in which each slip was compared with the electronic result.

The only way the boxes could have been altered would be for the military—historically the custodians of election material in Venezuela—to have reprogrammed 19,200 voting machines to print out new paper receipts with the proper date, time and serial code and in the proper number of Yes and No votes to match the electronic result, and to have reinserted these into the proper ballot boxes. All of this in garrisons spread across 22 states, between Monday and Wednesday, with nobody revealing the fraud. We considered this to be supremely implausible.

This second audit showed that the machines were very accurate. We found a variation of only 0.1% between the paper receipts and the electronic results. This could be explained by voters putting the slips in the wrong ballot box. An additional piece of corroborating evidence was the result from the 15% of polling stations that used the old-fashioned manual ballot. These stations (in mostly rural areas without telephones) were even more favourable to the president, voting 70:30 against recall.

If the machines were accurate, how do we explain the three suspicious factors noted by the opposition? First, the mysterious “tied” results or “caps” on the machines. We found that 402 of 8,100 mesas (each with one to three machines) had two or three machines with the same result for the Yes vote; and 311 mesas had the same results for the No vote. So the phenomenon affected both sides. We consulted Jonathan Taylor, a statistician from Stanford University. Using various mathematical models, he predicted that 379 mesas would have ties (of two or three machines) in the Yes votes, and 336 mesas would have ties in the No votes. The error range would be plus or minus 36 mesas. So the actual results fell within the range of probability, and do not provide evidence of fraud.

The second oddity was the opposition's exit poll. In countries as polarised as Venezuela, exit polls are risky. They require those conducting them to avoid bias in choosing whom to query, to avoid socio-economic bias in their dress and speech, and to work in a wide variety of neighbourhoods. They also require voters to tell the truth—despite intimidation and strong peer pressure on both sides. Any of these elements could have been lacking.

Puzzles and explanations

The third puzzle was places with fewer Yes voters than signers of the recall petition. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people who were expected to vote Yes in fact voted No. Overall, more people (almost 4m) voted to recall the president than signed the petition last November (3.4m). But some of the signers might have supported a recall as a democratic right, while themselves not wanting to remove the president. Some may have changed their minds since November. And some may have decided that Chavismo in government was more likely to preserve the peace than Chavismo in opposition.

Two other factors help to explain the result. First, reputable polls showed Mr Chávez climbing in the months before the vote; three weeks before, he had a nine-point lead among likely voters. Opposition leaders and pollsters told me before-hand that a high turn-out was expected to favour Mr Chávez. The turn-out was a high 70%, compared with an average in previous elections of 55%.

The second factor (which helps to explain the first) was that delays in the collection and verification of signatures gave time for the economy to recover from the previous year's devastating strike. Mr Chávez campaigned tirelessly and spent large sums from record oil revenues on social programmes for the poor. The government also naturalised long-waiting immigrants and registered up to 2m new voters. In contrast, the opposition ran a lacklustre campaign, did not present a clear alternative leader, and could not compete with the government's resources.

In conclusion, the vote itself was secret and free, but the CNE's lack of openness, last-minute changes and internal divisions harmed public confidence in that vital institution both before and after the vote. Divisive rhetoric and intimidating tactics from Chavistas, and the opposition's still-unsubstantiated claims of fraud, have exacerbated Venezuelans' cynicism toward elections. It will take a huge effort by both sides to restore trust in this fundamental democratic right before next month's election for governors and mayors.

Jennifer McCoy directed the Carter Center's observer mission in Venezuela and is a Latin America expert at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

(Venezuelanalysis.comVenezuela’s Opposition Submits Fraud Report.  By Gregory Wilpert.  September 11, 2004.

Nearly four weeks after the recall referendum against President Chavez, the opposition submitted its preliminary report on the fraud it believes was committed during the referendum. The report was presented on Wednesday to the public in Caracas and then on Thursday to OAS General Secretary Cesar Gaviria in Washington, DC. Another analysis was also released this week by two economists, who conducted a detailed statistical analysis of the referendum vote, commissioned by the opposition NGO Súmate, to see if they could detect any patterns that might indicate fraud. Pro-government spokespersons dismissed both reports as being desperate attempts of the opposition to cover up its defeat.

Today, two representatives of the Democratic Coordinator, Delsa Solorzano and Enrique Naime, presented the opposition report to the National Electoral Council (CNE) as a basis for formally challenging the results of the recall referendum. According to Solorzano, the referendum is being challenged in its entirety because “the multiple defects that occurred during the realization of the presidential recall referendum absolutely nullify the results obtained.”

The preliminary report, which the opposition grouping “Democratic Coordinator” had organized, is nearly 70 pages long and details problems and irregularities that it says it found in the referendum process, beginning as early as the beginning of the Chavez presidency. By and large, the report reads as a compendium of complaints that the opposition has had against the Chavez government ever since he was first elected in 1998.

The report’s essence, however, which deals with the referendum, touches on three main areas. First, it questions the validity of the electoral registry. Second, it presents statistical calculations that suggest fraud. Third, it doubts the transparency of the process.

According to the report’s coordinator, Tulio Alvarez, much of the fraud is based on a fraudulent electoral registry. Key to this claim is that between the last elections in 2000 and the recall referendum in 2004 the number of Venezuelans registered rose from 48% of the total population to 53%. The report argues that many irregularities in the registration process, such as “quick” registrations and nationalizations, fraudulently added hundreds of thousands of voters who should not have been registered, particularly during the last two months before the referendum, when the registry should have been closed for further additions. Alvarez says that this alone is enough reason to nullify the referendum. “If there is fraud in the registry, there is fraud in the vote. Nothing else needs to be proven,” said Alvarez.

As an important element in the false registration of citizens Alvarez also mentioned that in numerous voting centers the there are more people registered than are inhabitants of the town, according to the last census.

The second main area of presumed fraud involves suspicions based on a statistical analysis of the referendum results. The report mentions the supposed “caps” on yes votes, which several analysts that the Carter Center and the opposition had commissioned have already dismissed. Also included as part of the report, is the study conducted by the two economists, which Súmate commissioned. According to their analysis, which presents a very complicated and technical statistical examination of the referendum data, a portion of the voting centers were manipulated. Their analysis rests largely on relating the referendum data to the exit polls and the signature collection for convoking the referendum that was conducted in late 2003.

Finally, the report lists a number of restrictions that were placed on the international observers and criticizes the Carter Center in particular, for having agreed to the observation procedures.

One of the report’s main recommendations is for the opposition to take Smartmatic, the voting machine manufacturer, and Verizon, the main shareholder in Venezuela’s telephone company CANTV, which transmitted the voting results, to court. According to the opposition, these companies are liable under U.S. law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Government spokespersons immediately rebutted each of the opposition’s reports points. With regard to the electoral registry, Samuel Moncada, the chairperson of the pro-Chavez campaign in the referendum, said that the opposition is promoting xenophobia with its criticism that people who lived in Venezuela for over 20 years were nationalized. Also, rather than manipulate the registry in favor of the government, the electoral council for the first time cleaned the registry of past fraud patterns by eliminating over 25,000 deceased people from the list. Moncada pointed out that while the registry had indeed increased to 53% of Venezuela’s population, or from 12 to 14 million in the past year, there are 16 million Venezuelans of voting age, which means that two million more could and should still be registered.

Referring to the towns where there are more Venezuelans registered than live according to the last census, Moncada pointed out that these tended to be towns where people from surrounding rural areas came into the town to vote, people who are not accounted for as inhabitants of the town in the census. Many of the examples Tulio Alvarez gave of such instances were in small towns in the state of Amazonas.

With regard to the statistical analyses, Moncada pointed out that even among opposition analysts there is no agreement about their findings. For example, the economists Súmate hired, Ricardo Haussman of Harvard University who also was a minister under Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, and Roberto Rigobon, from MIT, dismiss the idea that there were “caps” on the opposition’s yes vote. Also, in other areas their analysis was extremely complicated, so that very few people could make sense of their analysis.

Finally, Moncada asked a number of questions, such as why the opposition promised it would accept the verdict of the international observers, only to go back on this promise? Also, “why is it so difficult to find proof [of fraud] if merely ten minutes after the results were announced, they already claimed fraud? With a fraud this big, of over two million votes, it should be easy to find the proof.”

Black Swans, Conspiracy Theories, and the Quixotic Search for Fraud:
A Look at Hausmann and Rigobon's1 Analysis of Venezuela's Referendum Vote

 By Mark Weisbrot, David Rosnick, and Todd Tucker2

September 20, 2004

Executive Summary

On September 3, economists Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and Roberto Rigobon of the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, presented econometric results that the authors maintain are evidence of fraud in Venezuela's August 15 recall referendum. The paper was reported by four major international news outlets and was used to raise doubts about the validity of the referendum among U.S. legislators and policy-makers. It was also used to support claims of fraud by opposition leaders in Venezuela.

In this paper we examine the results presented by Hausmann and Rigobon and find that they provide no evidence of fraud. This concurs with the findings of the Carter Center (September 17), showing that the sample selected on August 18 for an audit of the vote that they observed, was indeed a random sample of all voting centers, and that electronic fraud of the type suggested by Hausmann and Rigobon was therefore impossible.

In this referendum voters expressed their preference (YES or NO) with a touch screen voting machine. The machine then printed out a paper ballot with the voter's choice, which voters deposited in a ballot box. The audit of 150 voting centers, observed and certified by the Carter Center and the OAS, found that the paper ballots matched the electronic votes within a 0.1 percent margin.

However, Hausmann and Rigobon put forth a theory of electronic fraud that was consistent with a clean audit. According to their illustrative example, suppose the machines were rigged at 3000 polling centers, and the remaining 1580 were randomly selected to be left clean. If the computer program that generated the sample could be fixed to sample only from the clean centers, the electronic votes would match the paper ballots in the audit -- in spite of the fraud.

The authors then present two sets of evidence which they claim indicates that fraud of this type took place.

The main problem with their analysis is that, according to their assumptions, the audited sample of 150 voting sites should reflect the true -- that is, non-fraudulent -- referendum result. Such a large sample provides incontrovertible evidence of the validity of the official results, which were well within the range that would be expected given the results found in the audited sample.

By contrast, the exit poll used by Hausmann and Rigobon, published by the American polling firm Penn, Schoen, Berland & Associates found that 59 percent of voters were in favor of the recall (YES), and 41 percent opposed (NO). This was the opposite of the official results certified by the Carter Center and the Organization of American States, in which voters rejected the recall by a margin of 59 percent (NO) to 41 percent (YES).

But the audited sample had only 41.6 percent YES votes. This paper finds that:

The chances of getting an audited sample, under Hausmann and Rigobon's assumptions of how it was selected, of 41.6 percent YES, if the true (non-fraudulent) vote were 59 percent YES, are less than one in 28 billion trillion. Even if the true vote had the recall barely succeeding with only 50.1 percent YES, the chances of getting an audited sample of 41.6 percent YES are less than one in a million.

This paper also examines the other statistical evidence presented by Hausmann and Rigobon to support their theory of electronic fraud and finds that it is dependent on implausible assumptions. We conclude that the results that they interpret as evidence of fraud most likely stem from a misspecification in their econometric model.

This issue extends beyond Venezuela, where opposition leaders -- including those that control most of the media -- have continued to question the results of the referendum. Most importantly, it has considerable implications for the effectiveness of international monitoring in elections. This was one of the most carefully monitored elections in modern history, with both the Carter Center and the Organization of American States playing a major role.

If this level of monitoring and verification by some of the most experienced election observers in the world, in a case where the election was not even close, cannot produce a credible result, then the whole system of international monitoring would have to be called into question. Fortunately this is not the case, as the statistical evidence of electronic fraud in the referendum has turned out not to be valid.


On August 15, 2004 Venezuelan voters went to the polls in record numbers and voted by a margin of 59 to 41 percent to allow President Hugo Chávez Frías to serve out the remaining two and a half years of his term. International observers from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States certified the result and conducted an audit of the vote, in which a sample of the touch screen voting machine results were compared to the paper ballot receipts that voters deposited in ballot boxes3.

Despite the overwhelming margin of the vote, the audit, numerous tests and controls, the certification of the international observers, and the lack of any material evidence of fraud, numerous opposition leaders -- including much of the Venezuelan media -- continue to insist that a massive fraud took place. Opposition exit polls, including one in which voters were interviewed by the opposition group Súmate for the U.S. polling firm Penn, Schoen, Berland & Associates4 claim to have found the opposite result: the Penn & Schoen exit poll, which reported having canvassed 20,000 people and with a margin of error of less than one percent, alleged that Chávez had been recalled by a margin of 59 to 41 percent. The firm stands by its reported exit poll numbers and insists that the election was stolen5.

On September 3, economists Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and Roberto Rigobon of the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, presented econometric results that the authors maintain are evidence of fraud6. The paper was reported by four major international news outlets7 and used to raise doubts about the validity of the referendum among U.S. legislators and policy-makers. In their conclusion, the authors cite the philosopher of science Karl Popper, that "observing 1000 white swans does not prove the thesis that all swans are white. However, observing one black swan allows this thesis to be rejected. Paraphrasing Popper, our white swan is that there was no fraud. The results that we have obtained constitute a black swan"8.

In this paper we evaluate this evidence and consider whether there is any reason to believe that electronic fraud of the type suggested by Hausmann and Rigobon might have occurred in the recent Venezuelan referendum.

The Alleged Fraud

Before turning to Hausmann and Rigobon's econometric evidence, it is necessary to explain the type of fraud that the authors are talking about, and how it would have to have been carried out. It is not the ordinary type of fraud that occurs in many elections, i.e. ineligible voters with fake i.d.'s, voting more than once, or stuffing of ballot boxes. Rather, the fraud considered in Hausmann and Rigobon's paper is electronic fraud and involves rigging the voting machines that were used in the election, so as to change the votes from Sí (to recall the president) to No.

In this referendum voters expressed their preference (sí or no) with a touch screen voting machine. The machine then printed out a paper ballot with the voter's choice, which voters deposited in a ballot box.

Fraud in this system is thus a difficult and risky enterprise: any rigging of the machines could be caught quite easily by comparison with the paper ballots at any polling center. In an audit after the vote, the National Electoral Council, together with international observers, drew a sample of 150 polling centers (3 percent of the 4580 centers) and compared the machine results to the paper ballots. The results matched almost perfectly -- with 0.1 percent difference9 -- a number that is statistically insignificant and easily explainable by the likelihood that some voters might have failed to deposit their paper ballots.

It is of course theoretically possible to stuff the sampled ballot boxes to match rigged machines, as would have been necessary in the previously offered "cap" theory of the fraud. This was the basis of an opposition argument that the voting machines had been programmed to put a limit on the number of "Yes" votes. But this was not plausible, as Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center explained to those alleging this type of fraud:

The only way the boxes could have been altered would be for the military-historically the custodians of election material in Venezuela-to have reprogrammed 19,200 voting machines to print out new paper receipts with the proper date, time and serial code and in the proper number of Yes and No votes to match the electronic result, and to have reinserted these into the proper ballot boxes. All of this in garrisons spread across 22 states, between Monday and Wednesday, with nobody revealing the fraud. We considered this to be supremely implausible10.

This argument was also refuted when computer scientists Aviel Rubin and Adam Stubblefield of Johns Hopkins, and Edward W. Felten of Princeton showed that the number of machines that reported the same numbers was within the range that could be expected by random occurrence11.

Hausmann and Rigobon also reject the theory of the caps. But they put forth another theory of electronic fraud that does not require any ballot box stuffing. To take their hypothetical example: suppose there are 3000 voting centers where the machines are rigged, and the CNE randomly selects the remaining 1580 centers to be clean. The electoral authorities then fix the program that randomly selects a sample of 150 centers for auditing, so that the sample is selected from only the 1580 clean centers. The electronic results from these centers would then match the paper ballots, and the audited sample would show the election to be clean.

The biggest technical problem with this type of fraud -- aside from rigging the machines without anyone finding out12 -- is to make sure that the sample is chosen from the "clean" polling centers. To do this, the CNE would have to have fooled the Carter Center, OAS, and other international observers into thinking it was randomly selecting a sample to be audited from the total universe of centers, while secretly substituting a program that selected only from the "clean" voting centers13. It is worth noting that the sample was chosen in front of a live television audience, as well as the international observers from the Carter Center, the Organization of American States, and another group of European observers14.

In response to a request by the opposition group Súmate to consider the theory and evidence offered by Hausmann and Rigobon, the Carter Center examined the program that was used to generate the sample. The Center's report (issued Friday, September 17) states:

The CNE requested a group of university professors to develop a sample generation program for the 2nd audit. The program is written in Pascal for the Delphi environment.

The program receives a 1 to 8 digit seed. The CNE delivered to the international observers the source code, the executable code, the input file, and the sample. Carter Center experts analyzed the program and concluded:

1. The program generates exactly the same sample given the same seed. 2. The program generates a different sample given a different seed. 3. The program generates a sample of voting stations (mesas) based on the universe of mesas that have voting machines. 4. The source code delivered produces the executable file delivered. 5. The input file used to generate the sample is missing only six of 8,147 voting stations (mesas). The input file has one missing voting center. 6. The program, when run enough times, includes each mesa (voting station) in the sample, and the number of times a given mesa is included in a sample is evenly distributed, indicating the sample generation program is random.

The sample generation program was run 1,020 times. With no exception all of the 8,141 mesas appeared at least 14 times in a sample. Not a single mesa was excluded from the sample in the test run15.

The Carter Center therefore concluded that:

The sample drawing program used Aug. 18 to generate the 2nd audit sample generated a random sample from the universe of all mesas (voting stations) with automated voting machines. The sample was not drawn from a group of pre-selected mesas16.

Given this evidence, the Carter Center's conclusion appears to be the only logical conclusion. It follows that the theory of electronic fraud put forth by Hausmann and Rigobon, and supported by others in Venezuela, appears to be logistically impossible.

The Econometric Evidence

Ignoring the technical difficulties in conceiving of how such a fraud might have taken place, let us turn to the econometric evidence presented by Hausmann and Rigobon. They provide two pieces of evidence; we will look at the second one first. In this part of their paper17, the authors use a regression analysis to test whether the sample drawn for the audit is truly a random sample. Without going into the mathematics of the model, the authors use a regression to test whether the "Sí" votes in the August 15 signatures gathered for the recall (in November-December 2003) are related differently to the audited sample as compared to how they are related to the overall universe of polling centers18. The theory is that if the audited sample is truly a random sample of the polling centers, then the relationship between the signatures and the "Sí" vote count in the audited sample should not be significantly different from that in the rest of the 4580 voting centers.

The authors find that this relationship is significantly different, and interpret this as evidence of fraud.

But there is a very serious problem with this analysis. Let us return to the example offered by Hausmann and Rigobon in their paper, which describes the fraud that their regression model is here attempting to detect. Say there are 3000 voting centers that are rigged, and 1580 left "clean" for the CNE and observers to draw their sample from. How is this division to be made, and the sample drawn? Hausmann and Rigobon assume that the both of these selections are drawn randomly19. If that is the case, we would expect that the sample would show a very different proportion of YES votes than the total count. In other words, if the real vote was, as Penn, Schoen, Berland & Associates allege, -- 59-41 YES, instead of the opposite (59-41) NO, the official count -- then the sample should reflect that.

We can do a statistical test to see how likely is it that the audited sample, which Hausmann and Rigobon allege was randomly drawn from "clean" voting machines, came from a universe of voters that actually voted for the recall.

Table 1: Referendum Results




Percent YES

National Total




Audited Sample




Source: Carter Center (September 17, 2004) * for centers with electronic voting

Table 1 shows the percentage of YES and NO votes in the audited sample and from the total universe of machines20.

As can be seen from the table, the number of YES votes for the sample (41.6 percent) is very close to the number for the overall universe (42.2 percent).

Table 2: Probability of Occurrence of the Actual Audited Sample Under Various Assumptions Regarding the True (Non-Fraudulent) Percentage "YES" Votes in the National Referendum

National vote percentage YES

Audit vote percentage YES

Approximate chance of lower audited percentage



1 in 1,400,000



1 in 73,000,000,000,000



1 in 28,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Source: CNE, Carter Center, and authors’ calculations (see Appendix)

Table 2 shows the probability of finding a sample with 41.6 percent YES votes under various assumptions for the true mean of the universe from which it came. For example, if the Penn & Schoen exit poll reflected the correct (non-fraudulent) total (59 percent YES, 41 percent NO), then the probability of the audited sample showing only 41.6 percent YES would be less than one in 28 billion trillion.

If the opposition had won by a smaller margin, 55 to 45 percent, the probability of the audited sample having only 41.6 percent YES is less than one in 72 trillion.

Finally, if Chávez had barely been recalled, with 50.1 YES to 49.9 NO, the chances of drawing a sample of voting centers with the audited sample's percentage of 41.6 percent YES is still miniscule, at less than one in a million.

The theory that there was electronic fraud that could have even come close to affecting the result of the election is therefore not plausible, under Hausmann and Rigobon's assumptions about how it could have taken place21.

There is another possibility that would allow for the observed vote count in the audited sample. The "clean" centers and audited sample could have been selected, not randomly as Hausmann and Rigobon suggest, but from very pro-government voting centers. In this way the audited sample could show a yes vote similar to a fraudulent total vote, even if the real (non-altered) vote count had a much higher proportion of YES votes. But in this case the audited sample would not appear to be representative of the electorate; it would have to look, by other measures, very pro-Chávez -- especially if there were significant fraud in the rigged voting centers.

One obvious measure is the percentage of votes for Hugo Chávez22 in the 2000 election, in the centers that were selected to be audited in the 2004 referendum23. By this measure, the audited centers do not appear significantly different from the rest of the electorate. The audited centers show a total of 61.8 percent for Chávez, as opposed to 61.4 percent for the country. As shown in Appendix below, this is well within the margin of sampling error.

In light of these results, it is difficult to interpret Hausmann and Rigobon's one regression as significant evidence of fraud. It is much more likely to be the result of a spurious correlation or a misspecification in the model that they used24.

Results Using Exit Poll Data

Hausmann and Rigobon also claim to find evidence of electronic fraud by means of another statistical test. As in the analysis of the sample, they use a statistical model in which the intention of the voters -- an unobservable variable -- is measured, with some error, by different events. These include exit polls conducted on August 15, and the petition signatures. Both of these data are assumed to be imperfect measures of the voters' intentions, and even possibly biased.

But the authors assume that the errors in the measures of voter's intentions are not correlated with each other25. In other words, although we would expect (and the authors assume) a correlation between the signatures and the exit polls, they assume that in the absence of fraud there is no such relation between the way the signatures and the exit polls, as measures of the (unobservable) intention of the voters, actually differ from this intention, and therefore the vote itself.

The full model is explained in detail and is derived mathematically in the appendices of the paper, and will not be reproduced here. The basic implication of their model, given the assumption, is that if both the exit polls and the signatures differ from the referendum vote in a similar manner then this is the result of fraud26 . The authors find such a correlation, and interpret this as evidence of fraud.

But their result in this section depends on a crucial assumption that is difficult to justify in this situation, given the sources of the exit poll data: that the errors in the measurement from the exit poll and those from the signatures are uncorrelated. While the signature gathering was subject to controls and international monitoring, and thus can be taken as official data, the same cannot be said about the exit poll data. The exit poll data provided by Súmate was reported by Penn, Schoen, Berland & Associates, and showed the opposition to have won the referendum by 59 percent (Yes) to 41 percent (No). The other exit poll data used in this analysis was provided by the opposition group Primero Justicia, and showed the opposition winning with 62 percent of the vote. These data are not just measured with error but highly implausible. We have no idea how they were gathered or if there was fraud involved in their collection. As such, it is entirely possible that the error term for the exit polls would be correlated with the error term for the signatures. If this is the case, the empirical estimates of the Hausmann and Rigobon model in this section would say nothing about fraud in the election; rather they would simply be a product of how the exit poll data was collected.

Indeed it is highly unusual to be asked to question the results of an election in which so many controls and monitoring procedures were in place, on the basis of implausible exit poll data that was provided (and gathered) by political activists with no verifiable controls or monitoring. Although Hausmann and Rigobon's analysis does not require this data to be accurate, it does require that its errors be uncorrelated with those of the signatures, something that cannot be assumed without any verifiable knowledge or observation of where the data came from. It is also unusual that the authors used only this opposition data, and ignored other exit poll data that more closely predicted the official results of the election. For example, exit polling by the American polling firm Evans/ McDonough Company, Inc. polled 53,045 voters and found a result of 55% NO to 45% YES27 .

There are many ways in which the model in this section could have been mis-specified even if the political activists who gathered the exit poll data had done their best to deliver an honest and reliable result28 .

But it must be emphasized that there is no need to determine exactly how the model in Hausmann and Rigobon's analysis may have been mis-specified. The fact remains that their theory of how the fraud could have taken place is untenable, as the Carter Center has demonstrated. And the audited sample, which has been shown clearly to be a random sample of the entire universe of voting machines, matched the electronic results almost exactly. On this basis we can safely reject Hausmann and Rigobon's econometric evidence.


Conspiracy theories abound, and of course it is impossible to disprove them. There are tens of millions of people throughout the world who remain convinced that the massacres of September 11 were orchestrated by the Bush Administration. A best-selling book in France maintains that the no airplane ever hit the Pentagon29 . There are detailed web sites where the evidence is marshaled, and arguments spun.

The theory that the Venezuelan referendum was stolen is different from other implausible conspiracy theories in that so long as most of the Venezuelan media is controlled by the conspiracy theorists30, it will maintain a significant base of support.

But Hausmann and Rigobon's paper provides no credible evidence of fraud in the Venezuelan elections. There is no "black swan" here; maybe a white duck that got stuck in an oil slick.

It would be best if Venezuela could get beyond this referendum, and of course the more democratically oriented members of the opposition would like to accept the results and move on. The issue has implications beyond Venezuela as well -- most importantly for the effectiveness of international monitoring in elections. This was one of the most carefully monitored elections in modern history, with both the Carter Center and the Organization of American States playing a major role. If this level of monitoring and verification by some of the most experienced election observers in the world, in a case where the election was not even close, cannot produce a credible result, then the whole system of international monitoring would have to be called into question.

Fortunately this is not the case. The audit went smoothly; and if the vote had been close, or there had been any evidence of electronic fraud, the Venezuelan electoral authorities or the international observers could have asked for a complete count of the paper ballots. They did not do so, because there was no evidence that the result was in any way wrong. That remains the case today; and by now it is unlikely that even a full audit would convince many of the doubters, since they would maintain that sufficient time had elapsed for all the ballot boxes to be stuffed so as to match the machines.

As American pollsters hired by opposing sides in this election pointed out, every reliable pre-election poll predicted that the recall effort would fail. The most recent and comprehensive polls before the vote predicted the actual margin of victory very closely31 . With a huge turnout of poor people and first-time voters, which favored the government, the results were even more predictable on Election Day. All the available evidence except for highly questionable exit poll data supplied by opposition activists points in the same direction. There is still no reason to question the results.


Suppose, as in the hypothetical example provided by Hausmann and Rigobon, there was widespread voting machine fraud in the election, but with clean centers placed randomly throughout the country, so that the demographics at the clean centers represent the demographics of the country as a whole. Suppose also that the audit was performed on a set of centers chosen randomly from among only the clean centers. Then the results of the vote in the audited centers would, within some margin of error, reflect the election results across the nation had there been no fraud. This appendix serves to estimate the likely margin of error in the results in the audited centers with respect to the entire population.

We can then find the probability of getting the result that was found in the audited sample (41.6 percent "sí"), under various assumptions for the true vote tally for all votes. That is, under the assumption that the true total vote tally was different from the reported vote tally due to fraud. If the sample were simply a random sample of voters taken from the clean centers, then this would be a simple calculation, based on a binomial distribution. It would be analogous to calculating the probability of getting, e.g., 72 "heads" from 100 tosses of a fair coin (where the population mean is assumed to be 50).

But in this case is it slightly more complicated, because the audited sample is not a sample of voters, but a sample of voting centers. Because each voting center has a different proportion of "sí" and "no" votes, the margin of error for a sample of voting centers will be larger than the margin of error for a sample of voters. Also, we will have to construct a distribution of centers for the universe of centers, in order to estimate this margin of error. We can estimate the margin of error based on a stochastic model of the vote. In constructing this model, we will have to assume certain distributional properties of the universe of voting centers.

Statistics of the audited centers

The data listed 200 centers on the audit list. Four of these centers had no recall vote listed, leaving 196 available for analysis. These centers varied in the total number of valid votes cast as well as the percentage of votes for and against recall.

Let the number of 'sí' votes at the th center be denoted by and the number of 'no' votes be denoted by . Then the log of the turnout turns out to be roughly distributed as normal with mean 7.6 and standard deviation 0.7. The log of the vote ratio is also normally distributed with mean 0.6 and standard deviation 2.3. With a Pearson's r of only 0.009, the correlation between and is insignificant. This is consistent with independence of the two variables.

Stochastic model of the audited centers

Suppose the voting centers across the entire country have clean turnouts and vote ratios independent and lognormally distributed with means and standard deviations as in the audited sample. Then we can randomly generate 150 sample centers and estimate the audited vote. Repeating the process 1,000 times and computing the standard deviation of the proportion of 'sí' votes produces an estimate of the margin of error. As a result of this process, we estimate the audited sample to have a standard deviation in the proportion of 'sí' votes of only 1.8%. By implication, there is a 95% chance that there an audit of 150 voting centers would result in a vote proportion of 41%, plus or minus 3.5%. Implications for the recall referendum

Let us assume a margin of error due to center sampling based on the above stochastic model. Let us also assume that 41.0% of the national vote was in favor of recall. Then there is a 37% chance that an audited sample would consist of more than 41.6% of votes in favor. That is, the audit results are consistent with the reported national results.

Let us now assume that the national vote was actually 59% in favor of recall -- as in the Penn, Schoen, Berland & Associates / Súmate exit poll used by Hausmann and Rigobon -- but this was not the reported result due to fraud. Despite any such fraud in the centers where machines were rigged, the probability of getting the observed total in the audited sample of no more than 41.6% in favor is approximately 1 in 28 thousand billion billion.

Rather than 59%, let us assume that the national vote in favor of recall was only 50.1%. That is, assume that the opposition barely won recall vote, but most of the machines were fixed to show Chávez winning by 57.8-42.2 percent. Then the chances of getting the observed result in the clean, audited sample of only 41.6% in favor would be less than 1 in a million.

Table A: Election Odds

National vote percentage

Audit vote percentage

Difference in Standard Deviations

Approximate chance of lower audited percentage




2 in 3




1 in 1,400,000




1 in 73,000,000,000,000




1 in 28,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Source: CNE, Carter Center, and authors’ calculations

We can therefore conclude that the probability of drawing the observed audited sample, under the circumstances described in Hausmann and Rigobon's hypothetical electronic fraud scenario, is infinitesimally small, if there were enough fraud to affect the outcome of the election.

There is one other possibility of electronic fraud, in a slightly different scenario than that described by Hausmann and Rigobon. As noted in the text, another scenario could be the case in which the audited sample, and/or the clean centers are not chosen randomly from the universe of centers. In this case a sample that is very disproportionately pro-government could be chosen, so that the vote tally in the audited sample matches the recorded (fraudulent) vote total for the universe of centers, even though the true mean for the universe is much lower than reported due to fraud. But in this case the audited sample would appear pro-government by other measures. And it does not: to see this, we can look at how the voting centers subject to the audit in 2004 voted in the 2000 election. As between Chávez and Arias (the second place finisher), Chávez received 61.8 of the vote in these audited centers; in the country overall he received 61.4 percent. This difference is far smaller than the margin of error of 3.5 percent for the sample of audited centers.


1. Hausmann, Ricardo; and Roberto Rigobon. "En busca del cisne negro: Análisis sobre la evidencia estadística sobre fraude electoral en Venezuela". Sept. 3, 2004. Available at http://www.Súmate.org/documentos/Informe%20ejecutivo%20%20En%20busca%20del%20cisne%20negro.pdf

2. Mark Weisbrot is economist and Co-Director, and David Rosnick and Todd Tucker are research associates, at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The authors wish to acknowledge Daniel McCarthy for his assistance.

3. “Audit of Chávez Vote Upholds the Results”. Los Angeles Times. Aug. 22, 2004.

4. The firm states that it was hired by a group of opposition Venezuelan businessmen, but has not revealed the name(s) of its client(s).

5. "U.S. Poll Firm in Hot Water in Venezuela". Associated Press. Aug. 19, 2004.

6. Hausmann 2004. P. 25.

7. Webb-Vidal, Andy. "Chávez opponents face poll losses after recall failure". Financial Times. Sept. 7, 2004. Gunson, Phil. "Still calling vote a fraud, Chávez foes plan challenge". Miami Herald. Sept. 10, 2004. Luhnow, David; and Jose de Cordoba. "Academics' Study Backs Fraud Claim In Chávez Election". Wall Street Journal. Sept. 7, 2004. "Debates and Dilemmas: Venezuela's referendum". The Economist. Sept. 18, 2004.

8. In the original, "Como dijera Karl Popper, el observar 1000 cisnes blancos no demuestra la veracidad de la tesis de que todos los cisnes son blancos. Sin embargo, observar un cisne negro sí permite rechazarla. Parafraseando a Popper, nuestro cisne blanco es que no hubo fraude. Los resultados que obtenemos constituyen un cisne negro. La hipótesis alternativa de que sí hubo fraude es consistente con nuestros resultados y por tanto no podemos rechazarla". Hausmann 2004, p. 25-26.

9. "Report on an Analysis of the Representativeness of the Second Audit Sample, and the Correlation between Petition Signers and the Yes Vote in the Aug. 15, 2004 Presidential Recall Referendum in Venezuela". The Carter Center. Sept. 17, 2004. http://www.cartercenter.org/documents/nondatabase/report091604.pdf

10. McCoy, Jennifer. "What really happened in Venezuela?" The Economist. Sept. 4, 2004.

11. Felten, Edward; and Aviel Rubin and Adam Stubblefield. "Analysis of Voting Data from the Recent Venezuela Referendum". Sept. 1, 2004. Available at http://venezuela-referendum.com/

12. It is worth noting that two of the five members of the CNE are staunchly pro-opposition. (See Forero, Juan. "Chávez Urges Deference for Electoral Board". The New York Times. Sept. 1, 2003). All of the preparations and execution of the fraud conspiracy would have to have eluded them as well as the international observers.

13. "Conned in Caracas" was the title of a September 9 piece by the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, based on the Hausmann and Rigobon paper: "Both the Bush Administration and former President Jimmy Carter were quick to bless the results of last month's Venezuelan recall vote, but it now looks like they were had. A statistical analysis by a pair of economists suggests that the random-sample "audit" results that the Americans trusted weren't random at all."

14. For a complete report on the auditing of the referendum, see "Audit of the Results of the Presidential Recall Referendum in Venezuela". The Carter Center. Aug. 26, 2004. Available at www.cartercenter.org/documents/1820.pdf

15. The Carter Center. Sept. 17, 2004. P. 6.

16. The Carter Center. Sept. 17, 2004. P. 7.

17. Pages 20-24 and Appendix 2 of their paper.

18. The regression is: Log SI = Constant + Log FIRMA + D * FIRMA + Log Electores Reafirmazo + D * Log Electores Reafirmazo + Log Electores Nuevos + D * Log Electores Nuevos + Log Electores No Votantes + D * Log Electores no Votantes + D Where SI = the number of YES votes in the referendum; FIRMA = the number of signatures (in November-December 2003, on the recall petition); Electores Reafirmazo = the number of registered voters at the time of the signature gathering; Electores Nuevos = the number of new voters (registered after the signature drive); Electores no votantes = number of registered voters that did not vote; and D is a dummy variable that takes on the value of 1 for voting centers that are in the audited sample and zero for non-audited centers. The authors report a coefficient of .105 (significant at the .01 level) for the variable D * FIRMA, indicating that the elasticity of YES votes with respect to signatures is 10.5 percent higher for audited than for non-audited centers. The authors interpret this as evidence that the sample was not was not a random sample of the universe of voting centers. (Hausmann and Rigobon, pp.22-24)

19. "Para ejemplificar, supongamos que de los 4580 centros automatizados en nuestra base de datos, se alteraron los resultados en 3000 centros y no en los demás. Supongamos además que los 1580 centros no alterados fueron escogidos aleatoriamente" [italics added]. Hausmann 2004. P. 21. The authors further note that this random selection would result in a sample that would appear socially and regionally representative (P. 21).

20. The Carter Center. Sept. 17, 2004. P. 5. The percentages for the totals (58.4 NO to 41.6 YES) differ slightly from the totals for the whole country (59.2 NO to 40.7 YES), because these include only the centers that used machines. About 1.4 million voters (out of 9.8 million total) used only paper ballots.

21. Of course it is possible that just a handful of machines were rigged, increasing the government's margin of victory only slightly. But this would be a rare crime indeed: lacking not only opportunity and evidence, but also motive.

22. The numbers show the percent of votes received by Chávez as between him and the candidate who finished second Francisco Arias Cardenas (with most of the remaining votes). To see the national level results, see "Elecciones 30 de julio de 2000: Presidente de la República - Total Votos a nivel Nacional y por Entidad Federal". Consejo Nacional Electoral (Venezuela). http://www.cne.gov.ve/estadisticas/e015.pdf

23. The actual audit was conducted on 150 of these 196 centers.

24. It is worth noting that this regression (see footnote 18) is only one of many regressions that could have been run to test whether the sample was significantly different from the rest of the voting centers in its relationship to the signatures. This is true not only because of the choice of control variables but also because there were 4580 voting centers in the referendum, but only 2700 centers for gathering signatures. Since the latter did not map directly to the voting centers, this would allow for many possible regressions of the referendum vote on the signatures, with many different data sets and/or control variables. Hausmann and Rigobon also take 1000 random samples from the total number of polling centers and run the same regression, finding a significant result (at the 1 percent level, the same as in the regression in footnote 18) in less than one percent of the regressions. But this does nothing to validate their regression results in footnote 18; if the significant coefficient stemmed from a spurious correlation, then we would expect exactly what they found for the 1000 regressions run on different samples with the same variables.

25. In terms of their model,

Ei = a*Xi +epsi Si = b*Xi +etai where Ei is the exit poll data, Si is the signature data gathered in Nov/Dec 2003, Xi is the voter's intention and epsi and etai are error terms. It is these two error terms, not Ei and Si, which are assumed to be uncorrelated.

26. In Hausmann and Rigobon's model they derive the equation

cov (psi1, psi2)_IV = var(Fi) + f*(1/a-c1iv)cov(Ei,Si) + f^2var(Si),

where psi1 and psi2 are the residuals of regressions of the voting results (Vi) on Ei and Si plus other control variables. As noted by the IV attached to the left hand term, the authors use instrumental variable estimation, for reasons explained in their appendix 1. The term c1iv is the instrumental variable estimator of the coefficient on Ei of the first IV regression. Fi and f are fraud variables associated with the machine rigging; if both are zero the covariance of these residuals would be zero. The authors find a positive covariance when they test this equation; they conclude that this positive covariance is evidence of fraud.

This is one of several steps in which the assumption that the error terms (espi and etai, see footnote beta) are necessary for the authors' result; on this assumption the authors are able to use Ei as an instrument for Sí, and vice versa. But even ignoring the IV estimation, if these error terms are positively correlated, , the right hand side of the equation for this covariance would have additional positive terms. This would give a positive correlation between the residuals -- cov(psi1, psi2) > 0 even if f=o (i.e. the absence of fraud). Therefore, Hausmann and Rigobon's conclusion that there is fraud, in this part of the paper, depends on the questionable assumption that the error terms for the signatures and the exit polls are uncorrelated.

27. Although this firm was hired by CITGO -- owned by the state oil company, PDVSA -- it is a reputable firm and it made its methodology transparent and available. It is difficult to see why this data would be ignored while only opposition-supplied data was used in the Hausmann/Rigobon analysis.

28. For example, we know that there was fraud in the signature gathering process, as 375,000 signatures were disqualified (in addition to the more than 800,000 sent to be "repaired.") The disqualified signatures included dead people, children, foreigners, etc. At the same time, the people who conducted the exit poll could have biased results, depending on who would be willing to answer their questions. It is likely that the pro-Chávez areas would have the highest incidence of refusals to answer; and it is entirely possible that these areas would have the largest errors in the signature gathering process, since these areas would present greater opportunities for fraud in the signature gathering (because of the relative scarcity of signers). This is just one example of a number of possibilities that could lead to a correlation between the error terms for the signatures and the exit polls.

29. Riding, Alan. "Sept. 11 as Right-Wing U.S. Plot: Conspiracy Theory Sells in France". New York Times. June 21, 2002. This article discusses the book "L'Effroyable Imposture" or "The Horrifying Fraud" by French author Thierry Meyssan

30. In Venezuela most of the broadcast and print media is controlled and used as a political tool by the opposition to the government. This is important with respect to this discussion, because conspiracy theories such as those required for the electoral fraud discussed in this paper, that would not gain a large following in most other democracies, sometimes do so in Venezuela.

31. "Venezuela Recall: Analysis of Pre-Election Polling". Evans / McDonough Company, Inc. Sept. 2004.

Related posts:  Presidential Recall Referendum ResultsOpinion polls and exit polls.