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Venezuela: CNE's Mejías contradicted her fellow Director Jorge Rodríguez on new rules for verification

By Yolanda Ojeda Reyes, El Universal

The CNE is expected to set a position on the analysis of the signatures that have been isolated for further examination. This might imply a change in the verification norms. The statements made by Jorge Rodríguez, member of the directors' board of the National Electoral Council (CNE), about the examination of a sample of signatures submitted to the agency demanding recall votes have put the opposition in state of alarm, as the rules for such an examination seem likely to change.

However, Sobella Mejías, who is also a director of the CNE, contradicted Rodríguez by saying that changing these norms at this moment would "not be either logical or legal."

"That announcement is not official," she said. "It has not even been presented to the directors."

The CNE is expected to set a position on the analysis of the signatures and fingerprints that have been isolated for further examination. This might imply a change in the verification norms, as experts of the body presume that many names in the collection forms have been written by the same person. The precise number of these forms is still unclear. Rodríguez said that the criteria to select a signature sample of such forms are yet to be defined in accordance with recommendations of the Electoral Technical Committee.

At the same time, Carlos Berrizbeitia, a deputy of the Proyecto Venezuela opposition party for Sucre state, said that the new situation is a setup against the opposition. "That is all a plot," he said. The strategy of the government's supporters, Berrizbeitia explained, is that in case the signatures collected by pro-government parties are not enough to call a referendum against opposition legislators, about 47 percent of the collection forms under observation will be invalidated.

The absence of the government's campaign group Comando Ayacucho in the verification site is a sign of this strategy, he said.

Berrizbeitia described the "new sample" of signatures recently proposed for examination as a "huge trick" to impede the presidential recall vote. Henrique Salas Römer, leader of Berrizbeitia's party, said that there is "no way to ignore the signatures." For Salas, the problems will come from elsewhere.

"The (recall) mechanism will be activates," he commented. "The major danger is electronic voting: The voting machines can be sabotaged, the data violated and the results changed." Moreover, the opposition alliance Democratic Coordinator will submit a document to the CNE demanding that the companies competing to provide electronic voting machines be duly certified, have experience in the field and demonstrate their financial capacity.

According to the document, two of the bidding companies are not certified. CNE sources indicate that the electronic vote offers being considered by the electoral authority range from $30 million, made by the Spanish company Indra Sistemas, to over $100 million, made by Tecosa, also Spanish.

The Venezuelan firm Smartmatic has proposed a deal involving $60 million for the regional election and $40 million for the recalls. However, Smartmatic and Tecosa do not have the certification from the countries where they manufacture their voting machines, which makes it impossible to audit them.

Translated by Edgardo Malaver

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