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The Noble Confusion of the NYT and Oxford Analytica

By Alexandra Beech,

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s call it confusion. In its daily report dated March 5, Oxford Analytica, an “international consulting firm which provides business and political leaders with timely analysis of worldwide political, economic and social developments” states that Venezuela’s National Electoral Council needs “to clarify why 876,017 signatures have the same calligraphy.” In an article titled “O.A.S. Seeks Peaceful Solution to Tense Venezuelan Impasse” dated March 4, Juan Forero of the New York Times reports that “876,017 signatures displayed signs of similar handwriting, and that an additional 233,000 were disqualified for other reasons.”

These are colossal and irresponsible mistakes. The signatures collected by the opposition for a referendum are not being questioned by the electoral authorities. At question is not whether the signatures displayed similar handwriting.

The signatures show original and individual handwriting.

At issue is the data that corresponds to the signatures, such as the signatory’s full name in print, address and identification number.

Many people who couldn’t fill out the forms alone, be it for a lack of education, age, bad health, or confusion, were assisted by volunteers standing next to the tables. This took place under the watchful eyes of both pro-government and pro-opposition observers, electoral workers, and international observers.

The individuals who were assisted when filling out their forms provided their own signatures.

At the time, no one had a problem with the assistance provided. Not the electoral authorities, nor the pro-government witnesses.

It only became an issue when the opposition presented 3.4 million signatures, well above the 2.4 million required to activate the recall referendum.

It is imperative that anyone observing Venezuela’s electoral process understands this small detail. To write that 876,017 signatures “have the same calligraphy” or “display similar handwriting” implies that the opposition committed massive fraud, promoting Chavez’s accusations better than even him.

By rejecting the “assisted” forms, the National Elections Council violated its own norms.

Article 22 of the norms on recall referenda states that only the signature is required to be a “handwritten original”. It says nothing of the corresponding data.

On own website, Oxford Analytica claims to “draw on the scholarship of Oxford and other major universities and research institutions around the world.” On its website, The New York Times Company, which owns The New York Times, states that its “core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.” Needless to say, their analysts and reporters fail to meet their company’s standards.

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