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New evidence that Jimmy Carter got fooled in Venezuela.

The Wall Street Journal

Thursday, September 9, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT - 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.

This is no small matter. The imprimatur of Mr. Carter and his Carter Center election observers is being used by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to claim a mandate. The anti-American strongman has been steering his country toward dictatorship and is stirring up trouble throughout Latin America. If the recall election wasn't fair, why would Americans want to endorse it?

The new study was released this week by economists Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard and Roberto Rigobon of MIT. They zeroed in on a key problem with the August 18 vote audit that was run by the government's electoral council (CNE): In choosing which polling stations would be audited, the CNE refused to use the random number generator recommended by the Carter Center. Instead, the CNE insisted on its own program, run on its own computer. Mr. Carter's team acquiesced, and Messrs. Hausmann and Rigobon conclude that, in controlling this software, the government had the means to cheat.

"This result opens the possibility that the fraud was committed only in a subset of the 4,580 automated centers, say 3,000, and that the audit was successful because it directed the search to the 1,580 unaltered centers. That is why it was so important not to use the Carter Center number generator. If this was the case, Carter could never have figured it out."

Mr. Hausmann told us that he and Mr. Rigobon also "found very clear trails of fraud in the statistical record" and a probability of less than 1% that the anomalies observed could be pure chance. To put it another way, they think the chance is 99% that there was electoral fraud.

The authors also suggest that the fraud was centralized. Voting machines were supposed to print tallies before communicating by Internet with the CNE center. But the CNE changed that rule, arranging to have totals sent to the center first and only later printing tally sheets. This increases the potential for fraud because the Smartmatic voting machines suddenly had two-way communication capacity that they weren't supposed to have. The economists say this means the CNE center could have sent messages back to polling stations to alter the totals.

None of this would matter if the auditing process had been open to scrutiny by the Carter observers. But as the economists point out: "After an arduous negotiation, the Electoral Council allowed the OAS [Organization of American States] and the Carter Center to observe all aspects of the election process except for the central computer hub, a place where they also prohibited the presence of any witnesses from the opposition. At the time, this appeared to be an insignificant detail. Now it looks much more meaningful."

Yes, it does. It would seem that Colin Powell and the Carter Center have some explaining to do. The last thing either would want is for Latins to think that the U.S is now apologizing for governments that steal elections. Back when he was President, Mr. Carter once famously noted that the Afghanistan invasion had finally caused him to see the truth about Leonid Brezhnev. A similar revelation would seem to be in order toward Mr. Chavez.



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