Friday, August 20, 2004

Nitpicking the NYTimes on Venezuela

Juan Forero of the New York Times plays sloppily into the hands of conspiracy theorists on the left, when he erroneous writes in today's paper:

The United States has also provided money to groups like Súmate, which violated elections norms early on Monday by distributing results of a survey of voters leaving the polls that showed Mr. Chávez losing by a wide margin.

Given that Súmate has received money from NED, this smells fishy. The only problem, however, as anyone with access to the internet could tell you, is that it wasn't a Súmate survey. Rather it was a survey, commissioned by we-know-not-whom, but definitely prepared, supervised, publicized and now defended by the U.S. polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland, apparently with a bad rep from their polling of the 2000 Mexican elections. Yes, they relied on Súmate activists to carry it out, but it was Penn & company that violated Venezuelan electoral laws by releasing their exit poll 4 1/2 hours before the polls closed last Sunday.

Súmate, in fact, carried out a separate quick count that gave Chávez a victory, and released their results publicly on Monday afternoon, less than a day after the polls closed. Yes, they still are wary of the voting machines, but that's a different story.

Speaking of which, a reporter whom I trust by reputation and experience, Phil Gunson, reporting with Steven Dudley for the Miami Herald, has a story in Friday's paper which doesn't outright dismiss the opposition charges, but seems to find them minimal:
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 tally 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.
Or maybe they are just being even-handed, since they go on to note the evidence to the contrary:

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.

Maybe a few machines screwed up. Who knows? However, if the opposition "Coordinadora Democratica is alleging quite specific irregularities in a specified set of voting centers," as Caracas Chronicles attests, then it seems even less plausible that, in these limited number of places, the Chávez government would have been able to reverse the 1.5 million vote margin of victory.

The Times get's one thing right, at least (well, actually lots of things--I'm just nitpicking): a Chávez victory is a defeat for the Bush administration, which continues to have no clue as to which way the wind is blowing in Latin America.

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