With two months to go before Venezuela’s election on October 7, the regime of Hugo Chavez is exploring ways more foul than fair to secure a fourth term in office for the Comandante.
For the first time this year, the fingerprint scanners used in the past to verify voter ID will be connected to the electronic voting machines themselves. Because voters will have to press down a thumb in order to activate the ballot system, there are justified fears of an electronic record of every individual vote. For tyrants who occasionally allow the public a trip to the polling station, knowing who the dissidents are is both a nasty weapon and a powerful one; in the early 1980s, Chavez’s close friend Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, punished the rebellious voters of Matabeleland with a campaign of violence, public executions and enforced famine.
If the Chavistas are trying to sow fear in the hearts of Venezuelans tempted to vote for his arrival, the moderate leftist Henrique Capriles, they appear to be succeeding:
“If the thumbprint makes the machine work, how do you know it doesn’t end up being recorded who you voted for?” asked Jacqueline Rivas, a 46-year-old housewife.
Experts say there is no evidence the system has ever been used to reveal voters’ preferences, and most opposition leaders, who stand to suffer if supporters don’t vote, have been eager to assure that the system is safe.