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Electoral Irregularities under Chavismo: A Tally

Reading Time: 4 minutesAn ongoing effort to catalog electoral infractions in Venezuela since 1999.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

This is a draft document and part of an ongoing project on electoral irregularities in Venezuela.  Please help improve this document by reporting any errors and omissions to jcorrales@amherst.edu

Just days ahead of the first post-Chávez election since 1998, Venezuela’s opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, has made electoral irregularities a major issue in his campaign.  Claiming that Venezuela’s leading electoral body, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE), is nothing but an appendage of the government, Capriles said that his campaign has filed more than 100 complaints of electoral irregularities. 

This is not the first time that elections in Venezuela are marred with accusations of irregularities.  In the October 2012 elections, when Capriles ran against Hugo Chávez and lost by an 11-point margin, the opposition made many accusations of irregularities.  However, on election night, Capriles accepted defeat immediately—to the consternation of many who wanted him to cry foul. 

But Capriles is taking a more intolerant stand this time.  “I’m not the same person I was on October 7. I tolerated a lot of abuse,” Capriles recently said, referring to his quick concession in October.  “[This time,] I’m going to defend all of Venezuela’s votes,” he vowed. 

Nobody knows for sure whether the Venezuelan opposition will accept the April 14 results as gracefully as it did in October.  But regardless of what happens on election night, Capriles has highlighted a key problem in Venezuela’s electoral system:  the incidence of irregularities. This deserves a closer look.

Elections, Irregularites and Partial Reform in Chávez’s Venezuela

The Chavista period (1999-present) in Venezuela is often praised for its commitment to elections.  The April 14 election will be Venezuela’s 17th election in less than 15 years, which is an impressive record in terms of frequency.

However, Venezuela’s frequent elections are also characterized by two less praise-worthy features:  irregularities and partial reforms. 

Almost every electoral process since the beginning of the Chavista period has featured major irregularities or biases in favor of the incumbent party.  These irregularities consist of practices that depart from either the spirit or the letter of Venezuelan law or from international standards for conducting “free and fair” elections. 

The Venezuelan opposition, the press, non-governmental organizations, and international watchdogs have discovered irregularities in almost every electoral process; the government has almost never made such discoveries.  It should be noted that most irregularities occur prior to, rather than during, Election Day. 

The discovery of electoral irregularities then prompts the government to reform the electoral system—but these reforms are typically partial.  The government addresses some of the irregularities but not all of them, and often introduces new irregularities in subsequent elections.  This pattern of irregularities, followed by partial reforms, is a hallmark of Venezuela’s electoral processes (Corrales and Penfold 2011).

Below is a list of the irregularities and pro-government biases that have emerged in Venezuelan elections since 1999. While this list does not report some of the important reforms and changes that the government has made, it does reveal new irregularities in nearly every election. 

In observing the future of democracy in a post-Chávez Venezuela, it will be vital to observe whether this pattern of electoral irregularities and partial reform will be changed by whichever new government comes next.   

To read an informal summary of general election observations standards, click here.

Note:  In the table below, each irregularity is coded according to whether it violated:
       a) the law (L)
       b) the spirit of the law (SL)
       c) an international standard (IS + the number of the corresponding international standard listed here).

Orange entries below are expandable. Please click on the entry to expand.


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Brewer-Carías, Allan R. 2010. Dismantling Democracy in Venezuela: The Chávez Authoritarian Experiment, Cambridge University Press.

Carter Center, The. 2005. Observing the Venezuelan Presidential Recall Referendum Comprehensive Report.

Carter Center, The. 2012. Final Report of the Carter Center Study Mission to the October 7, 2012 Presidential Election in Venezuela. Atlanta, The Carter Center.

Combellas, Ricardo. 2003. El proceso Constituyente y la Constitución de 1999. Caracas: 16.

Corrales, Javier.  2011.  “Venezuela: A Setback for Chávez.” Journal of Democracy 22, 1 (January)

Corrales, Javier.  2013.  “Venezuela’s Succession Crisis.”  Current History (February)

Corrales, Javier and Michael Penfold. 2011. Dragon in the Tropics:  Hugo Chávez and the Political Economy of Revolution in Venezuela. Washington, DC, Brookings Institution Press.

Delfino, Gustavo and Guillermo Salas. 2011. “Analysis of the 2004 Venezuela Referendum:  The Official Results versus the Petition Signatures.” Statistical Science 26(4): 479-501.

European Union. 2006.  Electoral Observation Mission Venezuela 2005. 

European Union. 2006. Electoral Observation Mission Venezuela Presidential Elections 2006:  Final Report. Caracas.

Hausmann, Ricardo and Roberto Rigobón. 2011. “In Search of the Black Swan:  Analysis of the Statistical Evidence of Electoral Fraud in Venezuela.” Statistical Science 26(4): 543-563.

Hawkins, Kirk A. and David R. Hansen. 2006. “Dependent and Civil Society:  The Círculos Bolivarianos in Venezuela.” Latin American Research Review 41(1): 102-132.

Hidalgo, Manuel. 2009. “Hugo Chávez’s ‘Petro-Socialism’.” Journal of Democracy 20(2): 78-92.

Human Rights Watch. 2008. A Decade Under Chávez:  Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela.

Jatar, Ana Julia. 2006. Apartheid del siglo XXI. Caracas, Publicaciones Monfort.

Kornblith, Miriam. 2005. “Elections versus Democracy.” Journal of Democracy.

Kornblith, Miriam. 2006. La revocatoria de mandato en Venezuela:  Contexto, contenidos y balance de su aplicación. XXVI Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Maingón, Thaís, Carmen Pérez Baralt and Heinz R. Sonntag. 2000. “La batalla por una nueva Constitución para Venezuela.” Revista Mexicana de Sociología 62: 91-124.

Monaldi, Francisco, Richard Obuchi and Alfredo Guerra. 2011. Las elecciones legislativas de 2010 en Venezuela.   Cuando dos más dos no son cuatro. Caracas, IESA.

Myers, David J. 2012. Local Government Subordination and the Struggle to Participate Latin American Studies Association. San Francisco, CA.

Nagel, Juan Cristóbal. 2013.  Finding the Right Note. Foreign Policy Online, Transition Blog

Rivera, Adriana and Fabiola Zerpa. 2013. La maquinaria petrolera busca los votos. El Nacional. Caracas.

Sosa Gómez, Cecilia. n.d.  Renuncia a la Presidencia de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, palabras de Cecilia Sosa Gómez. Analítica.com

Viciano Pastor, Roberto and Rubén  Martínez Dalmau. 2001. Cambio político y proceso constituyente en Venezuela, 1998-2000 Caracas, Vadell Hermanos.

Author’s Note: I am grateful to Christopher Sabatini, Juan Cristóbal Nagel, David Myers, Francisco Monaldi, Miriam Kornblith, Michael Penfold, Carlos Romero and Manuel Hidalgo for their comments, and to Alejandro Sucre and Federico Sucre for their research assistance.

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Tags: 2013 Venezuela Elections, Electoral observation, Venezuela
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