The performance of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE by its acronym in Spanish) has been a cause for concern for decades. Although it is common for electoral bodies in different countries to be the subject of controversy, usually due to the holding of elections, the Venezuelan case goes far beyond the known parameters.
Indeed, the Organic Law of Electoral Processes (LOPE) grants the CNE the responsibility of managing the Electoral Registry, which is “…the database that will contain the registration of all citizens who, in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the laws, can exercise the right to vote…” (LOPE, art. 27).
This registry is defined in the Law as of a public and continuous nature, that is to say that the administration has the duty to permanently guarantee citizens the possibility of joining the registry or requesting modifications to the data contained in their individual file, usually related to the address of residence, which determines the location in which it corresponds to exercise the vote. Obviously, the inconsistency between the residence of the citizen and the content of the Electoral Registry is vital for the exercise of the right. If a citizen, to cite an example, resides in the state of Nueva Esparta and changes his/her domicile to the state of Zulia, thousands of kilometers away, to vote requires an effort in time and resources that can hardly be solved. Similarly, a Venezuelan citizen who has moved to live in another country, if the CNE does not allow him to modify his registration, would be deprived of his right to vote in the place where he is.
The Law also states that the electoral registry must be characterized by Administrative Efficiency, that is to say that its procedures and procedures must be “transparent, timely, pertinent, efficient, effective and easy to understand, in order to guarantee the inclusion of all citizens.” …” Likewise, it is established that this record will be kept “…automated…”.
On the other hand, the Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Relations, on its website highlights “…The registration or change of address in the CNE is a procedure that is offered to all Venezuelans residing abroad, who wish to participate in the Venezuelan presidential elections, exercising their vote from the Embassies or Consulates of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, either as a first-time voter or by changing the address of the electoral center…”
However, despite the fact that the regulatory framework clearly establishes the duty of the administration to guarantee adequate conditions for the exercise of the vote, the reality is that the CNE does not carry out operations to facilitate access to the electoral registry, except in the regional offices, which is, by all accounts, insufficient. And even in these offices, the procedure can rarely be carried out. Worse still, in the cases in which it is carried out, the citizen cannot verify that it has been fully carried out, since the CNE takes months to publish the updates to the registry. At this time, the most recent update was made nine months ago.
On the other hand, the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, indicates that the number of Venezuelans abroad reaches 7,239,953 people. This number, as is well known, exceeds the population of entire countries. Nearly five million of the people who left the country are of voting age. As the registration data update process is restricted to the Regional Offices, and as consulates abroad do not comply with the duty to carry out the process, in fact, this contingent of millions of Venezuelans is seeing obstacles in the possibility of voting in the 2024 presidential election.
Although the CNE in general terms chooses not to speak out in relation to this situation, there are two arguments that are frequently put forward by pro-government sectors to justify the situation. One refers to the supposed difficulty of carrying out electoral registration and updating operations given the non-existence of consulates in some countries. This argument makes no sense for several reasons. The first of these is that, if this is the reason for preventing registration and subsequent voting in several countries, what would be the reason for not registering in countries where there is representation? Additionally, it should be added: why is this procedure not carried out digitally and remotely? The Venezuelan State currently carries out numerous procedures digitally, such as the issuance of the Fiscal Information Registry, the certification of criminal records and even the issuance of extensions in passports. What prevents a similar option from being generated in this case? Is it perhaps an exclusively political reason that deprives?
Another argument has to do with the fact that, since 2009, the LOPE incorporated a new and discriminatory requirement for the registration of voters abroad: they must demonstrate that their stay in the host country is legal. Indeed, this is indicated in article 124 of the LOPE. Given this norm, it is worth noting its already mentioned discriminatory nature: is it reasonable to demand additional requirements from Venezuelans abroad to those that are imposed on Venezuelans within the territory? Is it reasonable to deposit in a third State the power to determine who are the Venezuelans qualified to exercise one of the most relevant political rights? If this is the case, how is the exercise of sovereignty?
On the other hand, the existence or not of consulates should not limit the exercise of the vote. In fact, there are many countries that carry out electoral processes abroad and do so outside of consular facilities, which are usually extremely limited. Quite to the contrary, it is common to see voting abroad taking place in open areas such as parks or shopping malls.
The international community values the importance of voting as a central element of democracy and, consequently, must appeal to all the resources at its disposal to ensure that the next elections in Venezuela are held following international standards on the matter. The presidential election that will take place, as established by the Constitution, in 2024, will be respected to the extent that it meets the international parameters of a free and fair election. For Venezuela, inserted today in a complex humanitarian emergency, it is essential that a clearly democratic electoral process take place, which allows the creation of a climate of political stability, governability, and progress in social matters.