Surprisingly, any attempt at actually faking electoral results is likely to prove a challenge. According to Federico Ortega, an opposition adviser and Harvard-educated economist, the high-tech vote tabulation machines that Venezuela uses in its elections, as well as the reliability of available quick count methods, would make it technically unfeasible for the CNE to conceal an opposition victory outside of a dead-heat differential of maybe 100,000 votes. “Even then,” he says, “they would only be able to maintain the charade for a short time.”
While not discounting the possibility of a stolen election, Ortega believes that the government would be far more likely to do so by claiming fraud on the part of the opposition and then either disavowing or suspending the elections prior to any public announcement by the CNE itself. Indeed, Chávez himself seems to have already begun preparing his own supporters for just such an eventuality, assuring them that the opposition intends to physically mobilize regardless of the vote’s outcome, offering cryptic warnings of chaos or civil war, and hammering home to his supporters all that they might stand to lose without him.
Yon Goicoechea is a prominent opposition leader who rose to national fame at the head of the movement that handed Chavez his first democratic defeat during a 2007 referendum on executive term limits. He recalls that the CNE demurred for eight hours before announcing the results — a period during which, according to Goicoechea, government officials convened frantic meetings to work out a coherent response, even approaching him and other opposition leaders for “negotiations.”
While the government eventually conceded defeat, Goicoechea says that the opposition would not have sat idly by if it hadn’t: “We were prepared to call the Venezuelan people to the streets to defend their votes and their democracy.” In his view, Capriles, whom he describes as a strong but responsible leader, will almost certainly be willing to do likewise, though “first he would have to know with certainty that we had indeed won.”
The opposition’s ability to counter fraud will depend on their ability to follow the vote counting process in real time. Once the results have been officially declared, contesting the results becomes much harder.
Therein lies the challenge. While the opposition has done much to secure its access to electoral information during the vote itself, only the CNE itself will be privy to exact vote counts prior to the final announcement — by which time it may well be too late. This leaves the opposition dependent on more subjective metrics such as exit polling, observer testimonials, quick counts, and the vastly disparate pre-election polling data. International observers have been largely disallowed for the election, outside of a select few who are unlikely to be particularly critical of the regime, or cooperate much with the opposition.
If the opposition does cry foul and Capriles calls his supporters to the streets, it is by no means certain that the great crowds that rallied to support him on the campaign trail will continue to do so if the government suspends constitutional safety guarantees or implements martial law. Then again, the throngs of enthusiastic supporters that rallied around the opposition candidate during the closing of his campaign in Caracas on Sunday served, to some, as evidence that loyalty runs deep among his followers.