Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Vzla: Chavez taking front before he loses?

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Despite an electronic voting fiasco in 2000 and the furor over e-voting in the United States, Venezuela is using untested touchscreen computers for its recall referendum on Hugo Chavez's presidency.

Critics fear touchscreen voting machines in the August 15 vote could fail spectacularly, exacerbating a crisis over Chavez's rule that has polarized the world's No. 5 oil exporter and killed dozens in sporadic political violence.

The touchscreen machines on which a third of the U.S. electorate will vote in November are dangerously vulnerable to hackers, rigging and mechanical failure, computer scientists generally agree.

That didn't deter the Chavez-dominated Venezuelan Elections Council from choosing Smartmatic Corp., a little-known Boca Raton, Florida-based company, to provide similar technology -- albeit with a printed record of each vote -- for the referendum.

Smartmatic has never tested its machines in an election. And there has been no independent analysis or certification of its touchscreen system, although the council says the system will be audited before the vote.

In the United States, touchscreen computers are partly an attempt to eliminate hanging chads and other problems associated with the disputed U.S. presidential election results in Florida in 2000. Chavez often cites the Florida debacle to question George W. Bush's presidential credentials.

Yet in Venezuela, an electronic voting system produced that very same year what is widely known as the "mega-flop."

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