Venezuela Recount: Capriles Secures Partial Audit

PHOTO: Venezuelan presidential election runner-up Henrique Capriles arrives for a press conference in Caracas, on April 18, 2013.RAUL ARBOLEDA/Getty Photos
Venezuelan presidential election runner-up Henrique Capriles arrives for a press conference in Caracas, on April 18, 2013.

Venezuelan officials said late on Thursday that they would audit a significant portion of votes from Sunday's hotly contested presidential election.

The move is expected to simmer political tensions in Venezuela where opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has not yet recognized what appears to have been a narrow loss to Chavez's protégé, Nicolas Maduro.

Capriles, who leads opposition to Venezuela's socialist government, lost Sunday's presidential election by less than 300,000 votes, according to results issued by Venezuela's National Electoral Council [CNE]. But the 40-year-old state governor immediately asked for a full recount, claiming that thousands of irregularities had occurred on election day.

Late on Thursday night, the CNE said that it would accept an audit of 46 percent of the voting machines and ballot boxes used on Sunday. It argued that a full recount of votes was not necessary because 54 percent of ballot boxes had already gone through an obligatory audit on Sunday.

Although this pronouncement seemed to fall somewhat short of Capriles' initial expectations, the opposition leader hailed it as a victory for his cause.

Capriles mentioned that it had taken four consecutive days of protests by millions of Venezuelans who furiously banged pots and pans from their homes in order for the CNE to revert an initial decision in which it had said that there would be no manual recount.

"I want to congratulate the people [of Venezuela], this was your struggle," Capriles said in a press conference attended by dozens of journalists.

Venezuelans vote on machines with touch screens where they press the picture of their favorite candidate. The machine then prints a "receipt" that says who the person is voting for, which the voter then places in a ballot box.

The ballot boxes are what will be audited, but it's unclear how. Capriles is hoping that voter registries for each of the ballot boxes that are up for revision will also be audited. This would allow experts to check for violations like the same person voting many times, or people voting using IDs of citizens who have already died. These are problems that frequently happen in Venezuela, according to election experts.

The CNE said that the audit will take a month. For now, it will certainly not stop Maduro, who will be sworn in on Friday in a ceremony attended by several heads of state, from acting as the president of Venezuela.

Still, Capriles was optimistic that the audit will reveal serious irregularities.

"The problems [with Venezuela's election] are in those boxes," Capriles said on Thursday. "With them, we can demonstrate the truth."