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Former US President Carter Proposes Audit of Venezuelan Recall Election Results - 2004-08-18

In Venezuela, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Organization of American States Secretary General Cesar Gaviria say election officials have agreed to conduct a sample audit of the vote in Sunday's recall referendum. This follows a meeting with opposition leaders, who say they have evidence that the election results were manipulated through a computer program that limited votes to remove President Hugo Chavez and augmented votes in his favor.

President Carter says he and Mr. Gaviria have no reason to question the integrity of the electoral process in Venezuela or to doubt the accuracy of the results announced Monday that gave the victory to President Chavez. But, Mr. Carter says, they recommended the audit in order to address concerns raised by the opposition.

"This audit will remove any doubt about the accuracy of the electronically transmitted data, election results, as compared with the actual ballots that each voter looked at and deposited in the box at the time of voting," he said.

Mr. Carter said the audit, which will take place over the next two days, will not involve a count of all votes, but will rely on a random sample of 150 vote boxes, which are now being guarded at military garrisons around the country. He says both government and opposition representatives will be present when the paper ballots are removed from each box and counted.

Earlier Tuesday, opposition leaders presented the international observer mission with what they described as evidence of irregularities. Various opposition leaders also took to the airwaves denouncing what they called fraud.

But Jimmy Carter firmly rejected the use of the word. "There is no evidence of fraud and any allegations of fraud are completely unwarranted," he said.

Opposition leaders, however, persist in their condemnations. The president of the Democratic Action Party, Jesus Mendez Quijada, claims that the fraud was committed long before voters went to the polls Sunday.

He says there was a grand fraud planned in advance and that the election was fixed in favor of President Chavez through a software program that caused voting machines to misrepresent the votes being cast.

A political consultant sympathetic to the opposition, Juan Jose Rendon, appearing on Venezuela's Globovision television network, showed copies of several vote counts from voting machines each showing the exact same number of votes in favor of the recall, while the totals of the no votes varied. He said it was mathematically improbable that this was a matter of coincidence, suggesting that it was the result of a computer software program that put a ceiling on the number of yes votes, while allowing no votes to accumulate without limit.

Meanwhile, the Chavez government is calling on opposition leaders to stop their complaining and accept the election results. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel says he is disappointed in the opposition attitude. He says he and President Chavez have offered dialogue in an effort to foster reconciliation, but that opposition leaders have yet to accept their invitation.