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Polls Open in Venezuela Legislative Elections

Elections in Venezuela. Venezuelans arrived to the consulate of their country in New York to vote. Sep. 26, 2010.

Polls are open for legislative elections in Venezuela, where opposition candidates are hoping to cut into the Socialist Party's tight grip in the National Assembly.

Voters waited in lines that stretched down sidewalks and plazas outside polling stations in Caracas early Sunday. The sun was shining overhead, but election officials suggested voters turn out early to avoid possible rain forecast in the capital later in the day.

The National Electoral Council said all but three percent of polling stations across the country had opened, and officials said they expected to resolve problems at those sites soon.

Venezuelans are voting for all of the 165 members of the National Assembly, which is controlled by the Socialist Party of President Hugo Chavez.

Opposition candidates are assured of expanding their tiny share of seats, after boycotting the previous vote in 2005. It is unclear if they can seize a third of the seats, which they are seeking in an effort to block major legislation that requires two-thirds approval.

President Chavez has campaigned heavily for Socialist Party candidates around the country, in an effort to ensure his party retains at least two-thirds of the legislature.

At one voting center in the Caracas neighborhood of Candelaria, retiree Freddy Diaz said the voting process went smoothly. He declined to say which party he is supporting, but said many Venezuelans are ready for a change.

Diaz said the majority of people are unhappy with what is happening in the country, and they want to see some balance in the National Assembly. He said that does not mean voters want to get rid of President Chavez, just rein him in.

Manuel Bermudez wore a red shirt to the polls to show his support for the Socialist party. He praised Mr. Chavez for expanding health and education services, and giving public support to retirees and the poor. But he said the government cannot do it all alone.

Bermudez said the government is doing a good job, but there is still a lot of work to be done. He said, if opposition candidates win many seats, he hopes they will work with the president to maintain those social programs.

Engineering student Marlena declined to give her last name because her husband is a state employee. She said she is voting for the opposition, in part because it is promising to reverse some of the Socialist reforms Mr. Chavez has made.

Marlena said Mr. Chavez decides everything in the country, and the opinions of other people do not matter. She said opposition lawmakers will help to give voice to people outside the Socialist party.

Many voters say, regardless of the vote outcome, they hope to see elected lawmakers work to resolve major problems, such as a rise in violent crime and unemployment.

Election officials say they plan to issue vote results a few hours after polls close Sunday.