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Audit of Chavez Vote Upholds the Results

August 22, 2004|From Times Wire Services

CARACAS, Venezuela — An audit of Venezuela's recall referendum results has confirmed that President Hugo Chavez won last week's poll fairly, and no evidence was found to support the opposition's claims of massive vote rigging, international observers said Saturday.

Venezuelan election officials, along with observers from the Organization of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Center, conducted the audit by inspecting ballots from 150 voting stations after opposition claims of fraud during the Aug. 15 referendum.

"We think the results released by the National Elections Council are compatible with the check we have done," OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria said. "The type of check used in this audit of the electronic system doesn't leave us much doubt regarding the result."

Gaviria did not provide details of the audit result. Chavez trounced his opponents by capturing 59% of the vote, according to official results released last week by Venezuela's elections council.

Chavez foes refused to participate in the audit, saying the methodology was inadequate and would fail to detect fraud.

Opposition leaders said touch-screen voting machines at hundreds of polling stations produced the exact same number of "yes" votes in favor of ousting Chavez, a result that they say was statistically impossible. Chavez foes argue that such results would indicate that the machines had been rigged to impose a ceiling on "yes" votes.

"It's evident that the opposition has huge doubts" regarding the results, Gaviria said. "We cannot say categorically there was not fraud. We are saying we didn't find it."

During a nationally televised speech late Friday, Chavez urged his opponents to recognize his victory and pledged to conduct a dialogue, even with his "most bitter enemies," to heal Venezuela's deep political divisions.

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