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Election system in Venezuela: High tech, but low trust

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"Let me be clear: the vote is most likely secret, but it doesn't appear to be secret," he said. "And that's why these machines were installed."

Voter privacy is a sensitive issue in Venezuela. In 2004, the names of more than 2.4 million people who had signed a presidential recall petition were released.

Government agencies were accused of firing and discriminating against people on the Lista Tascon. In 2005, Chavez called on his supporters to quit using the list, but it left many wary of openly opposing the administration.

Still, many view the privacy warnings as an opposition ploy to cloud an eventual Chavez victory. On a recent weekday, Luis Otorio, 62, a retired dentist, stepped out of one of the mock voting booths set up around Caracas. He declared the new system "super fino" and said the only people who were questioning it were supporters of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

"They'll say or do anything to win this race," Otorio said. "They're thrashing around like drowning chickens."

On paper, Venezuela is one of the most civically active nations on the planet, with a voter registration rate of 96.5 percent. (By comparison, only 65 percent of potential U.S. voters are registered.) The Chavez administration has said the historic levels are the result of a massive registration drive, which began in 2003. But for some, the figures are too good.

Alfredo Weil was on the board of Venezuela's election council for 12 years, most recently in 1994. Weil, who now runs the Esdata election watchdog group, points out that in 2003 the registration rate was 76.5 percent. He said it is hard to believe that voter rolls increased so dramatically over such a short period of time.

"According to government figures all but (3 percent) of people took the time to register to vote but abstention is 30 percent," he said. "It just makes no sense."

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