Venezuela election results ‘manipulated’ by at least 1 million votes, polling company says

Election results decried by government opponents as a brazen power grab were manipulated by at least 1 million votes, the company that provided Venezuela with its voting system said Wednesday.

Antonio Mugica, chief executive of Smartmatic, which has provided technology for Venezuelan elections since 2004, said it detected an inflated turnout figure Sunday through the nation’s automated balloting system.

“With the deepest regret, we have to say that the turnout data presented on Sunday, July 30 for the constituent election was manipulated,” Mugica said at a news conference in London.

The announcement adds to growing allegations of massive irregularities in the election, which selected a new pro-government super congress with vast powers to change the constitution and suppliant the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The vote has been internationally condemned. The Trump administration, which slapped sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro on Monday, described it as a “sham election” that has turned Venezuela into a de facto dictatorship.

In a sense, there was no way the government could lose Sunday’s vote. All candidates, include the wife and son of Maduro, were backers of the Socialist administration. There was also no threshold of voter participation needed for outcome to be valid.

But obtaining a high turnout was considered vital to proving public enthusiasm for the new Constituent Assembly that gives the government effective control over all branches of government. Polls show the new body — and Maduro himself — both deeply unpopular.

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The government claimed a turnout of 41.5 percent — more than 8 million votes. That figure would be highly symbolic if true, as it is greater than an unofficial ballot held by the opposition last month in which it said that nearly 7.6 million Venezuelans turned out to reject plans for the new, all-powerful legislature.

The opposition boycotted Sunday’s vote. On Tuesday, two top opposition leaders who were under house arrest were taken away by security forces to a military-run detention camp.

On Tuesday, one of the five directors of the country’s election system broke with the body’s official position validating the vote, saying he could not “guarantee the veracity of the results.”

The government’s election commission could immediately be reached for comment. 

On Wednesday, the Reuters news agency reported that it had reviewed internal electoral council data showing that only 3.7 million people had voted by 5:30 p.m. Most polling stations closed at 7 p.m., but some stayed open later.

 Rachelle Krygier contributed to this report.