Paper short abstract:
The use of new technology in voting processes can both facilitate and hamper ‘free and fair’ elections. This paper concerns the institution of new practices and technology in Venezuela, focusing on the recall referendum that took place in 2003-2004 and the consequences for democracy in the country.
Paper long abstract:
The use of new technology in voting processes can both facilitate and hamper ‘free and fair’ elections. Recent balloting in Venezuela, including the 2004 presidential recall referendum and the 2005 elections to the national assembly, were marked by the introduction of electronic voting machines which caused considerable dispute and distrust. Also, prior to and after votes were held, digital technology and the Internet were used to record and to disseminate peoples’ political preferences, leading to economic persecution. While actual balloting may remain secret other mechanisms that are part of a democratic process - such as petitions and the right to abstention - can be monitored in ways that oblige citizens to make their political position explicit, enabling the exclusion and punishment of non-government supporters. Such events raise questions about how consensus on the use of new technology in political processes might be reached, and how its use can be adequately controlled to guarantee citizens’ rights to the secret ballot, particularly where state institutions are weak or under the control of the executive power. Government incursion on the secret ballot has led to growing resistance in Venezuela and the strengthening of support for civil society organizations, although their future is uncertain.
Cultures of voting: ethnographies of the secret ballot