Thursday, July 10, 1997

A lean, not so mean, vote counting machine

Last week I read somewhere that the automatizations of 70% of the electoral process would cost the Nation some US$ 134 million without including the telecommunications network and the education of the voting age population. This brought back memories of the last election, when I left the “school” in which I exercised my obligation and right to vote, feeling depressed that it had been decided to use the shell, the mere physical installations of a school, without incorporating what would in essence be the perfect administration machinery for an electoral process, its student body.

When we look at the high levels of abstention registered in recent elections in Venezuela, it would not be rash to assume that the origins of our democracy’s real problems lie much deeper, and that the latter cannot be rectified simply by the implementation of a sophisticated electronic vote counting system. While the tendency of increasing abstention is not reverted, I find it difficult to accept that the current system has earned the right to receive such a considerable infusion of resources. Projections of voter turnout in future elections would indicate that a blackboard and a piece of chalk would suffice for the vote count.

It is necessary to put the magnitude of the funds being proposed in perspective. These resources would be sufficient to equip 250,000 Venezuelan students with up-to-date computers that would allow them to face the next century, better prepared and with considerably more confidence.

I feel intuitively that should we delegate the control and tabulation of vote results in our children, we would obtain, at a fraction of the cost, much quicker and reliable results than those produced today by our dilapidated electoral system. This would additionally insure the incorporation of our youngsters into our democratic system at an early age.

The implementation of this idea could take various tacks. Personally, I believe that universities and institutions such as IESA would be more than pleased to collaborate. Since the Church has always highlighted the importance of the family that prays together, and since this concept can easily be applied to democracy as well, it would be logical to incorporate the clergy in conjunction with parent associations as well. By the way, I would love to see a united effort by our armed forces and our youth to organize all that is relative to our elections. I suspect, however, that our politicians would not dare promote such an important joint deployment of forces.

What I really have no doubts about is whom we should be maintaining as far away from the process as possible. I am referring to those that consider, as is occurring with the reform of our judicial system, that all democratic reform must necessarily begin with the negotiation of new credit facilities with the World Bank.

It is very possible that there are people out there that will object to this proposal, basing their objections on arguments that our children are not sufficiently prepared or that unscrupulous political agents would simply corrupt them. I would simply counter that these detractors simply do not know our youth. “De que vuelan, vuelan”. Not only are they much too astute to be taken for a ride (a weakness that seems to be acquired by adults precisely at voting age), but they also seem to have a much better sense of democracy than we adults do. (We refer, obviously, to those children that are currently being educated and not those that regretfully have been abandoned by society, a faithful reflection of our own incapacity).

It could be that these young members of society will be too sharp, and as a consequence would play dirty and impose their own “agenda” on us. I don’t think this would occur, but should it indeed happen, I’m convinced it would not be at all bad. Remember that they must live much longer with the consequences of our electoral choices. A sixty year old that elects inept representatives to office will suffer the consequences for twenty years, his children for forty years and his grandchildren for a whopping sixty. And, while we are speaking of playing dirty, how about all this foreign debt we have passed on as a legacy to our children and grandchildren.

Today, our electoral system is totally discredited. Maybe an injection of enthusiasm and youthful idealism is exactly what it needs.

A father of three prospective Electoral Officials