Venezuela election chief rejects tampering claim

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — The head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council is dismissing claims that official voter turnout numbers in a critical election were manipulated.

Tibisay Lucena says allegations by voting software firm Smartmatic that the count was off by at least 1 million votes amount to an “opinion” by a company without access to data determining the results.

She adds that the council reserves the right to seek legal action against what she calls an “irresponsible declaration.”

Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica announced earlier Wednesday that results recorded by his firm’s systems and those reported by Venezuelan officials indicate “without any doubt” that the official turnout figure had been manipulated.

Mugica said “it is therefore with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout figures on Sunday, 30 July, for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela were tampered with.”

The government-stacked electoral council claims more than 8 million people voted in Sunday’s election for a nearly all-powerful constituent assembly. Independent analysts have expressed doubts at that number.

Smartmatic was a company created by Venezuelans that provided electronic voting machines used during the administration of the late President Hugo Chavez.

In recent years it has branched out to provide the same services to countries across the world, while continuing to provide support for elections in Venezuela.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has urged condemnation of the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for the arrest of two top opposition leaders.

Pence said Wednesday in Montenegro that the United States will “hold Maduro personally responsible for the health and safety” of Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma.

The two had been under house arrest but security force officers hustled them off to a military prison before dawn on Tuesday.

Pence says that “in recent days we’ve seen completion of Venezuela’s collapse into dictatorship.” He adds “the United States calls all who cherish freedom to condemn the Maduro regime for its abuse of power and its abuse of its own people.”

He says, “Venezuela deserves democracy.”

Britain’s Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to much of Venezuela amid fears of civil unrest.

Travel advice issued Tuesday notes that all dependents of British Embassy staff have been withdrawn, and it advises travelers to “consider leaving the country by normal commercial means.”

The Foreign Office says there is risk of “disruption to transport links in and out of the country. If the political situation worsens, the British embassy may be limited in the assistance that it can provide.”

Britain’s foreign secretary has also criticized Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro for his arrest of two opposition leaders. Boris Johnson tweeted: “Hundreds have died during protests against Maduro’s actions. Political prisoners must be released + rights, freedoms + democracy respected.”

Associated Press