The gross unfairness of the 2012 presidential campaign is now seeing a rebirth in the post-Chavez campaign. In the current campaign between Maduro and Capriles, the abuse of cadenas is already in full effect. Since the campaign began, Maduro has taken of all broadcast media for 8 hours and 43 minutes of illegal campaigning. Meanwhile, the state television channel has broadcast 1 minute and 18 seconds of Capriles speaking. The only mentions of Capriles are to ridicule or to attack him. This extraordinary evidence of unfairness is utterly ignored by those observing the election process. The Venezuelan government has not authorized observers from the OAS for the upcoming contest.
The 2012 debacle coalesced into a well-founded fear of lack of ballot secrecy and that a vote against Chavez might well lead to retaliation by the government.
The country's electronic voting machines have been the subject of suspicion since 2004, when the government contracted with a Miami-based company, Smartmatic, to procure them, abandoning the previous system of paper ballots. Smartmatic was secretly financed and controlled by the government, giving it access to the software and hardware used in the contest. The Smartmatic machines were Venezuela's first experience with electronic voting, and the skepticism was recently compounded by the introduction of an additional machine: the capta huellas, which literally means "fingerprint catcher."
In theory, these machines are meant to combat voter fraud by confirming the identity of the voter. In order to cast a ballot, the voter must input his or her identification number and then place a thumb on the pad for verification. In practice, the machines are meant to buttress the (inaccurate) perception that the government not only knows you, but also who you vote for. This is why the electronic verification system takes place inside the polling booth, adjoined to the voting machine, and not outside when the voter checks in. The device preys on well-founded fears of retaliation against opposition voters -- a second practice that gave Chavez a nearly insurmountable advantage. A pre-election poll in Venezuela indicated that 40 percent of those questioned did not believe their ballots would be secret and 30 percent stated that this intimidated them.
Secondly, Venezuela has a sordid precedent of violating the democratic principle of ballot secrecy from the 2004 referendum petition, which sought to remove Chavez from office in a recall election. Chavez famously warned: "Whoever signs [the petition] against Chavez... their name will be there, registered for history, because they'll have to put down their first name, their last name, their signature, their identity card number, and their fingerprint."
This registry of names was later published by a chavista congressman, Luis Tascón, on his personal website. The "Lista Tascón" was used to create an apartheid-like system, dividing Venezuelans into those who "had signed against the president" and those who were loyal to Chavez. Public employees lost their jobs, those seeking employment were instantly disqualified, and identification papers became hard to get for those who had dared sign the recall petition. Citizens seeking loans from state banks were told they had opted out of any assistance due to their disloyalty to Chavez. Although no law was passed making discrimination statutory, every government official knew they had no incentive to treat declared opponents of the regime in a favorable manner. To the contrary, many ministries circulated instructions to bureaucrats as to the wisdom of engaging in discrimination. It is worth underlining that the social programs instituted by Chavez in the poorest neighborhoods of Venezuela use the capta huellas machine to register the beneficiaries of the programs, thus creating an even stronger psychological link between fingerprinting readers and benefits from the state.