Dr. Anitza Freitez is Professor of Demography and Director of the Economic and Social Sciences Institute (IIES) at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB). Under her coordination, in 2012 the IIES-UCAB carried out a project called Monitor Electoral that provided expert and independent analysis of the electoral campaign. One of the most important documents produced by this project was a demographic analysis of the Electoral Register. Freitez and her colleagues recently revised and expanded that document. Their most important conclusion is that the Electoral Register is consistent and trustworthy. In January I had the chance to discuss her analysis with her.

Why do an analysis of the electoral register? 

It is important that we have some idea of the consistency of the electoral register and its demographic composition, because the country has experienced a series of changes that have gone a bit unnoticed by the population. There is a perception out there that we are still predominantly a population of children, with more than half the population under 15 years of age. Many people think it is not possible that the population over age 18 has reached the volume that the electoral register is now showing. Therefore it’s important to show that the electoral register is experiencing growth because of changes in its gender and age composition, and that its volume reflects these changes, not because it includes people it shouldn’t. The ER may have other deficiencies, but its size reflects the evolution of the electoral population.

So you are saying that the electoral register is trustworthy?

Yes. Again, one of the criticisms made of the electoral register is its size. Some have said that in no country worldwide do we see the levels of inclusion of the Venezuelan register, of over 95%. But when one looks at other Latin American countries, one finds the example of Mexico, which has made an important effort to improve its electoral register in the last 15 years, and which by 2012 had an ER covering 96%. In the case of Costa Rica we see a register covering 95%. Peru is at the same level. Chile is another example we quote in our work, at the time of the plebiscite between democracy and the continuation of Pinochet, it had an electoral register covering 92%. In Venezuela among young people age 18-24 there is a growth of the registered population and this is in part due to the activities of political organizations that have promoted the registration of young people.

Right now the ER covers 98% of the voting age population. Does that rate control for discrepancies? For example, there are certain states where there are more people in the ER than the total of people of that age alive. Does that 98% control for that discrepancy or does the figure simply come from the total of the electoral register over the total of people of that age in the population?

At the state level we found that there were more people in the electoral register than the potential electoral population, so the electoral register effectively covered more that 100%. However, when evaluating the demographic consistency of the register at the level of states and municipalities, one also needs to evaluate population projections. The population projections for the most impoverished states often have higher levels of error, leading to an underestimation of the potential electoral population, which could be affecting the calculations of the rate of coverage. In addition, the poorest states also have problems purging the electoral register of deceased people.

Could we say that the figure of 98% is too generous? Perhaps it truly covers only 80%, but because it has not been purged it shows 98%.

According to our estimations the volume of deceased that have not been purged from the electoral register does not significantly affect the ER. The error does not reach even 1% of the ER.

A skeptic might point out that it is precisely the most populated states that have less coverage, while some of the least populated show over coverage, and then point to the fact the in the most populated states Chavez´s government has a support of 40 to 50%, while in the least populated states have a support of 60 to 70%. Is there something political in this or is it simply something about the quality of the information?

It’s an issue of the quality of information. We need more research on the impact of internal migrations. Look at the case of Monagas, for example, one of the entities that has an over coverage. This is a case where population projections do not reflect the real volume of the population because the migratory projections were wrong. Monagas was heavily impacted by oil investments in the ‘90s, and estimates did not account for the increase in migration this caused.

In other words the electoral register grows faster than the estimated population. Okay you have compared other Latin American countries. How does the current RE compare with the past? How does the electoral register compare now with the register in the 1990s?

In the 1990s we saw a decrease in the coverage, which was related to the lack of participation in the electoral events of that decade and the lack of enthusiasm and interest, especially among young people. The level of voter registration among the population between 18 and 24 years of age was very low and this had an impact on the overall coverage indicator. Again Venezuela was not an exception then. There is also the case of Chile, where you find today a concern for the aging of their electoral register because the young population is not showing interest in political participation and is not registering to vote.