Forget voter ID laws–Venezuela is using thumbprint readers at its ballot boxes. But with President Hugo Chavez facing his tightest re-election race yet, some of his opponents say the devices may scare away voters, adding to fears about the fairness of the vote scheduled for Oct. 7. The country’s electoral council has long used fingerprint scanners at the entrance to polling places to ensure voter identification. But this year, the readers will be hooked to the electronic voting machines themselves. Citizens must press down a thumb to activate the ballot system. Some say they fear that could let the government know how each person votes. “If the thumbprint makes the machine work, how do you know it doesn’t end up being recorded who you voted for?” asked Jacqueline Rivas, a 46-year-old housewife.
Experts say there is no evidence the system has ever been used to reveal voters’ preferences, and most opposition leaders, who stand to suffer if supporters don’t vote, have been eager to assure that the system is safe. But worries have persisted. Many government opponents say they see a pro-Chavez bias in the National Electoral Council and remember a previous scandal in which the names of Venezuelans who petitioned to recall Chavez in 2004 were publicly leaked. Hundreds of people alleged they were fired or suffered discrimination after their names turned up on the “Tascon List,” named after a pro-Chavez lawmaker who released it. Chavez later urged supporters to “bury the list” and put it behind them.