Of all the sub-species in the bewildering fauna of Venezuelan oppositionism, the one I understand the least is the Tarjeta Única Jihadist: folk who’ve made it a point of honor to have a single spot on the ballot for the Opposition Candidate, rather than as many spots as parties backing him.
It’s a nice idea, in principle…but only if you’ve never seen a Venezuelan presidential ballot.
Just to jog your memory, here’s what they look like:
This is not – repeat, not – a Chigüire Bipolar parody: this is the actual 2006 presidential ballot. Venezuela’s wacky Ballot Access rules make it dead easy to get a spot on a national ballot, yielding this kind of monstrosity even for an election with just two serious candidates!
Now, if the opposition could obtain an unambiguous commitment from the elections authorities to get an easy-to-find spot on the tarjetón – top right corner, say, or at least first row – then the Tarjeta Única might be ok.
But this is CNE we’re talking about, fergodsake: if Capriles was on a Tarjeta Única it would end up on like the third column, nineteenth row, where nobody at all can find it.
I come at this question slightly sideways. When I was 19 years old, I volunteered to run a student election at the little gringo college I went to. We had 1,200 voters, all young, all highly literate, all perfectly capable of figuring out the Preferential Voting system we were using to gauge the popularity of student clubs and organizations.
I remember with shock and horror the absolute dog’s breakfast we got back from the poll, with students just plain unable to decypher the simple instructions I’d written across the top of each ballot.
That experience of running my own little private CNE marked me. You overestimate people’s competence before a ballot paper at your own peril. Everyone struggles. Even elite college students struggle. Why would we make the ordeal harder for the millions of functionally illiterate people we desperately need to woo?
Now, pardon me if I go off on a bit of a rant, but here’s the part I really don’t get:
How is it that an opposition that’s cried itself hoarse over the loss of tens of thousands of votes due to ballot stuffing in remote parts of the country can’t seem to bring itself to care about the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of votes it stands to lose by hiding its tarjeta where its low-information supporters can’t find it?
It’s like a vote lost to ballot stuffing hurts “more” somehow than a vote lost to a obtuse decision of our own.
In an ideal world, we’d have less moronic ballot access rules. I especially like the British model, where candidates have to pay a somewhat considerable (£500) deposit to their local CNE to get on the ballot, and the money is returned to any candidate that tops 5% of the vote. I guarantee the Partido Auténtico Nacional (PANA) would stop cluttering up our ballots with guys who get 0.01% if they had to pay a couple of thousands Bs for the privilege each time.
In that world – a sane world with a sane ballot made up of 5 or 10 tarjetas, with two or three serious candidates alongside a manageable handful of eccentrics and cranks – a Tarjeta Única would be a lovely idea. But that’s not the world we live in. This is the world we live in. And in this world, the Tarjeta Única is a mistake.
So I’m glad Capriles is (ever so politely) rejecting it, and that the MUD has found a mix of words to pacify the Jihadists while basically deciding not to have one.