Súmate's espoused values are:
Other projects are the consolidation of a national network of volunteers; analysis of voter registration; planning and execution of parallel vote counts to strengthen confidence in electoral processes; and educational programs.
Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. Participation was 64%, with 36% of the electorate abstaining, resulting in a Chávez victory with 35% of the total electorate. In 1999 a new Constitution of Venezuela was approved, making Chávez eligible to run for president again in 2000, for a six-year term; and again in 2006, for another six years. This could result in a Chávez presidency of 14 years, compared to the previous presidential term limit of five years. He won the 2000 election with 60% of the votes cast, 33% of the total electorate, and 44% abstention.
These changes were made to the Constitution and electoral processes based on elections with an overwhelmingly support for Chávez but unprecedented voter abstention—a "poor showing with most staying away from the polls.
Súmate was founded with an expressed goal of achieving a high level of citizen participation in Venezuelan elections. According to The Washington Post, Machado and Plaz had a hurried encounter in a hotel lobby in 2001, where they shared their concern about the course that was being shaped for Venezuela. Machado said, "Something clicked. I had this unsettling feeling that I could not stay at home and watch the country get polarized and collapse.... We had to keep the electoral process but change the course, to give Venezuelans the chance to count ourselves, to dissipate tensions before they built up. It was a choice of ballots over bullets."
According to The Wall Street Journal, Súmate is not concerned with who governs, but the Venezuelan democracy.
Súmate was originally composed of a group of professionals, but now has grown to include 30,000 volunteers from across Venezuela and all walks of life.
The recall vote was held on August 15, 2004. A record number of voters turned out but the recall was defeated with a 59% "no" vote. The Carter Center concluded the results were accurate, but European Union observers did not oversee the referendum, saying too many restrictions were put on their participation by the government.
A Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB) exit poll predicted that Chávez would lose by 20%, whereas the election results showed him to have won by 20%. Schoen commented, "I think it was a massive fraud". PSB used Súmate personnel as fieldworkers. Publication or broadcast of exit polls was banned by electoral authorities, but results of the PSB poll went out to media outlets and opposition offices several hours before polls closed.
Following the recall vote, Súmate requested that Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard University and Roberto Rigobón of MIT perform a statistical analysis analyzing how fraud could have occurred during the referendum. They concluded that the vote samples audited by the government were not a random representation of all precincts and that opposition witnesses and international observers were not allowed near the computer hub on election day. CEPR, a liberal think tank based in Washington, reports that other economists have called the Harvard/MIT assumptions about how the alleged fraud was conducted unlikely.Weisbrot M, Rosnick D, Tucker T (September 20, 2004). Black Swans, Conspiracy Theories, and the Quixotic Search for Fraud: A Look at Hausmann and Rigobón's Analysis of Venezuela's Referendum Vote CEPR: Center for Economic and Policy Research. Accessed 30 June 2006. According to CBS News, Chávez branded the leaders of Súmate, a vote-monitoring group, as "conspirators, coup plotters and lackeys of the U.S. government". After the referendum, members of Súmate were charged with treason and conspiracy, violating Article 132, for receiving financial support for their activities from the NED. The trial has been postponed several times.
The criminal charges triggered concern from Human Rights Watch and the NED-related World Movement for Democracy. The latter accused the Government of Venezuela of illegally "withholding case files from the defendants, using depositions of the defendants that were made before the charges against them were known, and refusing to accede to requests of the Supreme Court in the case. Tom Casey, acting spokesman for the State Department, expressed disappointment about the court's decision to try the founders and said the charges were "without merit.
Over 70 democrats, including prominent world leaders, wrote to Chávez on November 11, 2004, pointing out that "proceeding against nongovernmental organizations for receiving democratic assistance is a violation of both the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies, a document your government signed along with over 100 others four years ago." The letter indicated that the prosecution, "as well as the proposal to criminalize democracy assistance from abroad" are both "clearly inconsistent with international democratic norms and constitute a grave threat to democracy." Signatories of the letter included Czech President Vaclav Havel, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, U.S. Senator John McCain, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria Philip Dimitrov, and Richard Goldstone, former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
On 8 December2006, Súmate announced that their count and audits of the final election results matched the official count of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, that showed a landslide victory for Hugo Chávez, highlighting that "balloting was not clean, transparent or reliable." Machado said the Government had stacked the odds against the opposition in the pre-election period, including "a climate of collective intimidation" due to the use of fingerprint-reading machines and an unaudited register of voters, and that if irregularities had been corrected, they could have impacted the final result. She clarified that the impact could not be assessed, saying "We will know only the truth about what Venezuelans really feel, the day when clean elections are held in Venezuela."
Critics say that Súmate is not an impartial organization. Súmate describes itself as a civil association not concerned with who governs, but the Venezuelan democracy.
Other sources describe Súmate as an election or vote-monitoring group, a civic organization or civic society, a voting rights organization, an NGO or Venezuela's largest nongovernmental organization, a "nongovernmental organization resisting efforts by President Hugo Chavez's to turn Venezuela into a dictatorship", a Venezuelan group that helped organize the recall initiative, an organization that mobilized petitioners for the recall of Chavez, a pro-democracy nonprofit group, a volunteer organization of democracy activists, and a watchdog group or election watchdog organization.
Juan Forero of The New York Times referred to Súmate as an anti-Hugo Chavez election-monitoring organization, and an antigovernment group. The BBC has referred to Sumate at least three times as an "opposition group". Venezuela’s El Universal consistently refers to Súmate as an NGO, but has called it an opposition NGO in the past. The Christian Science Monitor says of Machado, “a friend invited her to create a pro-democracy group”, but adds that Larry Birns, director of the liberal Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington says that Sumate's "pro-democracy pretensions are ... a front for its anti-Chávez goals".
Luis Enrique Palacios and Ricardo Estévez are also charged with complicity in treason and conspiracy.