Venezuelans look for their names moments before casting their vote at a polling station during presidential elections in Caracas, Venezuela, May 20, 2018.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said about 2.5 million people had voted by 10 a.m.
In Petare, home to Caracas' biggest slum, voters waited in line to have their "Fatherland Card" scanned by socialist party volunteers. A woman wearing the red, yellow and blue colors of Venezuela's flag scanned each card with her phone — verifying that cardholders had done their patriotic duty of voting, presumably for Maduro.
Nayra Martinez, a city employee and opposition activist, bucked her party's call to abstain from casting her ballot, saying it was no time to stop fighting.
"If you're sick and the doctor gives you few days to live, you don't lie in bed waiting to die," she said. "You seek treatment."
But in the opposition stronghold of eastern Caracas, the leafy streets were largely empty.
In the neighborhood of Los Palos Grandes, opposition supporter Henri Roldan said he was not voting. Instead, he planned to eat out at a restaurant, a luxury the 62-year-old now limits himself to once a month since hyperinflation has devoured the buying power of his pension check.
"Our money just doesn't stretch as far as it should," said the retired computer technician. "Eating out is so expensive."
The election has drawn broad criticism since some of Maduro's most-popular rivals were barred from running, and several more were forced into exile. Echoing the views of Venezuela's tattered opposition movement, the United States, European Union and many Latin American countries said they would not recognize the results.
In addition, pressure tactics honed in past campaigns kicked into overdrive, further tilting the playing field in Maduro's favor.
Almost 75 percent of households said they received government-issued food boxes in the past three months, according to Datanalisis, and Maduro on the stump has promised that the 16.5 million holders of the fledgling fatherland card will be rewarded for their vote.
Some question the wisdom of not competing in an election, even if it is widely seen as rigged.
A 2010 study by the Brookings Institution covering 171 electoral boycotts around the world found that such maneuvers rarely succeeded in rendering elections illegitimate in the eyes of the world. Instead, the boycotting party usually emerged weaker and the incumbent empowered.
Javier Corrales, a Venezuela expert at Amherst College, said the opposition's sit-out strategy could be as disastrous as its boycott of congressional elections in 2005, which let the ruling party sweep all seats and pass legislation removing presidential term limits that further strengthened Chavez.
"The irony is that this is the least democratic election of all but it's also the best chance the opposition has ever had," said Corrales. "If Maduro wins by a large margin, he'll take it is as a green light to continue radicalizing and moving in the direction of completely destroying the private sector."
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