CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Some Venezuelans cast mock votes in a rehearsal Sunday, less than a month before the highly anticipated election in which President Nicolás Maduro seeks a third term. The test allows Venezuela’s ruling party to gauge its voter-mobilizing powers, which have significantly diminished during Maduro’s crisis-ridden presidency.

The exercise, largely featuring ruling party supporters and public employees, was held prior to other elections. It is technically meant to help voters familiarize themselves with the fingerprint readers and electronic voting machines that will be used on July 28.

The election is shaping up to be the biggest challenge the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela has faced in its 25-year dominance that began with the presidency of the fiery Hugo Chávez. The party seeks to control all branches of government for six more years, but its base is divided, diminished and disappointed.

Participants in the capital, Caracas, on Sunday were mostly uniformed police officers and other law enforcement agents as well as employees of ministries and state-owned companies. They took photos of each other casting mock votes to send proof of participation to organizers.

State employee Belkys Lazada said she learned about the rehearsal via neighborhood WhatsApp chats and co-workers. The 45-year-old said she did not feel pressured to participate, but she knew her situation was an exception.

“There are people who are forced by their employer to be here because very few people, I believe, are here of their own free will,” Lazada said.

In the 11 years since Venezuelans learned that Chávez was dead and his handpicked successor, Maduro, would take over, a drop in oil prices along with corruption and government mismanagement has sunk the country into a complex crisis. People have been pushed into poverty, hunger, poor health, crime and migration.

Economic sanctions imposed over the past decade have failed to topple Maduro, as the United States and other governments intended. They have contributed to the crisis.

Ten candidates, including Maduro, will be on the ballot. The only contender with a real chance of defeating the president is Edmundo González Urrutia, who represents the opposition’s Unitary Platform coalition.

The coalition in a statement Saturday said it would not mobilize voters for Sunday’s rehearsal but would have local organizers “evaluate some aspects of the electoral process.” It didn’t discourage people from participating and learning about the process.

“At least for someone who doesn’t know or has not participated in previous electoral processes, they can familiarize themselves,” Maduro supporter Beatriz Leon, 58, said outside a school. “You can see the entire ballot with all candidates.”

The National Electoral Council deployed 10% of the voting machines that will be used on election day. More than 21 million Venezuelans are registered to vote, but the exodus of over 7.7 million people due to the prolonged crisis — including about 4 million voters — is expected to reduce the number of potential voters to about 17 million.

Venezuelan law allows people to vote abroad, but only about 69,000 met the criteria to cast ballots at embassies or consulates during this election.

The line of voters in Sunday’s rehearsal outside a polling center in a Caracas neighborhood long considered a ruling party stronghold, and where Chávez used to vote, at times reached about 100 people. Many were senior citizens. Loudspeakers blared pro-Maduro jingles.

Local ruling party organizers stood outside writing down names and identification numbers of some voters. They handed out flyers listing “Maduro’s accomplishments” and accusing González and other opposition members of being “a threat to peace and to the country.” Several participants rolled their eyes and made disapproving faces at the flyers.

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