First Round Elections Delegate Reflection
February 26, 2014
The following reflection was written by Cathy Lester, a first round elections observer, and representative for Meta Peace Team. Cathy lives in Grayling, Michigan. She writes a blog for the Traverse City Record-Eagle website. You can read some of her other posts here.
Cathy Lester on the right.
A lot of the election procedure in El Salvador is a result of elections having seen so much fraud and corruption in the past. Along with my fellow monitors, I found it fascinating to see how each stage was a counter to a specific abuse.
Problem: Voters were unable to get to the polls to vote. Solution: This year saw “residential voting,” whereby polling stations were set up in every municipality and village so campesinos (country people) could get there. This may not sound like a big thing to Americans, but ask yourself: if Kingsley, Grawn and Acme were up in steep mountains without bus service, how many people from there would walk to Traverse City to vote?
Problem: People voting more than once, and/or people from neighboring countries being paid to come in and vote as Salvadorans. Solution: Everyone had to vote in their specific neighborhood, and they had to have their National ID card. At each polling station, voters had to go to a designated table. The urban center my group was monitoring had 69 tables with their own voting booths. Each table had a list of 500 voters. The voter showed their ID, found their name on the list, and an official put a stamp by their name. Voters have to dip their thumb into a pot of indelible ink AFTER voting, so officials inspected people’s hands beforehand. One guy who’d been working had to dust his hands off on his pants twice or thrice before the officials were satisfied he didn’t have any ink on them. Only after all that did the voter get their mitts on a ballot paper. The officials were really suspicious of one woman with a stain on her index finger. Eventually they smelled her finger and finally let her have a ballot. I asked if the ink had a particular smell. Yes. Could I smell it? Yes, but be careful. The “careful” came a second too late as I got a noseful of pungent, stinging smelling salts!
Problem: Ballot-stuffing. Solution: Each table had a pad of 500 numbered ballots. As each voter got their ballot, the official tore off the numbered corner and put it into a plastic bag. Afterward, during the counting, they first counted ALL the leftover ballots (which were then stamped “UNUSED”), then counted the torn-off corners, and added them to make sure there were 500. After the counting, the marked ballots were counted to make sure they tallied with the total.
Problem: Miscellaneous chicanery. Solution: All the parties watched a) each other, and b) each stage of the process. Each table had three officials: one from each of the two big parties and one from one a small party (there were five parties in all, but not all five were represented at the table). In addition, each table had watchers, or “vigilantes” (vigilant ones) from all the parties. Vigilantes were allowed to wear vests showing which party they were from, but the officials weren’t allowed to wear anything that showed their affiliation, not even a colored wrist band. (In practice, you could guess that the whitest, tallest official who had an air of what I can only call “rulers’ assurance” was from the oligarchs’ party; the one who looked most Indian or mestizo was from the workers’ party, and the third one was from one of the other parties.) The thing is, NOTHING happened without representatives from all the parties seeing it. In case of a dispute, all the parties argued it out. In case a dispute wasn’t solved then and there, a Higher Official was called in. Everything was out in the open.
Read More »