April 9: Election Day in Pampas: Part I
Well, first thing in the morning, Remi and I (Derrick) were up and prepared to monitor.
Remi based himself at the elementary school, where we had been assigned to run the Quick Count. Because the results of elections in many Latin American countries take quite a few days for all voting station results to come in, and to help determine if fraud has been committed after the polls close, the OAS uses a complex statistical formula to predict what the results should be, based on actual votes cast at specially selected mesas (poll booths), and has been over 99% accurate in all the elections it has been utilized in.
My understanding is that the Quick Count takes into account past election results and representative demographic populations and voting patterns; both populations of stable voting and those that may change in a given year but are still representative of a wider demographic.
Janin and her boyfriend went another 2 hours to the village of Salcabamba - it doesn’t appear in most guidebooks maps. Pampas appears in these maps but there aren’t any write-ups about it. Claudia agreed that I could monitor the Colegio Daniel Hernandez, even though we weren’t doing an official quick count there. Our job is not just to do Quick Counts, but report on general voting day conditions and problems.
Thankfully, there weren’t really any major problems to speak of – at least problems that would affect the integrity of the vote in a major way. (Although I did get a nasty sunburn, including 2nd degree burns by noon on election day. I hadn’t thought about the severity of the sun’s rays at such a high altitude.) I monitored 20 out of the 29 mesas at Colegio Daniel Hernandez, a high school named after a local artist.
Each mesa had 3 officials: a president and two members. There are 2 backup officials (titulares) assigned to each mesa in case some of the other don’t show up. Each mesa has all the names and photographs of these people displayed on the wall by the classroom door – to be sure there is no confusion or irregularities. All the voters who are to vote at each station are also listed publicly. There seemed to be a minimum of 150 and 300 possible electors at each mesa. In Peru, voting is considered both a right and an obligation and is thus compulsorary, with fines given to those who don’t show up – even if out of the country. (130 soles/$43 CDN for the former, $40 USD for the latter.) There are also fines for titulares who don’t show. (170 soles, or $57 CDN.)
The voting process is quite interesting. The voters list that the titulares have includes ID photos of every person. After every elector is given their massive ballot (it is larger than 11.5 x 17, rather like the size of a newspaper page) they go to the voting screen, where they mark off their candidate of choice for the president, for their local Congress member, and for their Andean Parliament party of choice. The Andean Parliament is made up of countries from Colombia, Equador, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela. The Presidential ballot, which is of main concern to Peruvians and the OAS, lists the party name and has a box with the party symbol and a box with a picture of the presidential candidate. There were about 20 people vying for presidency, and 5 or 6 that had enough support going into the polls that they were given extensive media coverage. The electoral campaigning usually involved images of the party symbols with a X through it (such as bells, flowers, etc) to demonstrate what people should do with their ballot.
To get a really good look at how one votes, watch the short video "The Voter's 7 Steps." Also, check out the video on explaining the voting procedures for the military and police, who voted for the first time this year. They must turn in their weapons at the gate to the voting centre, and if in uniform, have the right to get to the front of the line. They vote quickly and go back to work.
So at Colegio Daniel Hernandez some mesa presidents were late in arriving, and all mesas opened late, between 8:30 am and 8:45 instead of 8:00 am, as mesa officials were still organizing materials. The atmosphere was pleasant. The titulares sometimes seemed unsure as to the most efficient way to run polls, and some were considerably slower than others. After each person votes, they place a fingerprint on the voters list, and sign it (or give another fingerprint if they can’t write their name.) They were also supposed to dip their middle finger in indelible ink as proof that the person voted. In this area they didn’t use the indelible ink, apparently because of threats of violence against those who voted. Thus, those issuing the threats would not necessarily know they had voted.
There was a lot of congestion in the morning on the upper floors of the school where half the mesas were, and some people had to wait in line for at least 20 minutes to vote. All mesas had personeros (political party scrutineers); some had up to seven. Many people seemed very pleased the OAS was observing in Pampas, and many others (voters, titulares, the police, Transparencia observers, JNE - in English, National Election Jury, which responds to complaints - officials) commented to me about how everyone was relaxed and everything was going well. Transparencia is a Peruvian election monitoring body that covers the whole country. I had nothing but admiration for their hardworking, dedicated members working to keep elections transparent, fair, and proper.
Around noon ONPE (National Office of Electoral Processes) put up more maps, which helped clarify where different mesas were. There was a person who introduced himself to me and a Transparencia observer as a Presidential Candidate. Transparencia didn’t seem impressed that he was introducing himself to people. A JNE official followed him out. Apparently there was also a woman verbally promoting a political party as well, although I did not witness this. This was the extent of illegal campaigning at the polling station. I didn’t see any printed propaganda, and I was very surprised at the lack of political t-shirts. This was something I thought would be uncontrollable, but it seemed voters knew to leave them at home.
One of the problems I encountered was the ballot boxes getting so full with the giant ballots that it was hard for electors to put their ballot in the box. Around lunch time it wasn’t uncommon for one or two mesa officials to be gone, leaving only one person to do all the duties at the mesa. However, there were not many people voting at this time so it did not seem to have had a negative effect on the voting process.
During the last hour of voting the police, who were guarding the school, opened the gates and allowed everyone in without checking for DNI, or voter ID. They also reduced the guards actively working from 4 to 1, which I thought wasn’t a good decision. Oh well, most things had run smoothly, and this didn't create any difficulty.
See Part II for more election day drama!
- Derrick Martens