This will be a long post, as voting in the DR isn’t quite as easy as getting a piece of paper and marking an x in the box. Not by a long way.
The first stage is that you have to be registered to vote. Unlike in some other countries where you receive a letter at the address where you live which you have to send back and then you are added to the electoral roll, where you actually live here has nothing to do with where you vote.
Every adult Dominican has a cedula or identity card which also doubles as a voting card. This is normally issued in the place where you lived when you were 18 and applied for your first cedula and it actually has on it the place you have to vote. When it comes to voting day you either have to return to the address on your cedula to vote, or you change your address. However, the first (of dozens) of voting scams is for the candidate in a particular area to ask all his or her friends or relatives to change the address on their cedulas so they can vote for them.
|The new biometric cedula|
Unfortunately, when you change address, you obviously have to give an address to the Electoral Office and most just say the High Street in whatever place. It became obvious by the middle of last year that the High Street in certain towns, Pedernales in the south west for example, had been invaded by hundreds of people and in fact most lived in one house, 100, High Street which was a two bedroom house with over 100 people moving in! So by around the middle of last year no one was allowed to change their address on their cedulas to put a stop to that.
The electoral roll is called the padron and has all the names from cedulas. It has apparently been cross referenced against death certificates so should have no dead people on it – but it will of course have all those who died and whose deaths were not registered and all of those who are living abroad, unless they changed their address at the time. This year there are 7,065,817 registered on the padrón and for the first time people will be voting for the president of the country, the senator for the province (32 of those), the deputies for each province (depends on size of province as to how many) and the mayors of each municipality along with the councilors for each municipality. Previously the voting for president happened separately.
So, how will it work on voting day?
There are voting stations around the country, usually but not always situated in local schools. Each voting station has what is called a mesa (table) and this is staffed by local people who are a selection from each party so they can keep an eye on the others for any funny business – which often happens. Each of the candidates will be working flat out to get their supporters to the voting stations as many do not have transport. Buses are rented (each has to have a security guard to stop the opposition voters getting a free ride), motorbikes zoom around picking people up as do cars. Many voters have to be encouraged to come and vote - usually financially. It is a dramatic scramble all day long getting everyone to the relevant voting station – even harder in rural areas with a lack of transport.
However, previously, as this was going on, the opposition would do everything to stop their rivals getting to vote. The easiest way was to buy their cedula as without that they could not vote. The price goes up as the day goes on and it becomes clear who might be in the lead. Canny Dominicans would get a new cedula before voting day came around, with replacements issued free of charge, saying they had lost theirs, so they had one to sell on the day. The price to sell a cedula can be US$100 or more which for most is a lot of money. Once sold not only could that person not vote but the person who bought it could use the cedula and pretend it was them and vote for the person they supported. Once a person entered the voting station, they would hand over the cedula and it would just be checked against the padron without looking too closely at the owner of the cedula.
This year the Electoral Court stopped issuing replacement cedulas months ago so that stopped that ruse, and even better, the new cedulas are biometric and have the owner’s finger print, so no more trying to pretend to be someone else. However, cedulas will still be bought to stop people from voting - it is a choice, you vote for the person you want who may may your life better over the four year term or you gain around US$100 immediately - a simple choice for many.
Once the voter arrives at the voting station it is time to vote, and it is anything but simple. There are three boletas or voting forms. One for the president, one for senators and deputies and one for mayor. Each has a photo of the person to help those who can’t read but every single party is represented and given all the alliances this year you not only mark your cross on who you want as president but also the party they are allied to.
Here is the one for President
This is the actual boleta and has now gone to print. As you can see the same face appears time and time again - President Danilo Medina is in many boxes as is the opposition candidate Luis Abinader. This is because each box is a different party and only a few have their own presidential candidate. So you choose your party and the candidate - but they must be in the same box.
Here the sample for Senators and Deputies
This isn't ready to print yet as they are still discussing who will stand in some areas. As you can see it is much more complicated.
And here the sample for mayors and councilors.
My husband, Danilo will be in box number 19 as that the the party number, PLR and as you can see on the president one, the PLR is also supporting Danilo Medina as president also in box number 19. So on the face of it, the electorate just have to remember the number 19 - which is my birth date so not too hard.
Now, you have to be careful where you mark your X as if it is in the wrong place the vote is null. The vote is also null if the ballot paper is written on, or has a stain on it, if it isn’t signed and stamped, if there are too many crosses or if the voting intention is unclear. All that needs to happen is one of the officials at the table spills a bit of coffee on each one and Bob’s your Uncle – not valid.
Previously, once the voting station was closed, the staff manually counted the votes and filled in what were called Actas, which were then transmitted to the Central Electoral Court. Here is an Acta.
Of course at this stage if their maths was dodgy then anything could happen and everything was hand written, usually in pencil. As you can see from this one below, crossings out and changing figures was very common, When husband Danilo ran last time there were 75 people registered to vote in one particular area, but 81 people voted – even dead people and six unknown people who weren't on the padron.
This time, when people go into vote they have to first use a machine to check their fingerprint and that brings up a copy of their cedula so the person at the desk can check they are the right person. (Yay).
They then complete the ballot papers and those are scanned into a machine and the data kept centrally so all being well, this time there should be much less opportunity for fraud.(Double yay).
The Central Electoral Court says that all the results should be available by midnight. Before you ask, the machines all have back up batteries for when the electricity goes out as with all this technology that could be a disaster.
I must admit this is a major improvement on the previous system and my Danilo is busy running hundreds of training sessions to teach people how to vote. I am sure there will be all sorts of shenanigans as usual, but there should be less. All I know is that on May 15 I will be sitting here in the mountains with bated breath, and maybe a little bottle of rum, waiting for the results.