Election Day! How do you say "hanging chad" in Spanish?

Michael O'Leary

By Mike O'Leary of Portland, Oregon. Mike is a fifth generation Oregonian and has worked in politics, organized labor, and now works for the Sierra Club in Oregon.

[Editor's Note: This month, O'Leary is serving as a credentialed elections observer in El Salvador under the auspices of the country's Tribunal Supremo Electoral (which kinda translates to our Elections Division, only a lot different.) This is the first of several dispatches that we will publish here on BlueOregon.]

It's election day today in El Salvador.

Let me begin this by asking you to think about the following words and allow yourself to freely associate whatever pops into your mind: Florida - Ohio - Diebold - chads - George W. Bush.

If what came to your mind was something like "there are plenty of resons one might be concerned about voting iregularities" then you, like me, can indeed relate to the concern for fair elections all over the world.

Here in El Salvador, the 12-year civil war that killed over 70,000 civilians between 1980 and 1992 ended in a truce which guaranteed, among many other things, that the government would invite international observers to monitor the country's future elections.

Three of us from Portland (Anne Eldred, Caitlyn Peake and myself) have joined one of the many delegations here in El Salvador to help monitor the March 12 elections for National Assembly and local offices. We are already here on the ground and we have been officialy credientialed as members of the International Observer Mission by the country's Supreme Court of Elections.

By traveling to El Salvador to do this work we're demonstrating that the eyes of the world are watching. By blogging our experience here on BlueOregon before we even get home we're bringing you the news first. I'll elaborate further later, but let me just state the obvious that this experience has been completely amazing already.

Here's a question for y'all to discuss, though: Given all the ususal impedances to political participation (too busy, disillusionment, etc.) why does the participation rate in El Salvador's elections average over 70% of all residents over the age of 18, and what if anything can we learn and apply from their political example?

More to come....

Comments

  • askquestions1st (unverified)
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    I've always wondered why credentials like "Fifth-generation (fill in the blank)" are taken to be a positive thing, but that is for another day.

    In answer to your question: Given all the ususal impedances to political participation (too busy, disillusionment, etc.) why does the participation rate in El Salvador's elections average over 70% of all residents over the age of 18, and what if anything can we learn and apply from their political example?

    Probably to make voting mandatory in the current Constitution as El Salvador did in 1983. SInce the left was excluded from political participation also by that constitution, Not voting was the real act of political courage and one that could result in legal and extra-legal retribution. So whether we want to duplicate that path to 70% participation maybe something that requires just a bit more critical thinking.

    As far as I can recall and determine (but that's far from authoritative), the legal framework hasn't changed. So one might speculate that an observer to an election would have take a little more time to educate oneself on the political history of El Salvador, and use the time to study whether the real politics on the ground of voting had changed to determine what the 70% figure --- if that is still accurate --- actually means now.

  • Karl (unverified)
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    I think it would help if we would conform our elections so that they could qualify for receiving international observers too. (eg. make the head of elections a non-partisan post, make sure there is a paper trail and ballots can be hand counted) People are more likely to vote when they believe in the honesty of the process. Then there is the problem of having clear alternatives to choose from.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)
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    Well said Karl.

    One would think if we want to be an example to the rest of the world about the virtues of democracy we would run showcase elections and invite everyone in to watch, learn, and publicize.

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    Mike,

    Email me at [email protected] if you'd like to come and talk about your experiences at a luncheon at Reed. Enjoy and be safe.

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    Certainly, the old history that the losing side gets killed off in large numbers will tend to drive voter turnout.

  • John O'Leary (unverified)
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    Hey Mike!
    I hope you are doing well in El Salvador and doing good. We are looking forward to welcoming you home and hearing your first hand impressions of what you saw and monitored during the election process. It seems like anyone who tries to do some good in this world falls prey to certain arseholes who want to do that person one better while doing nothing themselves. Such is life. Chin up! The Reed offer looked good. Dad.

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