Thursday, September 10, 2015

Election Observer

Yesterday I witnessed democracy in action here in Dominica. A member of the village council resigned some weeks ago, so there had to be a special election to select a new council member. Three people "threw their hat in the ring," so an election was set for Wednesday, September 9.

Notices were posted on utility poles and at the bus stop alerting everyone about the election, as well as the names of the candidates. The Village Council Office served as the single polling place for Election Day. The poll opened at 8:00 AM and voting took place until 5:00 PM.

After working at the school yesterday (we are prepping to reopen--hopefully schools on Dominica will officially start on Monday), I walked back to my house, put on my swim trunks, and went to the spring. Following a hot day at school, it has become my afternoon ritual to ditch my sweaty work clothes (no shorts and t-shirts for us--we must dress as professionals in long pants and button down shirts), and then I head up the trail through the forest to "La Source." This is a bountiful spring coming out from some rocks on the side of the hill. My village has set up a small park area there, including a three-inch shower pipe that pours cold spring water down on your body. It is a refreshing way to beat the mid-afternoon heat!

Once back at my home, I changed and walked down to the Village Council Office, where voting was still taking place. I asked the Council Clerk if it would be okay to have an "election observer" watch her and the two other election officials perform their duties.

They let me stay (quietly and out of the way) as the final hour ticked away. Citizens would come into the office where first it would be confirmed that their names were indeed on the official listing of registered voters (the list was printed on the wide green and white computer paper with the tractor feed holes that I had with my first desktop computer while working at NASA 30 years ago).

Upon confirmation that the citizen was duly registered, the clerk explained the balloting procedure. Then the voter went inside a small adjoining room and marked their ballot, folded it up according to her instructions, and returned to the main room, where they dropped their ballot through the slot of a big wooden ballot box. The paper ballots were printed by the Elections Office in the capital, and were like tear-off coupons.

After the poll was declared closed at 5:00 PM, the counting process began. First, all three election officials confirmed that they had recorded the same number of overall voters. Being a special election for just one seat, turnout was only 103 voters out of 495 on the list (however, this is a better turnout for a special election than many places in the U.S.).

Then the hand count of the paper ballots began. The candidates were also allowed inside to observe the official count. However, a handful of interested villagers quietly clustered outside the louvered window to unofficially track each announced ballot. The ballot box was unlocked and the contents dumped on the table.

Watching the clerk carefully unfold each of the 103 ballots reminded me of my student government experiences many years ago. The political science geek within me really enjoyed getting this inside look at how government works here. Except for the paper ballots, the whole process reminded me of the various elections I observed and participated in back in the U.S. It brought back good memories of my election victories, but also some bittersweet memories of my defeat.

The election itself had no drama, as there was a clear favorite among the village residents. In fact, with nearly 90% of the votes cast, one could call it a "landslide" victory--if not for the fact that we suffered too many landslides recently.

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