When El Salvador holds an election, voters often have to travel a long distance from their homes to cast their ballot. Polling places are often at a great distance from smaller communities, and in the capital city of San Salvador, you might be assigned a polling place on the opposite side of the city because your name begins with a particular letter.
A technical team for Eugenio Chicas, president of the Supreme Election Tribunal, has now designed a Residential Voting Plan, which could address many of these issues. From the SHARE Foundation blog:
In this proposal, voting conditions will improve and become much accessible for Salvadorans all over the country. Instead of 460 voting centers, there would be 1755 stategically placed in schools that have the capacity to recieve all the registered voters. The idea being that no voter would need to travel more than three kilometers to vote. Currently, in places such as the Tamarindo Beach, voters travel up to 40 kilometers to reach the nearest polling center. In San Salvador, voters would go to a polling center in or around their neighborhood, instead of travelling to the other side of the city to vote.
The technical team for the TSE, proposes that this shift could be made partially by the 2012 mayor and representative elections and fully by the 2014 presidential elections. They also propose that it could be done with a budget of eight million dollars, though opponents suggest that it could be done for no less than twelve million. These opponents, such as the ARENA party, have in the past earned a lot of money during the elections by hiring family members, friends or their own businesses, to do much of the work required. The TSE technical team shows how by using tools like Google Earth, they were able to save a significant amount of time and money by not visiting all 6,000 schools in the country to determine which would be the best polling station. President Funes has already offered to financially support this initiative, as has the European Union.
The proposal for residential voting, would fulfill one of the objectives of the Peace Accords, by making the country more democratic. It would also be a great step towards development as El Salvador is also the only country in Latin America that does not have residential voting. And the TSE technical team suggests that it would promote citizen participation by making polling stations more community run and more accesible. This type of organization could be greatly beneficial in the future during natural disasters and health promotion campaigns.
This proposal follows on the successful use of residential voting in the Department of Cuscatlán in the 2009 elections, as described in the final report of the European Union election monitors:
In 2003, the Legislative Assembly enacted the establishment of decentralised voting, or the residential vote (“voto residencial”), which was to come into effect as of 2006 as a pilot project in seven municipalities spread out among various departments. As opposed to centralised voting, the goal of residential voting is to bring the ballot boxes closer to the voters, allowing them to vote as close as possible to their place of residence, thus cutting down on travelling distances and favouring greater participation.
The pilot experience proved successful and therefore the TSE decided to extend residential voting for the 2009 elections to the entire department of Cuscatlán.... The unanimous opinion, among both political interlocutors and civil society representatives, is that the residential voting project should be extended nationwide for the next elections in 2012. In so doing, the exercise of the right of suffrage would be facilitated by reducing travelling distances and by limiting, or eliminating, the need for transportation towards the JRVs, which in many cases is left to the parties.
Removing impediments to people exercising their right to vote is a good step for any democracy.