El Salvador has national elections approaching on March 11. Salvadorans will be going to the polls to elect mayors and to elect deputies to the National Assembly. The rules have changed this year as a result of decisions by the Salvadoran constitutional court. For the first time, independent candidates can run for election to the National Assembly. Also for the first time, voters can express their preferences for individual candidates from the slate assembled by a particular party.
Here's a review of the changed process. Each department within the country is allocated a certain number of seats in the 84 seat National Assembly according to its population. So, for example, the populous San Salvador department has 25 deputies and the less populous San Miguel department has 6 deputies.
Each seat in the department has a vote quota equal to the total number of votes cast in the department divided by the number of seats. To use round numbers, if 1 million votes were cast in San Salvador department to allocate 25 seats, the quota would be 40,000 (1 million / 25). A political party would then receive one seat in the National Assembly for each 40,000 votes it receives. So, in our example, if ARENA received 400,000 votes, it would receive 10 seats in the National Assembly from San Salvador.
Under the prior system, the voters could not vote for individual deputies; they voted only for the political party. The ballot for deputies to the National Assembly was simply a series of party logos, and the voter marked the logo of the party for whom he wishes to elect deputies to the National Assembly.
The parties would develop their slate of deputies for each department, and rank those deputies from 1 to the total number elected in the department (25 in San Salvador for example). If the FMLN won sufficient votes for 12 seats, the top 12 names on its list become the deputies. There were no independent candidates.
Under the new system, voters will be able to vote for individual party candidates and for independent candidates, but with a series of limitations that the parties in the National Assembly adopted to minimize the impact of the court rulings which opened up the vote.
Here's what an example ballot looks like:
You can mark your ballot in several ways:
- Mark the banner of one party
- Mark the pictures of one or more candidates from the same party
- Mark the banner of one party and mark the pictures of one or more candidates of that same party
- Mark the picture of one independent candidate
- Mark the pictures of candidates in more than one party
- Mark the banners of more than one party
- Mark the banner of one party and a candidate in a different party
- Mark an independent candidate and mark any other candidate or banner
- Mark two or more independent candidates
Remember that there are two allocations being made by these votes. First -- of the available seats in a department, how many are allocated to each party. Second -- of the seats which a party won, which candidates will fill those seats. Voting for an individual on a party ticket allows the voters choose how to allocate the seats a party wins, rather than the party leadership.
With respect to independent candidates, as I understand it, they will get a seat in the Assembly if they receive at least the number of votes equal to the share for one deputy. To return to our example of the 25 deputies in San Salvador, a independent candidate must receive at least 1/25th of the total votes cast in order to win a seat.
It's confusing, and much more complicated than the prior system of simply putting an "X" on your favorite party flag. Unfortunately, as of today, the TSE has not started a campaign to provide voter information about these changes. ContraPunto describes internal squabbles within the TSE blocking the start of an information campaign. With some 40% of Salvadorans saying they do not know about these election changes, and probably a higher percentage not knowing the rules for casting a valid ballot, various civil society organizations are trying to start an educational effort to fill the void left by the TSE.
I'm predicting some chaotic situations on election day. There will be a much larger number of void ballots than in prior elections and many disputes at the election tables as the votes are counted that night.
Look for much more coverage of the elections in the coming weeks.