Sunday, February 05, 2012

Residential voting

In my last post I described the changed rules for electing deputies to the National Assembly.   Another change for the 2012 elections will be a significant expansion of residential voting.   Residential voting simply refers to having polling places which are closer to where people actually live.  Currently people are assigned to polling places which may or may not be the closest site to their home.

There will be residential voting in nine departments in the eastern and central parts of the country: Cuscatlán, Cabanas, Usulután, San Miguel, La Paz, San Vicente, La Union, Morazán, Chalatenango as well as the cities of San Salvador and Santa Tecla.  This expansion of residential voting will cover approximately half the population.   More voting centers will be set up in rural communities closer to people than the actual municipality's center.   In the cities, people will vote in their neighborhoods rather than being assigned a voting center alphabetically according to their last name.

Our friends at Voices on the Border describe the positive impacts seen in the pilot program for residential voting in the department of Cuscatlán:
The program had a positive effect on voter participation. In the 2004 presidential elections, 70 percent of Salvadorans on the Electoral Register in Cuscatlán cast a vote compared a national average of 67 percent. In the 2006 parliamentary elections, Cuscatlán had 63.5 percent electoral participation compared to a national average of 54 percent. In 2009, the pilot program in Cuscatlán had 65.5 percent participation in parliamentary elections and 71.5 percent participation in presidential elections compared to 54 and 63 percent respectively on the national level. While national participation remained the same or fell, participation in Cuscatlán, already higher than the national average, rose in both presidential and parliamentary elections.
Additionally, the program is expected to facilitate voting access for many of the most vulnerable members of Salvadoran society, including the elderly, persons with disabilities, and those without the financial means to travel a longer distance.
When voting centers are closer to home, it is also more difficult for political interests to perpetrate electoral fraud by bringing in people from other communities, or as has been alleged in previous elections, from Honduras or Nicaragua. Citizens are more able to police the voting registry and identify people that are not from their community.

For those with internet access, the TSE has set up an online form which lets any Salvadoran learn where his or her polling place will be this year.   For everyone else, an educational effort is needed to make sure voters know if and where their polling place has been changed.

Residential voting is supposed to cover the entire country for the 2014 presidential elections.   It's a good reform to make Salvadoran democracy more participatory.

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