May 01, 2009 | By Sarah Steinberg
March 16, 2009 marked a day in history for the El Salvadorian people and we were able to be a part of it as we witnessed the nation’s presidential elections as international observers. At 5 a.m. we entered a polling place, a high school, in the southern part of San Salvador. In El Salvador, citizens not only vote by city/region but also by their last name. We were at the polling place with individuals with last names that begin with “M.” Approximately 45,000 were expected throughout the day. Although the polls didn’t open until 7 a.m. we witnessed the organization of each of the 92 voting areas. Four individuals (four from each party, dressed in non-party colors) began the process of putting up signs and lists to indicate where voters should vote. Additionally, they confirmed that the count of the ballots was correct and that they had enough materials for the day.
At 7 a.m. the polling place opened. The high school became filled with individuals, some in political party shirts, and others plain clothed. There were children with their parents, elderly, those who had experienced the war, those who wanted to be heard…etc. Voters in El Salvador approach the voting table and have their ID’s checked against the registry, and then they received a signed and sealed ballot. The ballot contains images of the flags of the two parties and in the voting booth; the voter is to place a “X” on the flag of the party they are voting for. After voting, they place their ballot in the ballot box, they sign their name on another registry and then dip their finger in ink that stays on the skin for about two days to avoid duplicate voting.
For 10 hours I watched as people voted. At the high school, the current President and his wife came to vote, as well as the current mayor of San Salvador. The polls were civilized throughout the day. At 5 p.m., the polls closed and the counting process began. Each table was responsible for counting the unused ballots and confirming the amount of people who voted at their table by checking both registries. Then the ballot box is opened and each ballot is counted. The ballot is unfolded and presented to the people around the table and the passed to the party representative based for whom the vote was for. Once the count was finalized, the party that won at the table chanted for their party. By 6:30 p.m. most of the tables completed their counting and the FMLN seemed to have had the lead. As we left the polling place and embarked on El Salvador’s roads, those who support FMLN took to the streets in celebration. Although it was not confirmed that the FMLN had officially won, people were optimistic.
As I write, FMLN has claimed victory, but the final vote won’t be finalized until sometime on Tuesday. It is time for great change in El Salvador.
This is my last day in El Salvador, I would like to thank the SHARE Foundation for organizing this experience for us. It is truly one trip that I will remember for a lifetime.
Thank you for reading. Adios!