By 1 p.m. in the afternoon on Sunday, the sun was beating down hard on the polling center in Metapán, a mid-sized town in El Salvador just 15 kilometers south of the Guatemalan border. While there was nothing strange about the scorching sun, these national assembly and municipal elections were the first of their kind. To the surprise of the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front), the former rebel group turned political party whose candidate Mauricio Funes won the Presidency in 2009, the right-wing ARENA (National Republican Alliance) gained seats in the national assembly following electoral reforms that the right-wing had pushed through.
In Metapán ,over 31 tables were spread out along the outdoor breezeways, pavilion, and basketball court of the local school, while for the first time the ballots for the national assembly included individual candidates, with their photographs underneath the party flags. Before “face voting” was introduced, Salvadorans cast their vote for a single party, who would then internally elect members to the national assembly. Now, the colorful ballots tote a rainbow of political parties. In Metapán, the flags of eight political parties decorated the first row, and underneath each flag, the faces of six candidates stood in a column.
One voter was so confused by the process, that after walking with a sore leg in the hot sun, she almost turned back around without voting. We sat together under the shade of a tree as two other voters reviewed the process with her. “I’m afraid that I’ll make a mistake,” she said. A mother, who was holding the hand of her young son insisted that her vote was important and explained again that she could just vote for the flag, or she could also vote for the candidates. What she didn’t mention was that if a vote is cast for two candidates of different parties, the vote is considered “null” and that during the vote count there were a few cases of this at nearly every table in Metapán.
Metapán is located in the department of Santa Ana, which was one of the few states that did not institute what is being called “residential voting,” which allows voters to go to polling centers based on their addresses, instead of their last names. The residential voting was intended to raise the rates in voter turnout. Surprisingly, turnout was generally low. In Metapán, using the old system, all people within an hour plus radius, with a last names from A-F, were assigned to vote at the polling center. As a result, while about 14,000 people were eligible to vote only roughly 35-40 percent turned out. This rate was consistent across El Salvador, including in the areas that had residential voting. According to a representative of the Municipal Electoral Board (JEM), 200 people had been turned away from the polls for having expired identification cards. ARENA had advocated for allowing people to vote with expired id cards; however that was one reform that they were not able to push through before the elections.
Full Article: El Salvador: FMLN Suffers Minor Setback at the Polls.