Election Observing in El Salvador: Cardboard and Tape

Aside from the tens of thousands of election volunteers, hundreds of international and national election observers, and more than 10 million printed paper ballots, the recent election in El Salvador could not have happened without 2 things:  cardboard and tape.

Photo taken in March 2014 during observation of
 the presidential election.
On March 4, 2018 there were 9422 voting tables set up in more than 1400 public schools, fair grounds and other voting centers.  At 5:30 AM, the 262 Municipal Election Board (JEM) delegates are responsible for delivering the 9422 sealed voting packets to each of the voting centers in the municipalities.  This is done with police escorts and much vigilance, as one might imagine.

When the packets arrive at the voting centers, each voting table president is responsible for opening the packet with all of the table members present, and within the eyes of the party vigilantes. The contents of the packet are verified.  The roll of tape is extracted, along with paper lists.  Then the taping begins.
Voter lists at the entrance - hurray for cardboard,
tape and plastic
On March 3, 2018, stacks of cardboard stamped with TSE (Supreme Election Tribunal) were delivered to the 1400 plus schools and other voting centers around the country.  At many centers, preliminary work was done by volunteers to fold and assemble cardboard voting booths, cardboard A-frame structures, and walls of cardboard hung near the entrances to the centers. Volunteers put the voter lists up on the cardboard walls, and covered them with clear tape -- 600 names, alphabetically arranged below each voting table number located at the voting center.  Some voting centers are small, with a few tables.  The largest voting center was at the fair grounds in San Salvador, with 63 voting tables.  The center at which I observed was one of 21 voting centers in that municipality.  It had 12 tables. 
Cardboard voting booths and A-frame voter list kiosks
As quickly as possible, still in the dark of the early morning, each voting table went to work with their lists.  Job number 1 was to tape the voter lists to the cardboard tripod assigned to each pair of voting tables -- one table on one side, the other table on the other side.  The lists show the voters' photos with their identification numbers.  The voters refer to these lists to verify that they are at the correct voting tables.

Voting booths in a classroom
The voting booths which stand in open courtyard were taped back to back, with the hope that they will stand up to a brisk wind.be  The voting booths set up in the classrooms were taped to the tops of student desks.  Each voting table is assigned 2 voting booths.

Ballot boxes, taped and inserted into
a base box so they don't blow away or tip over
The final items to be assembled and taped were the ballot boxes (called urns).  Careful attention was given to ensure that each box was empty prior to assembly and remained empty until the voting table members cast their votes.  The table members placed their identity cards (DUI's) into a small plastic bag, which was taped closed and deposited into the ballot box.  The vigilantes  did the same.  This practice prevents election staff from voting at voting tables different from the ones they are staffing. 

6 voting tables set up in the school courtyard
Once all the tables were staffed, and all the cardboard was assembled, and all the lists were taped up, and all the ballots were prepared, the voting center opened.  The center at which I observed opened 1 hour and 38 minutes late. 

Voting booths and ballot boxes
At 5:00 PM, the voting tables closed.  Then began the process of counting the ballots.  In this election, it was a long and laborious process to analyze the cross-over ballots which were cast for deputies in the Assembly.  Each table recorded the party vote totals and tallies for the cross-over votes on a large spreadsheet which was mounted on...cardboard.

Spreadsheet of vote totals
At the end of the night, the counted ballots were placed in plastic bags and and sealed with tape.  All of the election supplies, bags of ballots, and forms were inventoried, placed into plastic bags and sealed with tape.  The bags were placed into the packet box, which was sealed with tape.  The packet boxes were collected from the voting tables, and delivered by voting center's Municipal Elections Board to the designated municipal site. 

Ballots counted and sealed in plastic bags
In the wee hours of the morning, the elections workers went home.  The observers went home.  The police and security officials went home.  The Elections Tribunal staff went home.  In the voting centers across the country, plastic garbage bags were filled with giant tape balls, empty food containers, and indelible ink bottles. Neatly piled near the doors, stand giant stacks of cardboard. 

Hopefully, the Supreme Election Tribunal recycles.

This is the second in a series of stories about the 2018 elections in El Salvador.  Unless otherwise noted, the photos were taken by the author during this election.  Other stories in this series:


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