Election Day: Unofficial Observations

El Salvador held elections on February 4, 2024, and, in breaking with a tradition of many years, this time I was not a credentialed international election observer.  

During previous elections, I served on a team of national and international observers organized by the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. Although the church did not make an observation plan for 2024, the role of observers from the Salvadoran citizenry, political parties, government agencies and international organizations continues to promote trust and transparency in electoral proceedings. Observers have noted that the election day process in El Salvador has been, for the most part, free and fair over the last many years. 

In the days surrounding the February 4th election, Salvadoran and international media have widely reported on and analyzed the presumed election of Nayib Bukele to a second presidential term, the constitutionality of his election, and the consolidation of power for his political party, Nuevas Ideas. (I use the word "presumed" because official election return data is not yet available due to various failures in the tabulation system set up by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.) 

As a non-credentialed observer this year, I will leave the political and legal analysis of this election to the experts.  However, I am happy to share a few unofficial election day observations with this brief election day scrapbook:

In El Salvador, Election Day is Sunday! Most people in work Monday through Saturday, so having elections on Sunday makes it possible for most citizens to vote. Because I was not an official election observer, I was able to attend church and help out in Sunday School. At the end of the day, our pastor sent a photo of himself and his younger brother, both proudly displaying their inked thumbs (showing they had voted). He included this message: "it was a day for official observation, unofficial observation, worship with prayer and thanksgiving, exercising the right to vote, enjoying the civic atmosphere, waiting for election results." He ended with our tag lines: Better together! Love life!

On our way to church, we (my husband, our pastor and I) stopped at a school in Las Flores. Young people from church carried out a variety of duties at local polling sites, and the pastor gave encouragement to those who were working outside. (Only credentialed observers are allowed inside.)  At this site, a couple of our young friends gathered exit poll data from a random sampling of voters. These exit poll numbers allowed Bukele to declare victory early on election night - before most of the votes were actually counted.

In the photo above, a family of proud Salvadoran expats tells the pollsters they traveled from the US, carrying their flags, to cast their votes in person in the community of their origin.

Our friends described their experience as first-time poll workers: they left their homes at 3:30 AM, walked 30 minutes to this site, worked, voted, and returned home after 1 AM the next morning. (Their cousin who was a vote counter did not return home until 6 AM.) Fortunately at this site the political parties provided some food over the course of the long day; other sites were not so lucky.

At midday, Distrito Italia was popping! The boulevard in front of the school (polling site) was filled with voters and their families, which meant good business for all of the entrepreneurs selling street food. We ran into a few folks we have not seen for ages. What a great vibe for a town which has a difficult reputation as the former hub for a notorious gang. 

Next, we headed to San Salvador and passed through the big new roundabout highway project in Valle de Ángel. Salvadoran election law technically prohibits luring voters to support your party by announcing or doing big projects like this within 30 days of an election. Well, Bukele announced the opening of this big sky bridge the day before the election. As we drove across the newly opened bridge, it was clear that the center lane was skim-coated with some quick blacktop and the sides were still "pretty janky" (my description which my husband dared me to actually write in this observation).

See? Janky. Is this earthquake-ready? I predict the big sky ramp will be closed immediately after election day and probably won't open again for a few months. Just a hunch. I will report back on this.

This is the pajama corner. The gentleman who sells at this corner has been here for as long as I can remember. He often has a big collection of superhero pajamas hanging on the wall, and people do buy them. About a year ago, it looked like his shelter and goods were removed.  I did not see the owner of this business on Election Day, but I noticed he had stocked up on flags for those wishing to express their civic pride and on small flags for any expats who might have come home to vote. I hope he made some sales.

Traffic. That's my observation. 

Walking to a neighborhood voting site is better than sitting in voter traffic.

I was curious about these election observers at the Albert Einstein University polling site, and then noticed the beautiful sunlight shining through the trees.

At the Albert Einstein University site, set up a fair distance from the entrance, I found this somewhat lonely ARENA party information tent. It was the ONLY non-Nuevas Ideas tent I had seen all day. (In past elections, each of the parties had information tents set up outside of the polling sites.) I asked the ARENA representatives if I could take their picture. "Yes, of course," one responded, "and make me famous!" I noticed the pink hats: seen here and on the heads of a few ARENA party folk inside the university campus. While I didn't ask, my guess is that the ARENA faithful were wearing the hats in support of Milagro, the long-time mayor of Antiguo Custcatlan, whose trademark pink can be found all over her social media pages and on walls and signs throughout the city. With Bukele's orchestrated consolidation of municipalities and pending municipal elections, Milagro may soon be out of a job. 

Unofficial observers have time to take note of a few flowers while walking home from the final observation site of the day.

As an unofficial election day observer, I do not need to submit a report to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (though if they want a list of which candidates did not take down their propaganda flags and billboards prior to the election, I did take some unofficial notes).


  1. you write better than your husband paudits


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