Two years ago I accepted my second citizenship here in Ecuador. I hold a national ID, a passport, and with those two items comes the obligation to vote (and the privilege of doing so!). The system here, as are many systems worldwide, is one of mandatory participation in the democratic election process. If you opt not to vote, or do not show up to participate, there is a fine ($50 for those who do not have a reason for not voting, $39 for those who show up but forgot their ID or cannot make it to their voting location and present in a different location but are not allowed to vote).
However, it is not these details that I would like to talk about. It is the overall experience I would like to focus on.
- You vote in person. All public schools and universities becoming polling places, and you must show up to your assigned voting location. Typically you are assigned to a school in your neighborhood, and people from the same neighborhoods are assigned to the same schools to vote. This made it seem like a big block party more than an election!
|My appointed school for voting, La Salle|
- Women and men go to separate areas to vote and you have a pre-assigned tables. You could look your table up online before you left, or you could request the information once you arrived at your assigned school. I was at women's table 1.
- We were provided with 3 different ballots. One for president/vice president, one for national/regional representatives, and one for our CAN representatives. Here is a picture of me learning how to vote and another of a sample ballot. The logos are party logos (there are some interesting names there). On every ballot there were photos of each candidate (very helpful!). You have to mark vertically across the horizontal line in order to vote correctly (I had to verify this a couple of times to ensure I didn't nullify my vote, as you are only allotted one ballot!).
- Votes are secret. Your name does not go on your actual ballot. They check you off at the table, hold your national ID, then provide you with a certificate that you have voted. This lovely sign reminds us that our vote is secret! (meaning we don't have to tell anyone who we voted for and no one, including the government, will ever know unless we reveal who we voted for). And, yes, I had to fit my pregnant self in that tiny metal desk. They obviously didn't think about pregnant ladies when selecting the seating.
- After you make your selection you fold up your ballots and drop them in cardboard boxes. One is for your presidential/vice presidential ballot, the other is for the other two ballots. This is me voting for president/vice president! Who did I vote for? You'll never know because "mi voto es secreto!"
- Then you receive your Certificado de Votacion which is extremely important here! (make sure the table head has signed it or it's no good!) You can't do anything nationally without your Certificado de Votacion. Like open a bank account, get national insurance, etc. If you did not show up to vote you either have to pay a fine (the amount varies depending on how you didn't vote, long story...). Once you have paid the fine then they provide you with your certification card. Here's me and my card.
- Then that was it! We headed home through the crowds of people on the streets - families riding their bikes, people enjoying local dishes, crowds hanging out greeting neighbors catching up
There is something about the ability to vote that is incredible. You are guiding an entire country's future, millions of people's lives, through your participation. YOU! Is there anything more incredible than the ability to do this?
Overall, I have to say that I wish voting were like this in the U.S., and I believe that if it were more like this more people would vote (yes, I realize that there is a great difference between mandatory voting and voluntary voting). It was truly a civic festival, a reason to get together, a reason to celebrate, a reason to reconnect (Although this has not always been the case historically in Latin American countries when it comes to presidential elections, Ecuador is no exception, where many times presidential elections brought uncertainty and turmoil, it was the case today). Families and neighborhoods voted together, catching up at their polling locations, checking in on one another. Even though our family was divided in their polling locations (due to a lack on our part to verify our addresses with the CNE before hand), we began our day by all meeting up at my mother-in-law's house and walking to her and my sister-in-law's polling site together. Then those who had voted took the kids back home to play (yes, even children come with their families to vote, although they cannot vote until 16), and Arturo accompanied me to my polling location.
I have never voted in person in the U.S., and submitting a ballot via mail or fax is not inspiring. This was inspiring. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in my adoptive country's recent presidential election and the honor of helping guide this country's future.