Dear Friends: The U.S. could learn a few things from Ecuador when it comes to national elections. To start, the political campaigning for a new president lasts officially one month – if this happened in the U.S. think how many gazillion dollars would be saved and spent on important things. Two days before voting (on February 19) all campaigning must stop: no TV ads, no noisy trucks with banners and flags and blaring speakers, no candidates making last-minute flights on private jets to far-flung corners of the country (that would be the U.S., again). On the day of voting, no publicity materials of any kind are to be displayed, and no public meetings are allowed, including church services (?). (Also: no liquor sales for three days before polling, though I easily bought two bottles of wine the day before.) Yesterday, as Michael and I walked into town to vote, we ran into a friend scraping a political sticker off his windshield. “I don’t want to be fined,” he said.
Voting is compulsory from age 18-65, and citizens can be charged a fine for not voting -$44.80 according to one headline. Turnout for the last general election in 2009 was 91%. Michael and I are eligible to vote (but not required) by virtue of our permanent residency status and ten years living here, plus we had to register for our voter’s cards.
Here’s Michael lined up at a local school for his first time voting. Polling sites are designated schools, with tables manned by university students who are obligated to serve and paid $20 for the day – presumably with a bit of training and supervision. (For reasons I don’t clearly understand, men and women vote at separate tables.) One young man checked off Michael’s name from the voters’ list and had him sign in, while another
handed him the paper ballots, called papaletos, large sheets of paper with color photos of candidates. There are no primaries in Ecuador to sort out presidential favorites, so we had our choice of eight candidates, pictured here with their vice president choices. The system allows for a run-off election if one candidate does not receive 40% of the vote with a ten-point lead.The presidential ballot is not too confusing – you simply put a vertical line in the box above your choice. The two top contenders this election are: Lenín Moreno (far right) and Guillermo Lasso (second from right). More on them later. In addition, we had to vote for about 140 asemblistas – members to the national assembly, and five Andean Parliment representatives (member states: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile). This ballot was a lot more challenging, especially for those such as the elderly and illiterate Cañari woman beside me when I voted, who understood little and certainly needed a Kichwa-speaking helper – nowhere in sight. Michael was handed his papaletos, stepped into one of the two cardboard voting booths, and made his rayas – vertical marks – with a blue ballpoint attached to a string in the booth – ink color matters here).