Posted by: r.m. | February 15, 2009

referendum day

i was awoken at 2.30 o´clock this morning by ‘ what sounded like ‘ a loud explosion. i´m sure it wasnt since minutes later it was followed by music upon music and by 3.30 o´clock, marching band music began.  i already was planning on waking up at 4 o´clock so that i could see the opening of the vooting booths at 5 o´clock. clearly, in venezuela, voting is quite a serious matter ” serious enough to wake people up so that they can get to the voting booths early. the marching band music carried on until 6 am.

we  – the international observers or international accompaniements – were at one of the voting centers in caracas by 5 o´clock and already there was a small line of people waiting for the booth to be ready so that they could vote.  on the main door of the school, at the gate outside, were the national id numbers (akin to the social security numbers in the US) and the respective voting booth in the center for the number groups.  outside, were also a handful of military men (and women), some armed, some unarmed.  past the gate, further in, were some more military men (and women), a table at which one of the electoral officers would check the ID of the voter, and then the voter would go inside, and wait to be fingerprinted. the fingerprint of the voter would then produce a printed verification of his-her ID (already, there is a fingerprint on the national ID of the venezuelan citizens so this fingerprint is an addtional verification of identity). then, taking that printed verification, the voter would proceed to one of the designated voting booths (or classrooms since the voting centers are all held in schools). there, the voter would present the printed verification to an electoral officer, sign the sheet and place another fingerprint by their signature, and then get directions on how to vote from another electoral officer who then directs him or her to the voting machine, and then the voter secretly votes yes or no on the referendum, takes the printed receipt and puts it in the box and then goes to a third electoral officer who then instructs the voter to dip his or her pinky finger in ink (a third step to ensure the voter only votes once) and then that voter goes back to the first electoral officer and retrieves his or her ID and then leaves. all of this is under the watchful eyes of a representative from the Yes political block and a representative from the NO political block. the electoral officers themselves are randomly chosen by lottery from the pool of venezuelan citizens and it is regarded as their citizenry duty to participate in such activities.  (they are also monetarily compensated for their time)

now when we arrived early in the morning, the electoral officers, under the watchful eyes of a soldier from the military and the two political block representatives, were opening the boxes, setting up the machine, and making sure that it all works and that the box is empty, etc. and then they are the first to vote.

it was all quite orderly at this particular caracas voting center.

we, as international observers, then split into groups and each group went to a different district. my group  – we went to east vargas, a small coastal state. we went to five voting centers, and spoke to political representatives from both blocks, and to the president of each voting center, and to random voters there, and to soldiers. and we are all quite impressed with the order and ease and speed of the process. the only problem was a slight difficulty in understanding the machine – a problem that was quickly rectified by the president of each voting booth in each voting center. the president of each voting booth is the person responsible for giving directions on voting of the machine.

one thing ‘ the coastal state we went is at a lower economic level than in caracas. incidentally, they did not have the fingerprint machine there. i did notice ‘ throughout the voting centers, including the one in caracas, a large battery attached to the voting machine. which made me think — perhaps we can have a voting machine in lebanon then (smile)

overall, there was a high voter turnout where we went, and two of the five voting centers had already had 50% voter turnout by noon. voting starts at 6.30 am and continues until 6 pm.

the mood overall was quite happy and upbeat and everyone seemed relaxed.

we will go to the closing of a certain voting center later today and then wait for the results of the vote.

there is much more i want to say, but i shall leave it at that for now.

all this will make much more sense, by the way, when i add the pictures

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