My own election day, like much of the country, was relatively uneventful. I joined a friend as she accompanied her grandfather to the polls (she herself chose not to vote). The process in Concepcion starts by visiting what might be considered a sign-in table, which was positioned at the side of the street in front of a house. There, a volunteer confirms that your name is on the registration list and hands you your ballots. You walk down a short way to the school (where all voting occurs) and enter one of about three possible voting rooms. In that room, a second group of volunteers checks your name of their list, indicating you have now presented yourself and cast a ballot, and then you walk over to a small shielded table to make your selections. Once complete, you drop each ballot in its respective box and, presto, civic duty exercised. I chatted with the volunteers about their roles and the process, and also talked for a bit with a former mayor of Concepcion. The ballots cast in town are counted by hand at the end of the day and the totals are called in to someone at the municipal level. The physical ballots, I was told, are sent to the capital and where the results are verified and made official.
Two general observations:
1) On election day, a Sunday, the center of Concepcion was remarkably quiet and relatively empty. There were people milling around near the school where the polls were, but it did not seem like a regular Sunday. I had heard from friends and colleagues that many people were frightened by the elections and the political turmoil in general, and that they would just close their doors and stay inside all day. We have definitely encountered some pretty nervous people while out gathering census data. Walking around town on election day, I did get a sense of general unease. According to friends in Santa Lucia, however, people there were out in the streets having a good time. I don’t have a good explanation for this difference.
2) Driving in San Pedro Sula and seeing political ads around, I noticed that there seemed to be a major focus on face-shots of the politicians. I have to admit that seeing billboards that were essentially gigantic heads of the candidates was a bit unsettling. But I didn’t put it all together until I saw the ballots. In each race, the voter receives a ballot (roughly 11 in by 4 in) with passport-style photographs of each candidate, and demonstrates his or her selection by placing an “X” underneath the head of the chosen candidate. Naturally, the parties make their advertising correspond as closely as possible to the voting process.