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Colombia: Confusing Ballots on Election Day

During the Colombian elections held on March 14, one complaint became common: the ballots were confusing and people were unknowingly making their vote null by marking the wrong boxes. During these elections, instead of the usual pictures of candidates or names in the ballot, citizens only had the party symbol and a number box. Voters had to remember what their candidate's party and number were in order to place their vote.

Sebastian Chaskel of the blog Americas Quarterly attempts to explain the voting system in place:

Colombians will vote first and foremost for their favorite party. If the party has an open list, voters may (but are not obligated to) specify which candidate they support within that party. But if the party has a closed list (which some do), then the party will have already assigned priority rankings to its candidates and voters will not be able to specify their personal preferences. As a result, many votes may ultimately help elect candidates who are not the voter’s preferred choice.

One Twitter user who did not favor this system is Miguel Olaya (@juglardelzipa) who wrote:

el sistema es mierdoso: le doy mi voto a un individuo de un partido, el man gana y le pasa el voto a un hijueputa que no quería que quedara.

The system is shitty: I give my vote to an individual from a party, this guy wins and passes the vote to some SOB who I didn't want to gain a seat.

The system led others to find a way to explain it to local residents. In the vicinity of a voting center in Belén, a community leader posted a large version of the voting ballot so that voters could familiarize themselves with the voting method. This activity, which he called educational, was questioned by some who stated that he was telling people how to vote.

In this post by Mary Luz Gallego Osorio, written for Bitácora [es], EAFIT University's online magazine, she quotes the community leader's defense of his demonstration:

A la persona que se arrima le digo que ella misma coja el lapicero y marque el partido que quiera y la prueba la tengo aquí en el tablero que están borrados todos. El ejercicio lo hace la gente, yo no estoy apoyando a ningún candidato, la gente marca.

To the person who walks up I tell them to take the pen and mark the party they want, and the proof is here on the board where you can see they get erased. The exercise is done by the people, I am not supporting any candidate, people mark their choice.

It was easier to understand the voting ballot system if one had internet access: different websites posted videos and voting guides. Such was the case with La Silla Vacía [es], an independent online media source, which had a “Voting Guide for Dummies” page. During the elections La Silla Vacía also had a very active twitter account, @lasillaenvivo reporting on the voting process and results as they started coming in.

Alexander Castro of the blog Updated Geek [es], in the Boyaca region wrote about his experience voting for the first time. He wrote that he was not motivated by civic duty, but rather by the tuition discount universities give to those who show the voting certificate. He also had this to say about the confusing ballots:

Cuando las destape me sentí confundido, era como encontrar la salida a un laberinto, como un juego de lógica y las instrucciones que llevan impresas en la parte posterior no servia para nada, aburrido por esto pensé en tres cosas:

1.Votar todo en blanco.
2.Hacer un cuadrado y dentro un dibujo de Optimus Prime y arriba escribir partido Autobot.
3.Votar por el primero de la lista.
4.Dejar el tarjeton tal como me lo habían entregado.

When I uncovered the ballots I felt confused, it was like trying to find my way out of a labyrinth, like a logic puzzle and the instructions printed on the back were of no use, bored by all this I thought of three things:

1. Mark the “Blank vote” option on all
2. Make a square and draw Optimus Prime in it and write above it Autobot Party
3. Vote for the first one on the list.
4. Leave the ballot blank just as they had handed it to me.

Regardless whether the voting system was too difficult or not, some looked forward to election day. Manuel Gomez (@manuelj) wrote:

A mi me encanta que el voto sea una moda, mientras sea un voto consciente.

I love voting to be in fashion, as long as it is a conscious vote.
Julián Ortega Martínez contributed to this post.

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