Before and after the March 11 vote, DI works to strengthen the Salvadoran electoral system
On March 11, El Salvador successfully held Legislative and Municipal elections under a new electoral system that implemented recent reforms in line with the spirit of the peace accords signed 20 years ago. To support these reforms, Democracy International (DI) has provided significant technical assistance to the Salvadoran Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and implemented a highly publicized voter education campaign.
In spite of significant challenges, Salvadorans turned out in high numbers to vote under the new system, which allowed voters to cast ballots for individual candidates in an open-list system for the first time. More than 60 percent of voters took advantage of this new opportunity. The new electoral system also expanded “residential voting” to most of the country, significantly increasing the number of voting stations and bringing them closer to where people live. DI’s efforts, funded by USAID, supported the implementation of these electoral reforms and helped overcoming key challenges, including limited initial public awareness of changes to the electoral system and the voting process.
DI conducted an aggressive and comprehensive voter education campaign to address voters’ low levels of information about the new voting process and the location of polling places. DI worked with 14 Salvadoran NGOs to design and conduct a nationwide voter education campaign. This campaign helped set the tone for the elections by stressing the significance of the reforms and by the production of producing innovative materials focused on three core messages (how, where, and why to vote). With its slogan of “Elige, Vota, Exige” (Elect, Vote, Demand), this campaign played into the theme of the new reforms, and its success was evident on election day. Voters generally understood the new system for casting ballots, as demonstrated by the relatively low rate of spoiled ballots (3.2%), and were able to find their voting stations, despite the fact that half of the country was voting in completely new locations.
In addition, DI provided ongoing technical assistance and advice to the TSE, focused in particular on information technology capacity building, results transmission, and electoral operations and logistics. In addition to working closely with the TSE to support the March 11 elections, DI also served as an external advisor to provide long-term, process-focused recommendations. Among other things, DI deployed a team of technical observers to every department of the country to closely observe and offer specific recommendations about the TSE’s test of the electoral results transmission system, conducted two weeks before the March 11 elections. The TSE accepted and implemented several of these recommendations, which helped to prevent a number of potential problems in the short-term and should become standard practice for future elections.
The electoral reforms represent the realization of some long-held goals to encourage greater political participation in El Salvador, but they are only the beginning of a series of much-needed reforms and institutional-strengthening initiatives. Accordingly, DI will continue to work with the TSE to evaluate the 2012 elections and consider additional reforms or institutional capacity building that may be needed to better meet the challenges of democratic consolidation in El Salvador.
Moreover, the postelection environment offers a unique window of opportunity for additional electoral and political reforms. The reforms implemented for the March elections are still part of a provisional law, and enacting them permanently will be an important step. Other major reforms under consideration include the election of municipal councils by proportional representation, new regulations for campaign financing, and implementation of the law on access to information. To support ongoing reform efforts, DI will work with local NGOs, election officials, and members of the Legislative Assembly to continue to analyze these important issues.
The preliminary results of the March 11 elections can be found here.
Learn more about DI’s program in El Salvador here.