New Yorkers Have a Slow Day Voting in Dominican Elections
From El Diario
May 17 , 2004

The voting stations opened according to the established schedule, but from the beginning of the day one could see that those organizing the New York vote in the Dominican election lacked the experience necessary to get a final count, contributing to the slowness of the event.

This was the complaint coming from almost everyone outside the station. But thanks to the opportune contribution of the New York Police Department, Dominican Election day moved along amidst a festival-like atmosphere, and with respect between opposing voters.

It is true that a people got overexcited while defending the cause of their preferred candidate, challenging their opponents. But in the end, aside from the yells and posturing, everything transpired under normal conditions.

When those who had registered arrived at the voting stations, they didn’t always find the tables where they were supposed to vote. Confused volunteers from their own parties ­ laptops in hand ­ were charged with telling them where to go.

For some voters, casting votes in the first election in the history of the Dominican Republic to accept votes from outside the country “had a real democratic value. The residents of other countries love their homeland, but are able to be more disinterested about local politics and causes,” José Fernando Martínez told us. He added that “those who settle in our country can be contaminated by buying and selling their votes, in a manner that has been mixed into our democratic system for many years.”

For Martínez, a Dominican citizen, it was the “Dominican Revolutionary Party and the Social Christian Reformist Party who should be charged with introducing into our political system the buying and selling of votes, something which has completely denigrated our democracy.”

Dominican residents of New York orderly honored their sacred duty of voting, but it is insignificant if one takes into account the number of Dominican natives living legally in New York State ­ some 600,000. Barely 25,000 votes were counted.

“The Dominican Republic is still not mature, politically speaking,” Luis Eduardo Valdez told us, “because after the dictatorship that we suffered under with Trujillo, we had to withstand another semi-dictatorship, the one of Joaquín Balaguer. The Congress of our country has anointed Balaguer ‘The Father of Dominican Democracy,’ without accepting that during his 22-year presidency, he ruled all Dominicans with an iron fist.”

The voting tables installed by the election board in New York had capacity to receive cotes of about 500 voters on average, but this step was too slow and caused desperation among those who came to vote. These claims came as much from witnesses from the political parties are they did from voters.

The special deal for disabled Dominicans to be able to complete their sacred duty of voting was well known. The relationship between voters and those working the tables was also friendly. But this is true: volunteers were inflexible in warnings citizens that in exercising their civic and political duties, they were under the strictest standard of impartiality. Thus, they avoided the influence of those supporting a particular candidate at the time of the vote.

Polls carried out among those who voted the day after election day by El Diario showed that Leonel Fernández, the candidate for the Dominican Liberation Party, had beaten the Dominican Revolutionary Party candidate, current president Hipólito Mejía. The rest of the candidates had received very few votes at the time of the counting.

For many, the largest political error in the Mejía campaign was to have the Dominican Congress approve his reelection. The political element of this move was rejected by José Francisco Peña Gómez, a past leader, because it allowed dynastic leaders like Joaquín Balaguer.

Masses of people formed outside the voting stations, more than anything, because of the confusing voting system inside the stations. There was a strict process for checking people’s identification. Equally rigorous was the process of submitting the votes once the cards had been marked. Once a person voted, they deposited their ballot into the ballot box in the presence of a panel of judges and the witnesses from the political parties.

For sure, the accredited delegates from the political parties were doing a double job. They kept a strict control over making sure that the person who picked up the voting card was actually the voter who it was intended for. Secondly, and perhaps more important, they had to make sure that the voters, during the time that they had their cards in their hands, were not able to talk or receive indications or suggestions from anybody. While voters were in the act of voting, they were in a booth completely by themselves, having an agreeable democratic experience.  

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Translated from Spanish by Joshua Brustein.

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