El Salvador Table of Contents
Voters in line at a polling place
Courtesy United States Department of Defense
Electoral procedures in El Salvador are governed by the Electoral Code, which was updated by the Legislative Assembly in January 1988. The system it established is in some ways cumbersome and open to abuse but adheres closely to electoral procedures followed in most Latin American countries.
The organization in charge of administering electoral procedures is the Central Electoral Council (Consejo Central de Elecciones), which consists of three members and three alternates elected for five-year terms by the Legislative Assembly. Nominees for the council are drawn from the ranks of the leading political parties or coalitions, as determined by the vote totals in the most recent presidential elections. The president of the Central Electoral Council serves as the chief administrator and the ultimate authority on questions of electoral procedures.
In order to cast their votes, all citizens are required to obtain from the Central Electoral Council an electoral identification card (carnet electoral) certifying their inscription in the national Electoral Register. The carnet electoral is presented at the individual's polling place and is the only form of identification accepted for this purpose. The card must bear the voter's photograph, signature (if literate), and right thumbprint. The carnet electoral is valid for five years from the date of issue.
The issuing of carnets electorales and the related maintenance of the Electoral Register are the most cumbersome aspects of the electoral system, particularly in rural areas where voters' access to their municipal electoral boards frequently is impeded by poor transportation and the effects of the insurgent war. Rural voter registration has also been hampered by direct and indirect coercion by the guerrilla forces, who have described national elections as a sham and a component of a United States-designed counterinsurgency strategy. These and other factors, including a general disenchantment with the electoral process based in large part on the failure of the government to end the insurgency and improve economic conditions, contributed to a gradual decline in voter turnout during the 1982-88 period. Whereas some 80 percent of the electorate turned out for the Constituent Assembly balloting in 1982, only an estimated 65 percent voted in the first round of presidential balloting in March 1984. This was followed by turnouts of approximately 66 and 60 percent in the 1985 and 1988 legislative and municipal elections, respectively.
The Central Electoral Council, in coordination with its departmental and municipal electoral boards, determines the number and location of polling places. This process is to be completed at least fifteen days prior to balloting. Although the Electoral Register and final vote tallies are processed at least partially by computer, paper ballots are utilized at the polling places. Ballots are deposited in clear plastic receptacles to reduce the possibility of fraud. All political parties are entitled to station a poll watcher at each balloting site to reduce further the opportunity for vote manipulation.
Polling places are open from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M., at which time the officials at each site begin the preparation of an official record of the results. This record includes a preliminary vote count by party, an inventory of ballots issued to the polling place (the discrepancy between ballots issued and ballots used is not to exceed 300), and accounts of challenges received and any unusual incidents or occurrences during the course of the voting. Poll watchers scrutinize the record's preparation and are entitled to a copy of the final product. As a result, political parties frequently are able to issue preliminary electoral results well in advance of the official tally.
These records from the polling places are forwarded to the local municipal electoral board, where a record for the entire municipio is prepared. The municipal voting records are conveyed to the Central Electoral Council by way of the departmental electoral boards. The council conducts the final scrutiny of the records; this process must be undertaken no later than forty-eight hours after the closing of the polls. Copies of voting records are also provided to the office of the attorney general as a further safeguard against tampering.
In the case of presidential elections, the Central Electoral Council can declare a winner only if one ticket receives an absolute majority of all votes cast. If no one party or coalition receives such a majority, as happened in the March 1984 elections, the council is required to schedule within thirty days a runoff election between the two leading vote-getters. The declaration of winners in legislative balloting is less direct; here, voters cast their ballots for parties more than for individuals, since seats in the Legislative Assembly are allotted to registered candidates roughly on a proportional basis according to the departmental vote totals of their party or coalition. Municipal elections are more straightforward, with the winners decided according to their showing in the municipal vote tallies.
The protracted insurgent war exerted pressure on the government to adjust its electoral procedures. In areas where guerrilla control prevented the establishment of polling places, voters were urged to cast their ballots at the nearest secure location. Some polling places in departmental capitals were required to have on hand electoral records for rural voters who had relocated from war zones. In some towns, so-called national polling stations were set up to accommodate displaced voters from other departments. These stations were required to have on hand electoral registration data for the entire country. Guerrillaengineered transportation stoppages, attacks on public buildings, and sabotage of the electrical system impeded voting as well, especially in rural areas. Indeed, many of these actions were undertaken with the specific intention of deterring voters from participation.
In addition to overseeing elections, the Central Electoral Council is also charged with the official recognition of political parties. Initial petitions to the council for the formation of a party require the support of at least 100 citizens. This group then is granted sixty days to secure the signatures of at least 3,000 citizens and submit them to the council. If all the signatures are verified, the party is then granted legal recognition, referred to as inscription (inscripcion). The party's inscription can be revoked if it fails to receive at least 0.5 percent of the total national vote cast in a presidential or legislative election, or if the party fails to participate in two consecutive elections. Parties are allowed to form coalitions at the national, departmental, or municipal levels without forfeiting their separate inscriptions.
Political campaigns are underwritten to some extent by the state through the provision for "political debt." The Electoral Code stipulates that each party can expect to receive reimbursement according to the following formula: C10 (for value of colon--see Glossary) for each valid vote cast for the party in the first round of a presidential election, C6 for each vote in legislative elections, and C4 for each vote in municipal elections. All parties are eligible for payment, regardless of their showing at the polls.
Data as of November 1988
El Salvador Table of Contents