Foreign visitors and residents alike can’t help but notice the exuberant street party that characterizes Costa Rican elections. People wave flags from cars and cheer in front of colorful polling places. It looks like fun, but does this system work and what really happens on Election Day?
Last Sunday, I found out.As a naturalized Costa Rican, I got my Costa Rican cédula (I.D. card) and the privilege to vote. The first step was to find out where to vote. I simply dialed 120 and punched in my cédula number and with no busy signals or voicemail, got the location of my polling place in Belén, northwest of San José. Sunday morning, I arrived at the polling place at 7 a.m. to look for a parking place, and found a spot three meters from the door.
I got out of the car and was greeted by a young, friendly volunteer who led me through the maze of colorful party kiosks to a large tent covering a long table with several people manning ledgers. Each party has volunteers dressed in their party’s colors, but help voters regardless of which party they support. I was a bit apprehensive because my Spanish is rudimentary and I wasn’t sure about the rules concerning cameras in the polling place.
My worries where unfounded. The cheerful woman manning the ledger took no exception to my camera and found my name and cédula in seconds. My guide then accompanied me into the polling place.
There was no line and I entered a basic schoolroom with another group of volunteers manning ledgers. Again, I was greeted by a friendly helpful person who found me in his ledger immediately. I signed the book and was given three ballots: One for President, another for Congress and another for regidores (municipal council members).
The ballots were exceptionally clear and well printed. To vote, one just puts an “X” under the candidate’s name. Each candidate is listed under the party flag.
This was the most clear and easy-to understand ballot I’ve seen in 30 years of voting in three states in the U.S. No broken voting machines or confusing ballots. I took the ballots to a simple cardboard voting booth and filled out the three ballots. I emerged from the booth and was directed to put each ballot into a separate ballot box, one for each office. Job done.
During all this, I was not only encouraged to take photos, but one of the volunteers asked for my camera and took my picture as I put my ballot in the box. I left the polling room to find my volunteer waiting to walk me through the crowd and back to my car.Wow.
During this whole process I was amazed with the efficient, cheerful volunteer force and well-organized governmental process.
The whole process took less than 20 minutes and turned out to be a complete pleasure.
Maybe some of these Ticos could go help out in Southern Florida for the next U.S. presidential election.
Photographer Robert Craig, a dual U.S.-Costa Rican citizen, moved from Maui, Hawaii, to Costa Rica eight years ago.