Volunteering for elections

13 Apr 2010

Volunteering for elections

Taking an afternoon break on the third, rather slow polling day in Dim, a poorer area of Khartoum, volunteer polling staffer Mai El Said was sitting under a tree with a friend.

"I wanted to do this for the country," she said, explaining why she was devoting time and energy to handing people ballot papers and outlining the voting process in one of Dim's 37 polling centres.

A young woman in her 20s and a pharmacist by training, Ms. El Said said she also wanted to learn something new. She had received civic education training a few days before polling started, she said.

"People know what to do," the polling volunteer said with a smile, adding that the process was going smoothly except for a few voters who had failed to find themselves on the registration list.

"A lot of them are from the army ... maybe they registered late or their names were added late," Ms. El Said said.

People whose names failed to appear on the list hung inside the centre or just outside the gate were directed to the next centre or the location they had registered at, she said.

Although the polling centre was rather quiet on the third day, it was crowded on 11 April when voting kicked off. "People came with a smile on their face," Ms. El Said said.

"The elections might mean a new era. Maybe we'll have a new government," she added in a lowered voice, noting that it was primarily the elderly who came to cast their votes, while young people stayed away.

With candidate withdrawals and opposition parties boycotting elections, some people were rather disappointed, according to Ms. El Said.

"Most of the youth might think that the results were already decided, thus their vote didn't matter," she said.

Domestic observer Huda Malik voiced similar concerns in a polling centre in Kartoum's wealthier Amarat area.

The 32-year-old Ms. Malik, who was also working as a volunteer during polling, spoke optimistically about the role of national observers. In the long run, she thought, the experience they gained would have a positive outcome, as observers could contribute skills at the next elections.

Domestic observer tasks included taking notes of any irregularities. At the end of each polling day, they reported to organizations which had nominated them to the National Elections Commission as observers.

Ms. Malik was commissioned by a local non-governmental organization for women, part of the network called TAMAM, focusing on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS counseling and other health as well as education-related issues.

Ms. Malik's organization had provided civic voter education for months before polling started, especially in poor and remote areas of Khartoum and Gedaref states, she said.