14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, January 23, 2019 — Separate from the heated debates between the supporters of YES, NO, and abstention in the February 24 referendum, a group of activists is preparing to watch over the process so that the norms are followed. The Cuban Association of Electoral Observers (ACOE) tells 14ymedio that so far 400 people in 76 municipalities have joined the initiative, but they hope for more.
Despite the fact that the association, a part of the Cuban Commission for Voting Protection (COCUDE), has not yet received a response to the request for recognition that they sent to the National Assembly of People’s Power, they haven’t given up and have launched the Every Voter An Observer campaign, with which they want the entire citizenry to participate in watching over the vote to prevent irregularities.
Zelandia de la Caridad Pérez, national coordinator of the group, explains that several observers “are backed by regional bodies.” Although the law provides for voters to participate in the vote count, few dare to do it out of fear of being seen as people who distrust the electoral process and not as individuals exercising their rights.
“Citizen action from electoral observation is always going to be legitimate,” explains Juan Manuel Moreno, executive secretary of Candidates for Change. In his view, and against those who believe that voting legitimizes the regime, “the system is corrupt, dictatorial, and totalitarian, but it has an army, a currency of legal tender, it issues passports that are recognized at the immigration windows of the rest of the world. Although it’s difficult for us, the system enjoys legitimacy.”
His opinion is shared by Frank Abel García, national coordinator of ACOE, who thinks that Cubans cannot expect “to live one day in a democratic society without mechanisms that defend the popular will,” something that must begin to be “practiced starting now.”
ACOE seeks to transmit to each voter a sense of accompaniment, of the presence of independent individuals who can keep watch so that nobody is coerced, is impeded from exercising their right to vote, or is discriminated against for choosing one option or another. They cannot change the course of the process but they can track it.
The points that these observers will have to review include from checking that all citizens with the right to vote are on the Electoral Register, to that the established schedules are kept and that the members of the polling places are properly accredited and have whatever is necessary to guarantee the day’s events.
The privacy of the cubicle, the state of the ballot boxes at the beginning of the vote, and that voters have pens to mark their option with indelible ink are other aspects that must be supervised by the observers, who will be witnesses to the count and to the writing of the final record.
Other bodies, like Citizen Observers of the Electoral Process and Observers for Voting Rights, are also planning to monitor the referendum. Whereas the independent organizations Somos Más (We Are More), the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, the Cuban Nationalist Party, the Autonomous Pinero Party, and Citizens for Development, will give information to the ACOE.
In one month, the Cuban government will not only have to deal with the possible figures of abstention, the volume of annulled ballots, and the numbers of NO to the new Constitution, but also will feel the weight of the gaze of these citizens ready to defend their votes with civic responsibility.
Translated by: Sheilagh Carey
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