Observers will be recruited from an IFES-sponsored leadership school in Guayaquil.
African descendants in Ecuador are preparing to observe elections in their communities for the first time during the presidential and legislative polls on October 15.
In the coming days, IFES and its local partner Afroamérica XXI will train some 60 Afro-descendants to monitor election procedures in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas, Imbabura, Carchi and Pinchincha. In addition, they will observe how Afro-Ecuadorian voters act in polling centers and how they are treated overall.
The observation mission is the first real effort to measure voter turnout among Afro-Ecuadorians and determine the specific problems they face at the polls, said Mara Krier, IFES program coordinator. The mission is the latest component of an IFES program, funded by the U.S. State Department, which seeks to remove the barriers to Afro-Ecuadorian political participation and to raise the community’s national profile. Many of the observers will be recruited from an IFES-sponsored leadership school in Guayaquil that seeks to train the next generation of Afro-descendant leaders.
Afro-Ecuadorians are under-represented at the national level, despite comprising some 10 percent of the population, according to the Inter-Agency Consultation on Race in Latin America. Most Afro-Ecuadorians live in remote regions where they are unlikely to obtain national identity papers–the documents that are required to vote or run for office.
Afro-descendants who are eligible to vote face further challenges, said Krier. Often polling stations are located outside their neighborhoods, forcing them to travel longer distances than other citizens to cast their ballots. In a country where at least 41 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the expense of hiring a taxi is simply too great for many these voters. In addition, some experts believe a lack of quality education in Afro-descendant areas may make Afro-Ecuadorian voters more susceptible to pressure from political party representatives.
The observation team will use methods developed by Fundación Q’ellkaj, a civil society organization in Ecuador that focuses on ensuring the rights of indigenous voters. Fundación Q’ellkaj helped Afroamérica XXI adapt its monitoring methods to fit the Afro-descendant context in Ecuador.
Once the observations are made, they will be analyzed and compiled in a report that will recommend ways to improve the electoral experience of Afro-Ecuadorian voters and how Ecuador’s election commission can reach out to those voters. Krier said she hopes the findings will spur the election commission, political leaders and other key actors to help improve the political status of Afro-Ecuadorians.
“This observation will make a valuable contribution to the free and fair development of the electoral process in Ecuador,” said Krier.