SAT 15 - 12 - 2018
May 4, 2018
The Daily Star
Polling staff turn out before Sunday’s vote
Ghinwa Obeid| The Daily Star
BEIRUT/SIDON: Hundreds of polling station employees cast their ballots Thursday, days ahead of the country’s first parliamentary elections in nine years. Polls opened at 7 a.m. for the over 14,800 employees registered to vote in centers nationwide to give them a chance to cast their ballot ahead of the general public Sunday, when they will be working to facilitate the electoral process.
The Daily Star headed to a warehouse operated by the Beirut Municipality that served as a polling center for the Beirut I and Beirut II districts. Some 829 people were registered to cast their ballots at the station – one of three in the capital.
The state-run National News Agency reported Thursday evening that 74 out of 85 registered voters cast their ballot in Beirut I – an 87 percent turnout. It added that 652 voters had cast their ballot out of 744 registered in Beirut II, again making a turnout of 87 percent.
With one station assigned for the 85 registered voters for Beirut I, the process was smooth and queues were only three people long around midmorning. “The turnout is very good. Nothing has gone wrong and there have been no faults,” Ghassan Ezzeddine, head of the polling station in Beirut I, told The Daily Star.
“The elections are going excellently. They have studied the law, we were given instructions that we followed, and we committed to the memos that were issued.”
As Ezzeddine was speaking, a voter came in. She was asked for her ID card and her name was called out aloud. She was then given a preprinted ballot with the lists competing for the district and stepped inside the voting booth.
Nicolas, a high school teacher, had come to vote after work.
“There are several reasons why I came to vote. Previously I wasn’t really aware of who the candidates were and I submitted a blank ballot,” he said. “This is the first time I am actually voting and our hope is for a bit of change in the country.”
However, mere meters away in another room, a long queue of voters snaked outside the entrance of the Beirut II polling station.
Two rooms were allocated to accommodate the district’s 744 voters, an arrangement that didn’t please those waiting in the long lines.
“The process was very slow,” said 42-year-old Sawsan, who didn’t give her last name. “I don’t know why this has happened, but I stood for two hours before I got to vote. The voters took a lot of time to cast the ballot and it took time for polling stations heads to find the names within the many [sheets of] paper.”
Sawsan, who works at the Finance Ministry, was concerned that she wasn’t going to get back to the office on time and lose a workday.
But she insisted on voting in what will be her first parliamentary elections. She too is hoping for change.
“I was [hesitant] at the beginning, and I have lost hope of [any change] but it is a step that I had to take,” she said.
Another voter expressed her frustration with the situation, saying that it was “a Lebanese thing to be disorganized.” She expressed concern that when the public votes on May 6, the same disorderly queues and issues would occur nationwide.
“We’ve been standing for two hours,” another voter complained. “They could have divided it between men and women to reduce traffic.”
Heads of both polling stations, however, downplayed voters’ complaints, saying things were running smoothly. “There is no delay,” said Ahmad al-Hajj Shehadeh, the head of one of the two polling stations.
“Everything has been going fine. Most of them [the voters] are teachers and they were trained on how the law works, so there are no issues.”
The head of the second Beirut II polling station explained the most time-consuming part of the process had been waiting for voters to fold their ballot and place it in the envelopes to be posted in the ballot box. The atmosphere in the polling station was calm, with monitors from the political parties keeping an eye on the process under the scrutiny of observers from the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections.
Several local media outlets reported that a polling station in Nabatieh ran into a problem when 300 ballots filled the box with no room for more votes.
A source at the Interior Ministry denied Sunday’s elections would face the same hurdles, saying that ballot boxes are made to international standards and would fit between 400 and 500 envelopes each.
Despite the incident, no major problems were recorded elsewhere across the country. The pace of the turnout picked up in the afternoon as official working hours ended. In the south, the electoral process at the Sidon Serail went smoothly, under the supervision of south Lebanon Gov. Mansour Daou. – Additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari
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