There are elections coming up next year in Benin. Which means it’s time to check the voter registration rolls!
But things get tricky in a country where only 42% of the population over 15 can read. (Source: CIA World Factbook – sorry I can’t link, the Peace Corps computers only have Internet Explorer in a version too old to support WordPress). So how does a country check its voter registration?
Like everything else in this country except moto drivers, you do it very very slowly.
Each commune (similar to a county in the US) is separated into villages, and those villages are sometimes separated further into quartiers (neighborhoods). Sometimes, if there is high population density such as my village in the South, quartiers are further broken down into smaller segments. Each unit has a designated public place – I can’t yet confirm if these are the same as polling places). Sometimes it’s a primary school. Sometimes it’s an empty market stall. Sometimes it’s a Qur’anic school. Sometimes it’s a big mango tree.
At each of these locations, election officials post the voter registration lists for those people living in that area. The list includes a photo, so that if you cannot read, or cannot read French, you can still theoretically find yourself. For about a three week period, there is also a government official sitting by the lists, who will help you confirm your registration status or help if there are any problems.
It seems that the process is generally pretty smooth. Because there’s such a long period of time in which one can check the lists, there isn’t usually a crush of people waiting in a mob (because in this country lines are for suckers like stupid yovos who think there should be order in the world).
There are still a few issues, though. First is that at the lists I looked at, almost all the photos were of men. This probably has many reasons, most of which deal with the fact that women are often seen only as wives and mothers and sexual objects. Their literacy rate is significantly lower, and in many families, men may be the only ones who vote because they are the decision-makers in the house. The low women’s registration appears not to be the result of voter registration practices for the most part.
Once we get to the actual election, I’m expecting lots of shenanigans (though I won’t actually be here).
I unfortunatly don’t have a picture of this for you, because the day I was intending to take a photo, I got sick and had to head to the medical unit at Peace Corps headquarters, and I believe they’ve taken the lists down. But I’ll try to keep on the lookout for more election-related news from my village.