Take care of the pitch | Profile

For a few years now, in political science, studies on electoral bodies, vote counting processes, the operation of polling stations have become fashionable; in summary, on the set of institutions and procedures that allow the realization of the electoral act. Taking advantage of the World Cup fever, I use a football metaphor: it is about the bodies, processes, institutions and people who take care of the field of play and allow the game to happen. Props, outfielders, referees, they catch balls (how can we forget Messi’s hug with the National Team cook?), they allow the players (voters) to go out onto the field on Sunday, cast their vote, have their vote counted quickly and well and that based on that computation those who win are proclaimed.

In Argentina, the field is taken care of by a group of electoral bodies that constitute a complex institutional framework. Said network has worked efficiently and uninterrupted for almost four decades: the National Electoral Justice, the National Electoral Directorate, the General Electoral Command, the Argentine Post Office, the provinces and the municipalities, all work side by side so that millions of voters can exercise their right to vote, with the supervision of dozens of miles of prosecutors from all political forces and under the surveillance of civil society organizations.

The 2021 elections were held in an unprecedented context. For the first time, the electoral process was adapted to a vote in a pandemic to make two fundamental rights compatible: the right to elect and be elected and the right to health. From the Ministry of the Interior we worked with the provincial governments, with the National Congress, with all the political forces, with the National Electoral Justice and with civil society organizations for almost two years to agree on an operating protocol for the polling stations .

As a result of this work, the Executive sent two bills to the National Congress. The first was able to keep alive the political groups that, due to isolation, could not carry out the activities that the law requires of them to maintain legal status, guaranteeing the electoral offer. The second modified the electoral calendar to be able to vote in a friendlier climate, which, added to the agreed sanitary protocols, resulted in the fact that covid cases did not increase after the two electoral acts.

In each election, some 24 million voters took to the field, more than 200,000 polling station authorities and 300,000 prosecutors, custodians for 100,000 security personnel, with the effort of 63,000 workers from the Argentine Post Office, who distributed the material election in the more than 17,000 polling stations supervised by thousands of court officials and transmitted the telegrams from each polling station. The provisional recount broke records: in the November elections, the dissemination of results began at 9:00 p.m., with 80% of the votes counted.

Those who are in charge of taking care of the field are key to the maintenance of democracy. However, his good performance is not enough. I am writing these lines while supporters of the former president of Brazil, who has just lost in transparent elections – played on the same field in which he won in 2018 – attack the headquarters of the three powers in Brasilia.

Adam Przeworski, in his book Why bother with elections?, explains that, in the world, between 1788 and 2008, people have voted in some 3,000 national elections. However, the change of government was rare: only one in five national elections resulted in a change of political sign. In the region, the trend seems to be reversing. According to a survey by political scientist Facundo Cruz, since the pandemic, of 32 national elections on the continent, only 12 have been won by the ruling party. The greater alternation, although it is counterintuitive, does not, however, result in a greater democratic quality: the shortening of political cycles can imply broad ideological leaps in polarized societies, which brings high instability in the course of public policies. Times are shortened, policies do not fully mature, results do not arrive and dissatisfaction accumulates, which can lead to anti-system expressions.

We are facing a scenario of growing tensions on democratic institutions worldwide. Argentina has a very reliable electoral administration, consolidated through the democratic exercise of forty years. The pandemic bequeathed to us an oiled gymnastics of political-institutional dialogue that will be vital to face this year’s electoral process. Taking care of the field prevails over the result of the match.

* Political scientist. Diplomat. Former National Electoral Director. Network of Political Scientists #NoSinMujeres.

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