People Openly Sell Votes for $20 in the Dominican Republic

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Jayson was a first-time voter in the Dominican Republic, or would have been, if he’d had any intention of voting. Instead he was figuring out how to turn his ballot card into cash.
In the end, the 19-year-old said he got 1,000 pesos ($22) in return for surrendering the ID during Sunday’s presidential election. Jayson had a Plan B to solicit bids -- “I’ll go around with my card on my forehead” -- but didn’t need to use it. His friend, Luis, 21, did even better. He said he was paid about $28 to vote for the ruling Dominican Liberation Party: “I took the money but then I just voted for who I wanted anyway.’’
As President Danilo Medina cruised toward re-election, with 62 percent of the vote according to early counts, opposition parties were crying fraud -- in fact, almost everyone was. Across the country and the political spectrum, candidates said buying of ID cards and votes was rife. Local TV stations showed transactions under way right in front of polling stations.
Electoral board chief Roberto Rosario said that all parties were involved -- though he said such practices “will not alter the results’’ of the various votes that took place Sunday, local and nationwide. The board had introduced new rules before the balloting to prevent fraud, and Rosario said the parties themselves have to take some of the responsibility for cleaning up the process.
Hector Olivo, director of communications for Medina’s DLP, said the group “has never been involved in those activities. So it’s really not something I can say anything about.”
On Tuesday, election monitors from the Organization of American States said in a statement they “observed masses of people around the polling stations” and “received complaints about the buying of votes and identity cards.”

‘One More Vote’

Voters were issued with new ID cards as part of the effort to cut down on abuses, and fingerprint scanners were installed in polling stations. The election board said the measures would stop people from voting more than once, or voting with someone else’s ID.
But those safeguards just led some party strategists to shift tactics. In one twist, local bosses comb neighborhoods to identify voters planning to support a rival group, and then offer to rent their cards for the day and return them after polls close -- the scheme that Jayson cashed in on.
Maria, a campaign organizer in central Santo Domingo, said she started receiving envelopes of cash from candidates on Saturday. On election day morning she hit the streets, offering anywhere from $5 to $20 to convince people to vote for her party -- or, if they were leaning another way, to surrender their cards. “If they don’t have an identity card, they can’t vote,” she said. “So it’s like one more vote for us.”
Like others, she asked that her name not be used because the practice is illegal. “It’s something my family has always done for the party. I started before I could even vote,” she said. Maria estimated that she and her colleagues bought about 200 votes.

Free Gas

The practice isn’t unique to the Dominican Republic, of course -- but the country is a repeat offender. A 2011 Vanderbilt University survey found 22 percent of Dominican voters had been offered money or goods in exchange for their vote, the highest percentage in Latin America and the Caribbean.
After the 1996 election, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who led a monitoring delegation in the Dominican Republic, said he was concerned by reports of voter cards for sale; and in 2012, politician-turned-television host Taina Gautreau estimated more than 400,000 votes were bought, in an electorate of roughly 7 million.
There’s money to be made in the days and weeks leading up to voting. The minimum wage in the Dominican Republic averages around $200 a month and many earn even less.
Julio de la Rosa, director of Dominican Alliance Against Corruption, said the new measures represent a step forward in cleaning up the elections. But, “you still see campaigns out there providing food, gifts, tanks of gas.”

‘It Helps’

Some of the money buys extra advertising. In a country where the candidates’ faces loom from billboards all over the capital a year before voting, and campaign posters hang on every telephone pole for miles outside the city, it would hardly seem worthwhile for a party to offer drivers a tankful of gas for agreeing to carry a flag or poster.
But that’s the deal Francisco got at a Santo Domingo gas station in late April. After receiving about $44-worth of gas, he slapped a small poster of the president on the door of his 1990s Toyota Corolla, and drove away. “I can take it off when I get home,” he said.
On Saturday, buses lined up to take voters living in Santo Domingo back to the rural provinces where they’re registered. They were given two free bus tickets, plus 500 pesos.

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