In anticipation of its trip to El Salvador to observe the presidential elections, the El Salvador Alternative Break group held an elections monitoring panel on Wednesday, February 18. It welcomed Glenn Cowan, Laura Grace, Steve Griner, and David Holiday at the Washington College of Law. All four panelists have had extensive experience in Salvadoran politics.
David Holiday started the panel with an overview of the history and current state of national Salvadoran politics, including the challenges facing each of the two main parties vying for the presidency. Steve Griner continued Holiday's historical narrative by describing the effects of US involvement in Salvadoran politics. He also gave several criteria necessary to free and fair elections. Having served as an elections monitor in the 2004 elections, Laura Grace gave a first-hand account of the polling conditions and challenges in El Salvador. She advised the Alt Break observers to adhere closely to observation norms to avoid interfering in the election.
Following three informative and sober presentations, Glenn Cowan joked about elections observation at first, reducing it to "standing and waiting." What soon became apparent, though, was that he had a wealth of serious advice for elections
observers. Despite having invented Quick Counts, a prominent election-monitoring methodology, Mr. Cowan insisted that the checklists associated with elections observation were less important than anything and everything observers could learn outside the polling stations. Mr. Cowan advised observers to talk to as many Salvadorans as possible to ascertain whether the elections were fair and coercion-free. Checklists, in his view, were only important as a means of focusing and framing all the knowledge gleaned from conversations with Salvadoran citizens.
The panelists and attendees enjoyed empanadas and pupusas, a Salvadoran specialty.
This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of the SIS Outlook.