Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Polling Station No. 12 at Ferizaj Secondary School

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Polling Station No. 12 at Ferizaj Secondary School

Article excerpt

Polling Station No. 12 at Ferizaj Secondary School

It's election day. We are picked up at the unheated hotel in the heart of the grimy, industrial city of Ferizaj at 5:45 a.m., to be in position by 6, a little more than an hour before the polls open. For the first time this week, it's raining and the rutted roads to the inner city secondary school across the railroad tracks are slippery and muddy. We glide over corduroy streets in the predawn darkness. We enter the high school's second-floor classroom, with its broken tiles and furniture, where we had set up the cardboard polling booths and signs the preceding afternoon. It's remarkably cheerful, with only one of nine ceiling lights operational but illuminating the spacious unheated classroom as dawn's light begins to seep through the unwashed windows along the east wall.

A crowd of hundreds is massing outside the high school polling center, which has 15 separate polling stations, including ours. At the last minute, our polling station number is changed from 13 to 12 (at the time, I thought, a sign of good fortune). But this contributed to unspeakable chaos during the day.

The polls open a bit late, at 7:15. The first voter is checked painstakingly against the non-alphabetized list. It isn't until well after 7:30 that we discover that the voter, Bajrush Hasini, an elderly gentlemen with a stocking cap, is not on the registration list. Nor could we know that this would be the first of several hundred such cases today. So we send Hasini downstairs to the so-called "help desk" on the first floor of the school to determine if: a) he's registered and eligible to vote (if so, he may come back); b) he should be sent to another polling station in the building; or c) he might vote conditionally downstairs, with the OSCE and local polling officials to determine his eligibility later.

It is now taking us many minutes to process each voter, and panic is setting in. Some 650 names are on our three final voter registers (FVRs), all of which sometimes have to be checked to determine eligibility. The crowd in the dark corridor outside Polling Station No. 12 is now growing larger and larger and unhappier and unhappier, as people are turned away because of deficient registration credentials. Sofie Sejdulli, baby in arm, becomes the first actually to cast a ballot at 8:14 a.m.; in past Balkan elections, 50 to 75 voters have done so by this hour. …

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