With a colleague, I went to vote at Heja Lodge outside of Windhoek. It was an adventure in frustration. There were logistical faults, lack of crowd control and no respite from the elements. There was poor information dissemination. At one point, there was a near riot as frustrated people bum-rushed the doors and jumped the queue. I went out to vote at 10 and arrived back home just before 4. After talking to colleagues and friends, my experience echoed theirs to varying degrees.
At every national vote, the same complaints arise. There are super long queues, no facilities, no crowd control, and broken equipment. Does the ECN lack institutional memory? The definition of insanity is to do the same thing, the same way and expect a different outcome. By that definition, there are some highly ranked folks at the ECN who need to go for a quiet session with mental health professionals.
At Heja, the line was long as was the case all over the place. To endure that reality, I went into the ‘waiting zone’ and accepted my fate.
The ‘waiting zone’ is a kind of resignation fugue state. We all do it. I hunker down, lower my standards, shut my mouth, turn off my mind and move like a robot. I do that when I go through airport security and when dealing with white police officers in the USA so that I won’t get shot.
After we had been waiting in line, a police officer announced that Heja was a ‘mobile polling station.’ He said that it would close at 1 pm – it was about 11:30 by then. The people ahead of us who had been there for 2-3 hours were in an uproar – those behind us were outraged. There was no signage and no on-site notice of this closing time.
The resulting tumult jerked me out of the waiting zone. Still, we decided to stick it out for another hour and judge the situation then.
One hour turned into two, which turned into three and the line was not moving. At one point, they closed the doors of the polling room. The crowd control broke down, queue jumpers ruled the day and pandemonium ensued. Too many newly arrived people claimed their spaces were being ‘held’ for them by someone else. That made things even more confused. They re-opened the doors, but the line did not move.
ECN, what are you thinking? When there is insufficient crowd control, the laws of the jungle prevail. In our case, men 18-40 years-old arrived in packs and saw the length of the line. They then made their own shorter lines right at the door of the polling station. The overwhelmed police officer there, just took in whoever was in his face at the door, even the line-jumpers. That opened the flood gates for everyone else to push, shove, rush the door and make their own queues too.
When we first arrived at Heja, we saw only one police officer on duty to manage hundreds of people. There were some pushing and shoving, cursing and shouting.
The officials knew that the station would close at 1 pm. Where was the crowd control to close the polling station (not accept more people in line) once the capacity number of voters per hour had been reached? Did the ECN not understand the basics here?
You cannot just shut the doors and reject 300+ people who have been standing in the sun for hours and say, “go away.” You are asking for problems that could be avoided.
To the extreme credit of calm and determined NamPol officers who arrived with back-up, the order was restored within 20 minutes. The polling place stayed open to those already in line, not accepting any others. The police back-up remained there to make sure of this. The bully boys were shown to the end of the official line; several gangs chose to leave. The four lines that had existed became only two and finally one. Humanity bloomed once again.
After the order was imposed, the real problem emerged. 700+ voters were expected to use one voting machine unit. Add to that backlog, the time needed to do the paperwork around casting your vote, and the long line wait time is predictable. Exactly who is the inmate at ECN who couldn’t pre-plan to deal with the obvious problem areas?
As an income-generating project, ECN could sell water bottles, umbrellas and sun hats with a cute “I voted” logo at each polling station. Profits can be made from misery.
At the special advanced vote, allow those who are over 60, with disabilities and those with babies in arms, to participate. That takes the pressure off on Election Day lines.
In addition to the regular polling places in neighbourhoods, open up the stadium in the larger cities and towns. Place 100 voting machines and the appropriate number of support personnel and let loose.
C’mon ECN, your staff at the polls was well-trained and efficient. As an institution organizing the entire elections, you can do better.