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Democracy and Citizenship: Election Experiences in Turkey

by MarioninTurkey (7/25/2007)

Finding the right place to vote : 2002

  Finding the right place to vote : 2002 


Early in the year, if you went past the “muhtar” building you would see sheets of paper hanging on a washing line, blowing in the wind.  Well, at least that is how it looked to the casual observer from abroad.  The “muhtar” – traditionally the village headman, but the neighborhood officer who deals with government business – is important in the local area.


And the “washing”?  These sheaves of paper were the electoral roll, and every few years they are put on display so that voters can check their name is on the roll, and they will get a vote.  As I had only recently become a Turkish citizen, I had not been on the roll last time, so my name wasn’t listed among those with the surname starting with ‘J’.  I had to go in to the muhtar’s office, and fill out a form to register.  That was the last I thought about checking the voting register until election day.


Sunday 3 November, 2002, was election day.  Polling stations were opening early, and I went with my friend to her polling station to see what happened.  Everyone is allocated to a specific ballot box.  We found the one with her number, and she went in to vote.  One of the invigilators was concerned that as a foreigner (with dual citizenship) she might need some help, and came to stand by her.  No problem, my friend didn’t find her threatening, but she was amused afterwards when she had folded the ballot paper up and sealed the envelope the invigilator nodded and said “You made a good choice”!!


I didn’t have my piece of paper telling me which polling station, and which ballot box I should go to.  It hadn’t been delivered to my address.  So my friend came with me to the muhtar, to find out.  He opened his huge clip file, turned the pages to the ‘J’ section, but couldn’t find me.  “We sent your form in,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know what they did with it.  You should go to the office of the Election Committee in Kadıköy to try to find your listing, otherwise you won’t be able to vote.”


We jumped in the car, and drove the 2 miles to the building he had said.  The clerk on the door said we had to go to a school 10 minutes’ walk away.  We eventually found the right place, and went in the gate.  We were told to go down the steps, along the path, turn right, go in through the doors, down the corridor and into the hall and ask for Ayşe Hanım.  Well, the door was locked, wasn’t it?  So back along the path, up the steps and ask again.  This time we had alternative directions to the hall.


Ayşe Hanım looked at my ID.  She typed my name in the computer.  Nothing came up.  “You are not registered, so can’t vote.  Didn’t you check your name on the list last spring?”  She was ready to go on to the next person.  “I did!” I protested.  “The muhtar said he had asked for it to be added.  Please look again.”  She rolled her eyes and tried my surname with my mother (Elsie) and father (Edward).  Nothing.  She then tried just my surname.  Out of some 20 million voters there was no one with my surname!  “No.  You can’t vote.” Was her final word.


I rang my friend Ayşe, a great champion of democracy and democratic rights.  What should I do?  She suggested I went to a school near my house and looked to see if my name was on the list.  We jumped back into the car, and made straight for the school nearest my home.  Lists of electors were pinned to the board outside.  I scanned through, trying to find surnames beginning “J” … they were all higgledy-piggledy.  But, no, there was an order to them: first one apartment block, then the next one.


The penny dropped!  No one had thought of telling me the electoral roll is ordered by house!  A ballot box covers two to three apartment blocks, with people listed flat one, flat two etc in order.  All I had to do was go to my neighbor and ask them which school they voted at.


Sure enough, ten minutes later I found my name, by my address, on the board outside another local school.  What had the problem been?  They had typed my name with a capital I not a capital J!  One little error had confounded the computerized search. 

Half an hour later I emerged from the school with the blob of indelible ink on my finger showing I had voted, and a story to tell all my Turkish friends that week.  The process had only taken all morning!

Next >>
e-State: Turkey well and truly in the computer age: 2007

1. Finding the right place to vote : 2002
2. e-State: Turkey well and truly in the computer age: 2007
3. Experiences on Sunday

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