'Bring your own pen': How Bolivia is voting amid the pandemic

by Reuters
Sunday, 18 October 2020 17:01 GMT

By Marcelo Rochabrun

LA PAZ, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Deni Blanco used to sell food outside voting locations in La Paz each election cycle, an easy way to make some extra money. This year, as Bolivia holds elections in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, she is selling something else: pens.

"My sister saw it on TV, that this time every voter should bring their own pen to vote, and she said, 'Why don't we sell them?'" Blanco said, outside an outdoor voting location in Ciudadela Ferroviaria, a low-income area of La Paz.

Blanco was selling pens for 1 boliviano ($0.15) each, and after two hours of voting said she had sold around 50.

Bolivia is holding mandatory in-person presidential elections on Sunday, even though it has been hard-hit by the pandemic. Nearly 8,500 Bolivians have died of the disease, giving it one of the highest fatality rates per capita in the world.

For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread of COVID-19, open (https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/) in an external browser.

Bolivia's ballot, much-delayed due to the pandemic, will be a test for electoral authorities in the region. Neighboring Peru is set to elect a new president next April.

Americans are also set to elect a president next month, but while in the United States citizens can vote over several days or by mail, that has never been an option in Bolivia.

Paceños, as residents of La Paz are known, said they generally felt safe about the protocols, but social distancing was not always easy to maintain. Voters must wear masks, while poll workers wear goggles in addition to masks.

"People don't respect the social distancing," said Eric Echevarria, who voted for the first time.

Among the changes is that citizens used to be able to vote anytime between 8 a.m and 5 p.m. Now voter rolls are split into morning and afternoon voting pools.

Bolivians also used to dip their fingers in purple ink to make a fingerprint after casting their vote. Now the ink must be touched with cotton to avoid contagion, though not everyone follows that rule.

"There are people like me who can dip the finger, after all I'm not sick," said Deisy Mamani, a voter in La Paz's Zona Sur. ($1 = 6.8300 bolivianos) (Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun in La Paz Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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