Some of Costa Rica’s smallest citizens got a handson lesson in democracy Sunday as they lined up outside San José’s Children’s Museum and 12 other special precincts around the country to cast their vote for President in a national children’s election.
Unlike the real elections, the kids’ vote resulted in a decisive victory for National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate and former President Oscar Arias, who obtained 8,993 votes. Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Ottón Solís came in second with 6,001 votes, followed by Libertarian Movement candidate Otto Guevara with 5,719 votes.
The children’s election, open to those under 18, was modeled after the country’s general election held the same day and was organized by the Ombudsman’s Office and the National Committee for the Recovery of Values.
The nonprofit MiVotoCR.com also held a separate election for kids with nine polling places around Costa Rica offering paper ballots and five Internet polling places where children could vote electronically through the organization’s Web site.
Arias was also the victor in MiVotoCR.com’s elections with 16,237 votes (41.07%), followed by Solís with 12,547 votes (30.26%) and Guevara with 6,485 votes (17.85%).
Getting kids used to voting is a way to combat Costa Rica’s growing abstention rates, said MiVotoCR.com Director Hubert Rodríguez. Kids who vote are more likely to grow into adults who vote.
“We have to work on this serious problem of abstention. If not, it will keep growing on an enormous scale,” Rodríguez said.
Though the children’s votes didn’t count toward the general election,many young voters said the act of voting is a statement in itself.
“It’s important that children have the right to vote and that we elect a President who knows what’s good and bad for the country,” said Rafael Fernández, 9, who came to vote at the Children’s Museum from his home in Desamparados, south of San José, with his mother and younger brother.
Though some schools and the Costa Rican Journalists’ Association have held children’s elections in the past, this year’s elections were conducted on a much larger scale, said Children’s Museum spokesman Adrián Granados. Voter turnout exceeded planners’ expectations and left organizers scrambling to photocopy more ballots Sunday afternoon.
A total of 22,842 children voted in the 12 precincts, though only 9,000 were expected, Granados said.
Granados said election organizers were pleased and surprised with this year’s turnout.
“We want children to learn the civic values fundamental to a democratic society,” he said. “Children are not just the future, they’re here today, and we should listen to what they have to say.”
The voting process children followed Sunday was designed to closely resemble that of the general election in which their parents had the option to vote.
After watching a brief video on how to vote, kids were grouped by their last names and ushered into different voting rooms where they stood behind a cardboard screen marked “My Vote is Secret” and drew an “x” beside the candidate of their choice on a ballet identical to those used in the adult election.
The candidates’ photos and party colors beside their names made the ballots accessible to children who cannot yet read, Granados said.
While some young voters, like Kimberly Jiménez, 10, made their choice of candidate obvious by donning shirts, flags and party colors, others held strictly to the mantra “My Vote is Secret.”
Brothers Luis Daniel and Fabián Cordero, ages 10 and 7 respectively, said a vote is “a secret you don’t have to tell anybody.”
In addition to learning about the electoral process, young voters at the Children’s Museum enjoyed games, clowns and activities that turned the sunny grounds into a daylong voting festival.
The media center at the museum was equipped with paper, pencils and crayons for kids to write and draw messages letting the newly elected President know what issues are important.
Computers were also available for those who preferred to type their messages, and election organizers plan to compile all artwork and letters onto a CD to present to the new President shortly after he is sworn in May 8, Granados said.
The museum’s walls were papered with writings and drawings from the “Children’s Manifesto” expressing concerns over the country and good wishes for the new President.
“I want to tell the President that delinquency and bad road conditions worry me,” wrote María Paula Miño, 9. “If we keep throwing trash on the streets, we’re going to make the environment sick.”
Other writers and artists expressed more personal concerns and even included their phone numbers in case the President wanted to contact them.
“Dear Oscar Arias, I want a house for my family,” wrote Keylin Roblero, from Hatillo, next to her phone number, apparently confident the winner of the adults’ election would mirror the results of the kids’ election.