The Electoral System

Dominican Republic Table of Contents

The electoral system in place as of 1989 could trace its roots to the death of Trujillo. Following the dictator's assassination in 1961, the Dominican government asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to send a technical advisory mission to the country to help set up a system of free elections. Upon the mission's recommendation, the country established a hierarchy of electoral boards. The Central Electoral Board, consisting of three members appointed by the Senate, was the highest of these bodies.

Members of the Central Electoral Board were appointed to serve twelve-year terms. The Board chose the members of the provincial and municipal boards, who served at its pleasure. The Board issued regulations to ensure free and honest elections; directed the distribution of ballots, equipment, and voting materials; and supervised the functioning of the lower-level electoral boards.

The Central Electoral Board was given responsibility for printing ballots for each Dominican political party. To facilitate voting by those unable to read, each party's ballot was printed a different color. The ballots also bore the emblems of the parties participating, as an additional aid to nonreaders. Election day was a national holiday; alcoholic beverages could not be sold that day, and the polls were open from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Voting was free, secret, and obligatory for both men and women. Suffrage was granted to everyone eighteen years old or older, and to every married person regardless of age. Members of the police or the armed forces were ineligible to vote, as were those who had lost their political and civil rights, such as incarcerated criminals. Elections were regulated by law, and they were administered by the Central Electoral Board.

Dominican elections could be breathtaking affairs. In 1978 losing candidate Balaguer impounded the ballot boxes and seemed about to steal the election; pressure from the United States forced a resumption of the vote count, which led to Guzmán's victory. The 1986 presidential election also produced controversy. This time Balaguer won, but the losing candidate of the PRD Jacobo Majluta Azar, claimed fraud and refused to concede. Majluta demanded a recount and threatened that violence might result otherwise. In this case, an independent electoral commission headed by the archbishop of Santo Domingo intervened in the dispute, verified the Balaguer victory, and persuaded Majluta to accept its independent vote tally.

Since 1978, elections had gained legitimacy as a means of choosing the president and other leaders. The elections of 1982 and 1986 had generally been fair, honest, competitive, and free, but elections still represented only one of several possible means to power in the Dominican Republic, the others being a skillfully executed coup d'état or a heroic revolution. Moreover, Dominican elections did not necessarily bestow the definitive legitimacy usually accorded an elected government in more developed democratic nations.

More about the Government and Politics of the Dominican Republic.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress