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By Guillermo Jimenez

Although no one is expecting to see the kind of party-like atmosphere that is common to election day in Costa Rica for this referendum, I thought it would be a good idea to help along our expat community on that day by helping you understand the Tico electoral lingo so you don't try to get a bus to go home and end up somewhere in Pavas that day.

Costa Ricans have a fairly well organized electoral process, I mean, Florida doesn't have it this good I can assure you. On that regard one of the biggest differences with the American system is that Costa Ricans don't need to register themselves to vote. Our 'Cedulas' [national ids] already have what 'distrito' [district] we must head to vote in since the very day we turn 18 years of age.

That day the good people of the 'Registro Civil' [Civil Registry] take our 'huellas digitales or 'dactilares' [figerprints] and snap a picture in a 1/3 of the time it takes a CostCo employee to take a picture of you for the store card. Yeap, it is that fast, sometimes the person that calls out your name is not quite done with your last name when you feel the flash on your eyes.

If you want to go vote somewhere else you must however file a change of address form with the registry. Usually the process is very quick. Should your new id not be ready by election day you will still be able to vote at the current district specified in your card.

This is where problems may arise for some expats. You see on election day political parties are extremely worried that their voters make it to vote before 6pm, so that day they take over the mass transit system and use it for the 'salí a votar' [get out the vote] campaigns.

This, of course, is done at no cost to the voters and there are stories and anecdotes of whole families who make the most out of the 'increible' [incredible] bus fares that day and head for their birth towns complete with grills and beach chairs.

In the past most buses have been well decorated with 'insignias' [external signs] corresponding to the 'partido politico' [political party] the bus is working for but as far as I understand buses will not be identified with any party propaganda this time and they will have to take you for free regardless of your affiliation.

I am not sure, however, about the 'rutas' [routes], so it could just be that the bus that says 'Bello Horizonte' [Beautiful Horizon] may be heading for 'Feo Horizonte' [Ugly Horizon] or Pavas that day.¡Vaya con Dios!

The Urnas [voting booths] will be open since very early in the day, and as usual every school in the country will be converted into a 'recinto electoral' [polling place]. This is also different from America where people patiently lines up to vote in one corner of the garage of the house of the town clerk or somewhere in the US Mail office that's inside the mall . You're so weird!

If you are into this sort of thing feel free to drop by the school and walk around to observe the process first hand. Heck, if you feel up to it you can also scream 'impropelios' [insults] to John Kerry or whoever you feel like (as long as it is a public figure). Don't worry Costa Rican tombos [cops, slang] will not try to tackle you [tumbarlo] and won't even use their tazers on you, in fact they don't know what those are. One more rather idiosyncratic fact about Tico cops is that they will mostly be unarmed trying to organize traffic. Ponder that one for a second.

Most importantly remember that during the whole weekend 'la Ley Seca' [no booze, sorry] will be in effect so plan ahead and try not to trip over yourself on your way to the 'licorera' [liquor store] on Friday evening.

Finally if you are a gringo with Tico powers and want to vote on that day check the 'padrón electoral'

    posted in most public places in each district, if you are not in the list call the Tribunal pronto.

    If you make it to the inside of the 'urna' however take a split second to observe and take on the awe of Costa Rican electoral technology, I can assure you is quite reliable and above all it doesn't produce any hanging shafts.

    Lápiz en mano [pen in hand] draw an X on 'la casilla del NO' or 'la casilla del SI' [YES/NO boxes] then 'doble' [fold] 'la papeleta' [the ballot] and insert it into the big cardboard box appropriately labeled so on your way out.

    Now going back home to wait for the 'conteo de votos' [vote counting] 'En Vivo' [LIVE] from the glorious grounds of the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones may prove to be more of a challenge, or what, did you actually think the ride back home would be as efficient as the ride into the polling place?

    That little fact, however, is not about to slow down a living,breathing, red-bloded Costa Rican on a mission to return home from the beach, after all not every member of the family is bound to vote in the same place, or are they?, and for some unknown reason a few will still have to go back home to vote where they actually live.

    Ingenious indeed.

    Now if you are one of the gringos lost in Feo Horizonte that day I would appreciate you don't pull out that cell phone to capture the moment and become an IReporter, just 'mantenga la calma' [keep calm] and get back on the bus fast.

    Guillermo Jimenez

    VOCABULARY

    referendum, also referendo
    huellas digitales, also Huellas dactilares
    Cedulas
    distrito
    Registro Civil
    salí a votar-- properly Salir a Votar
    increible
    insignias
    partido politico
    rutas
    Bello Horizonte
    Feo Horizonte
    ¡Vaya con Dios!
    Urnas
    recinto electoral
    impropelios
    tombos -- slang for Policías
    la Ley seca
    licorera
    padrón electoral
    pronto
    Lápiz en mano
    la casilla del NO
    la casilla del SI
    doble -- from the verb DOBLAR
    la papeleta

    Guide to Costa Rican Spanish

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