How We Vote... Not

I voted only once in my life.

In March 2009 Azerbaijan had a referendum. Its results would decide a number of issues, including whether or not to lift the two-term presidential limit.

Everyone knew what the outcome was going to be: the Parliament proposed the referendum on Dec. 19, quickly sent it to the Constitutional Court, which approved it five days later on Dec. 24, which also happened to be President Aliyev's birthday. The judges spent only 37 minutes approving 41 amendments to 29 articles of the constitution - less than a minute for each.

It was a no-brainer, but I still decided to vote.

The voting poll for our district was in a local school less than a mile away from my house, so it took me only 10 minutes to get there. The yard was empty - no lines of voters, no post-voting discussions, just a depressing Soviet-style school yard. The main hallway was not too lively either. School desks were connected into two long tables along the walls on both left and right sides. The school's teachers (mostly women in their 50s and older) were sitting along them, chatting loudly and sizing up the incomers. At the far end of the hallway were voting booths and a plastic see-thru ballot box in front of them.

I approached one of the tables to ask for my ballot. Before I had a chance to say anything, I noticed what one of the ladies at that table was doing. With unruffled composure she was filling out a pile of ballots, checking Yes boxes for each amendment. Once done with a ballot, she would fold it and put aside, into another pile - the ballots she has already filled out.

Very carefully I took out my smartphone and took a picture. The woman who was checking my ID saw what I was doing and elbowed the "ballot filler." The latter looked at me, and, obviously temporarily, put the pile of empty ballots under the table on her lap.

The "ballot-filler."

The "ballot-filler."

I grabbed my ballot, went to the booth and checked No on all of the proposed amendments. I came back home and uploaded the picture on Facebook. Later that day, dozens of other pictures and videos of this and other kinds of violations flooded news feed.

The amendments were accepted "with the percentage of β€œYes” votes between 87.15% and 91.76%."