Observing the Peruvian Presidential Elections for the Washington, DC Area

It’s Election Day in Peru, and that means all Peruvians, including ex-pats living abroad, are obligated to vote. So when my boyfriend, J. Miguel, drove off to Falls Church to conduct his obligatory civic duty, I tagged along to observe, on the ground, Peru’s expatriate elections for the Washington, DC area.

For those not following the politics of this small, South American country, it might be helpful to know a little bit about what’s at stake in Peru’s 2016 Presidential Elections. Today’s vote is Peru’s equivalent to the United States’ presidential primary elections. And like the Clinton name in the United States, “Fujimori” is a household name in Peruvian politics. Alberto Fujimori enjoyed a decade of power as Peru’s president between 1990 and 2000, but not without controversy, which has subsequently resulted in a prison term he is currently carrying out. His daughter Keiko is now running for the country’s top seat, and she is bringing with her both her father’s legacy and baggage, which seem to work for and against her in this election.

Eletion Day 2016
Site of the Peruvian Presidential Primary Elections for the Washington, DC area.

I couldn’t find any recent, reliable information on how many Peruvians live in the Washington, DC area (although based off this information I would guess it could be around 24,900), but judging by how many people showed up at George Mason High School and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Northern Virginia today, my guess is these two venues were hosting elections for Peruvian expats within the entire DMV area (DC – Maryland – Virginia) — for surely there couldn’t be so many Peruvians living in Northern Virginia alone.

I must admit, for how many people were at both polling sites today, the lines were very well coordinated. In fact, the Peruvians put the American in-person voting experience to shame, in my opinion. People were assigned lines and doors to enter according to last name, and if you happened to have a last name that started with an uncommon letter such as “Y” — as was the case for J. Miguel — one didn’t need to wait in line for a long time to cast a vote. There were poll workers and embassy staff everywhere, instructing people as to which lines to wait in, checking paperwork and doing an overall good job at facilitating the process.

In fact, J. Miguel and I have a friend who works for the Peruvian Embassy here in DC. We knew she’d be working at the polls today — it was an event that has been consuming her job for weeks now — but there were so many people on site that we didn’t see her.

Voting, mind you, was taking place today (or yesterday in some cases) everywhere a Peruvian expatriate community exists in the world: Span, Italy and Australia, just to name a few top countries where Peruvians live, as well as throughout Peru, both in major cities and isolated indigenous communities. Needless to say — it is a big deal.

Voting Lines
Voting is compulsory in Peru, even for ex-pats. The polling lines were well managed in Northern Virginia with signs directing people as to which line to stand in and which door to enter, each organized alphabetically according to last name.

I asked J. Miguel what he expected the outcome to be after the votes (which are done on paper ballots) have been tallied, and the only thing he could say for certain is that Fujimori will be one of the final two candidates that will go head-to-head for the presidency. She is widely popular among many Peruvians and could possibly go all the way following the main elections later this year. While he wouldn’t tell me who he voted for, he did tell me he did not vote for Fujimori.

I’ll be passively following this race, more so out of curiosity of what becomes of Keiko Fujimori. I have never followed South American politics closely, but I do remember her father and the many headlines he made internationally during his time in office. Given his reputation, I find it hard to believe she’s running as strong a race as she is, but then again, I didn’t have to live through her father’s presidency. She is, after all, her own person and not her father — at least we hope so.


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