Tuesday, December 3, 2013

All I could do was laugh this afternoon when my husband asked me how my morning went.

I went downtown again to the office of the Electoral Services. This time the office was open and -wow!- no line. I explained to a pleasant, mustachioed gentleman my predicament - that my ID number had been eliminated from their voter list and I'd been unable to vote. I reassured him several times that I'd voted in all previous elections. He was puzzled and went up several flights of stairs to consult with someone else. He returned smiling, and I thought: problem solved. But no. He directed me to the office of Foreign Affairs several blocks away to obtain a certificado.

At Foreign Affairs I was sent to the third floor and should ask for a "preferential" number for those over sixty. My grey hair does have its benefits. The line from the third floor office snaked down the stairwell to the second floor. I breezed into the office to encounter a mass of people, of every hue of skin color, all immigrants, some sitting, some standing in lines. My number was 114. The number up on the screen was 34. I stood there wondering which line to join, when I realized I didn't possess the patience to wait until number 114 came up. Back downstairs at the information desk, I was directed to the fifth floor. Only two people in front of me. I explained about the paper I needed and the reason. A plump, young girl searched on Internet and found that the PDI, the Policía de Investigaciones, had emitted a form stating that I'd left the country for over a year and, my status as permanent resident was expired. She explained that I must get the elusive certificado from the office of the PDI and bring it to her along with a letter from me requesting to correct my current status. She wrote down the address of the PDI four blocks further downtown.

I trudged the city blocks, thinking: Downtown is a different Chile. Teeming sidewalks;  vendors selling medals of the Virgin Mary, sunglasses, lottery tickets; newspaper kiosks; shops displaying children's clothes next to cocktail dresses. In that unfamiliar neighborhood, I felt like a tourist noticing the architecture of old buildings. At last, I reached the address given me for the PDI. Outside it's closed doors was a sign indicating they moved yesterday to a street totally unknown to me. The good news was that there was an empty taxi in front of me. Yes, he knew the new location.  Twenty minutes later, he delivered me to the PDI office. Inside a massive room sat hundreds more immigrants. My preferential number was called immediately.

Again I explained my dilemma to a young woman who seemed quite confused by my story. She checked on her computer, where she verified that, indeed, I had never left Chile for more than a year. I showed her my passport and my Chilean ID. She thought the confusion might have stemmed from the fact that my U.S. passport only lists one last name, whereas, my Chilean documents display two last names, my maiden name and my mother's, as is the custom here. Human error somewhere along the line in the entangled web of the "system".

I still won't be able to vote in the presidential run-offs next week. But my bigger worry is: what's to prevent this from happening again?

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