Free And Fair

Habin took another drag from the cigarette and glanced at her sole companion on the smoke break.

“You voted yet?” she asked.

Keran stuffed the used butt into the waste bin. “Yeah, did it this morning while I was waiting for the train. Better that way. If I leave it I end up forgetting and who wants to be hauled before a judge ‘cause of a memory lapse?”

“I was going to do mine now,” Habin said. “Still not sure who I’ll pick.”

“Alliance for me.” Keran glanced out of the shelter and then zipped up his jacket. “They’ve done pretty well the last couple of times so I figured, why not.”

“Yeah.” Habin took another hit on her cigarette. “You’re probably right.” She bent to pick up her bag and started rifling through it.

“I’m going back in. Catch you later.” As Keran stepped into the autumn morning his shoulder length hair was grabbed by the wind. He hunched and hurried away.

“Where the heck are you?” Habin mumbled to herself as she continued to root for her handset. Finally she felt the smooth touch of metal. “Got ya.”

Cigarette pinched between her lips she pressed her thumb against the device and used her other hand to pull out the expandable screen. At its full extension it gave a click and locked into place. She freed the roll-up from her mouth and blew out a line of smoke that was whipped away as it floated beyond the protection of the shelter.

A couple of taps and she was on the national voting site. It took a moment to find the boxes where she verified it was her.

The screen flashed up an error message.

“Incorrect details, my ass,” she said out loud. “If this piece-of-crap phone worked there wouldn’t be.” She stabbed at the keyboard. “Try that.”

It took only seconds for another notification to appear.

Her eyes grew wide. “How can I already have voted you dumb system?”

She repeated the process a third time. The answer was the same. She was becoming angry. A flashing help icon caught her eye. Habin touched it. A new window opened on the screen and she was greeted by the slightly off-human face of an AI.

“Hello, how can I help you?”

“Yeah, hi, I’ve been trying to get access but it’s telling me I’ve already voted, which I haven’t.”

“The details you have entered do not correspond to the handset you are using.” The response was friendly but matter of fact.

For a moment she was confused. “What do you mean? This is my handset. It’s the one I have registered. I used it to vote last time.”

“You are trying to vote under the name M. Xair Habin, but the handset you are using is not registered to that person.”

“No, that’s not right, I am that person.” She felt her voice starting to rise. “That’s me and I’m trying to vote.”

“According to our records the person is registered to another device. The one you are using is not logged at all.”

Habin tried to calm herself. “Wait. There must be a mistake. Can you check your records? I am Xair Habin, I haven’t voted yet and this is the handset I’ve had for two years.”

“If there has been an error then we will need to check.”

“Good. Thanks.” She filled her lungs with smoke and let it out slowly. “Can I vote and you can let me know later what’s gone wrong.”

The eyes of the AI softened. “I’m sorry, but that isn’t possible. We will not be able to resolve the problem until tomorrow.”

“What?” The tension returned. “The election will be over by then. You know it finishes at midnight.”

“We are unable to check on potential errors until all voting has taken place. You have no need to worry, the act of lodging a complaint means you will not be arrested for refusing to vote.”

“That’s crazy. You’re going to stop me voting because of an error you’ve made and say I voted anyway?”

“Would you like to register a complaint?” the head asked.

“To dam right I would,” Habin snapped back.

“I can do that for you. Would you like the complaint to be about this problem?”

“Sure, you’ve got it.”

“And what name would you like to register it under?”

“Oh, for God’s sake, you stupid piece of …” she managed to stop herself. “My name: M. Xair Habin.”

“That has been done for you M. Habin, would …”

“Good,” she interrupted.

“You will be contacted no later than tomorrow at seventeen hundred.”

“You’re kidding me?” Habin almost threw the handset away in anger. “We’ve been through this; I can’t wait until tomorrow.”

“I understand but no complaints …”

“I’ve had enough of this,” she cut in again. “You can forget that complaint. I’ve half a mind to go straight down to the town hall, and kick some butt until I get what I want.”

“M. Habin, you are making threats against government employees. I have notified the authorities.”

Habin caught her breath. “Wait. No, I didn’t mean I was going to kill anyone.”

“You are advised to remain where you are,” the AI continued. “If you attempt to flee a warrant will be issued for your detention.”

“Look, I didn’t make a threat or anything; I just said I wanted some answers.”

“You are attempting to vote using an unregistered handset, under an assumed name and you have become agitated when questioned. This indicates that there may be more crimes in your recent past. Under the law of …”

Habin stopped paying attention. She could hear sirens in the distance. Her hands started to shake.

—————

13 August 2010
Paul Kagame has been re-elected as the president of Rwanda. He has ruled since 1994. Many have questioned the openness of the elections in a country where independent newspapers have been banned and some results from polling stations look suspicious.

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