Chilean Elections-Round 2 Brings Change…

I started writing this post this morning, thinking it would be a long, lazy day waiting for the election results to come in… and figured I’d pass the time rambling about the ins and outs of Chile’s electoral process. But I live in an area that gets lots of traffic whenever news is being made, and when more and more cars started going by around 6:15 with the classic beep-beep-BEEP- BEEP-BEEEEEP! I started checking the news: Guess what… I couldn’t have been more wrong. Today’s run-off second round of presidential voting ended in record time with the gran gol going to Sebastián Piñera, who topped Eduardo Frei in no time flat.

I had suspected Piñera would win, but truly thought it would be very close with counts and recounts continuing well into the night! As I write this, the streets are filling with cars, flags, cheers, and the blaring horns of the supporters of the Coalición por el Cambio—the right. And now, after 20 years of the Concertación (center-to-left), the Change has begun. Interesting times certainly lie ahead…

And just to avoid letting my earlier efforts go waste, here’s a bit about how Chile’s electoral process works

Who can vote

* Men and women aged 18 and over can register to vote. The literacy requirement seems to have been dropped (although Chile does have a very high literacy rate).
* Women could not vote until 1949.
* Foreigners with 5 or more years of permanent residency in Chile can vote (citizenship not required).

Voting is compulsory

Well, mandatory for those who have registered, anyway. All of the 7.5 million people who signed up to vote in 1989–the first election since 1970–and everyone since, have been locked into the system forever. Yep. Register once, you’re in for life…don’t vote, pay a fine…This means you must get out and go through the process not only for presidential elections, but every senator, congressional, and municipal election as well…which means that a lot of younger people simply don’t register. Forced apathy.

Make that Almost compulsory (the rules for getting around the rules)

For those who find registering to vote somewhat akin to getting a tattoo (a no-looking-back decision that seemed like a good idea at the time), never fear; there are certain ways of getting around it:

* just pay up (haven’t been able to confirm it, but the fine appears to range from 0.5 to 3 UTM. As of this writing, a UTM is $36.679 CLP or approximately $75 USD)
* head off to a distant beach
. If you can prove that you were 200 km away from your designated polling place, you’re off the hook. Of course, it would just be cheaper to pay the fine (though certainly far less fun).
* prove you’re too sick—or unfit— to vote. We actually know someone who went through the trouble of getting a psychiatrist to declare him too nuts to vote (which, in retrospect, was a good thing. The shrink should probably be commended for this act of civic duty)
* Be a foreigner. Yep! Here’s a curious benefit for non-Chileans. Not only can we vote in a country of which we are not citizens, but we are even entitled to special privileges! We can vote if we feel like it… or not!

Election Day is always a Sunday

and is declared a legal holiday to make sure that people can get out and vote.

Enforced public teetotaling

We got together with friends for dinner last night. “Let’s meet early,” they said, “everything’s going to close up early because of the elections tomorrow.” Sure enough. The first thing our server said to us was “You might want to decide on your drinks first, I can only serve alcohol until 9PM.”

Wow. They take this stuff seriously. Midnight, I can see, but NINE? Of course we could have ordered 10 bottles and sat there all night, but pre-election last call was 9 PM!

Don’t know what that was all about, but the law says no alcohol can be sold from midnight before until 4 hours after voting has concluded.

Men & women vote separately

That’s right. From what people tell me, it’s so that men cannot influence their wives during the voting process. Seems kind of moot in a secret ballot process, doesn’t it?

You can imagine the inconveniences this can present… My elderly in-laws complain every time about the sheer logistics of it all.

Polling places are usually in schools or universities

And there are laws about how close the traffic can get to a polling site, which means that moving around the city on election day can be a complete adventure in and of itself.

Voting is by paper ballot

Voters sign in using their government-issued ID cards, sign their name in a book, and are given a paper ballot with the candidates’ names. They mark the ballot in secret with a pencil by drawing single vertical line through the line beside the candidate’s name. They fold the ballot as indicated, seal it with a special stamp, and deposit it in the box and dip their thumb in blue ink as proof that they’ve already voted. (BTW-  voters may not remain in the secret chamber more than 1 minute) (see Official Procedures).

Many people show their discontent with the options by turning in a blank ballot or by voting “nulo”–voiding their ballot–by marking it  in some unauthorized way. People have told me they draw pictures, write poetry, or vote for non-candidates; in fact, I heard something about Homer Simpson (yes, THAT Homer Simpson) receiving an unexpectedly high number of votes in one Santiago community today.

Better than half or do-over

In Chile it’s no simple matter of the candidate with the most votes win. Nope. This is a majority gets it kind of deal. When there is no clear majority (more than 50%), the top 2 candidates have a month to prepare and go at it again.

There have been 5 post-dictatorship elections. The last 3 have required run-offs. So today, Sebastián Piñera (Renovación Nacional, candidate from the right) duked it out with Eduardo Frei (Concertación / Democracia Cristiana, who, by the way, was president from 1994–2000, and whose father, Eduardo Frei Montalva, was president from 1964–1970, just before Salvador Allende).

I won’t bore you with the details of the first round, especially since I wasn’t even here at the time, but Eileen at Bearshaped sphere can certainly entertain you with a great photo-essay of her experience tagging along with a friend during the 1st round. Be sure to check that out. And her latest tweets lead me to believe we can expect something equally enlightening tomorrow!

Late breaking news: Eileen, as predicted, has posted another great photo essay on the reveling right. See her piece “This is what democracy looks like. Chile Elections, 2010, Sebastian Piñera” on Bearshapedsphere.

Want more info? Check out:

Servico Electoral de la República FAQs (PDF)

Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile: Elecciones Presidenciales 2009


22 responses to “Chilean Elections-Round 2 Brings Change…

  1. Thanks to you Margaret I now know I can vote in the next general election.

    Have to admit I am a tad nervous having a right wing billionaire in power. Why would someone with that cash want to run a country?
    Hopefully there will be a rush of I wanna be rich like him types and I will get shed loads of work!

  2. Matt- yes, we’ll need to register and vote next time around! I always vote in the US elections because I feel that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. I guess I’ll have to put that logic to work for the next election. I really don’t know where Piñera’s presidency will go… why would a billionaire want to be president? Same reason anyone else would I suppose—power.

  3. I’ve been following the second round today–so interesting. I was excited about Lagos and Bachelet, I haven’t been following that closely and I could not be accused of being from the right anywhere it seems, but between these two, it is honestly a bit of a toss-up for me. Plus, it seems in politics the more things change the more they stay the same. There are so many forces to work against inside a gov’t that it is hard to make any real radical changes in either direction (look at Obama). Here in the US with a 2-party system there is usually a clear winner and loser (with the exception of the infamous election that left Bush unfairly in power) but at local levels with more candidates there is the run-off option if not more than 50% is won.

    I would almost join twitter to see Eileen’s tweets!

  4. Annje- I have never voted here is because I have not felt convinced enough of any particular candidate to feel justified in voting in another country’s election. I think that’s going to have to change next time around.
    Good point about the Bush-Gore election. I know many people who voted for Arrate or MEO the first time around as protest votes, and my argument to them was always to remind them that the protest votes that went to Ralph Nader cost Gore the election… some protest that turned out to be!
    About Twitter—I resisted for a long time, but have found that when used intelligently it has its real value and good information can be passed, just a short 140 characters at a time. You control who you follow and can just “unfollow” those who feel the need to share their innermost banalities at every turn. On the other hand, I’ve found some great feeds that I follow with relish (resisting all bad hot dog jokes here!)

  5. hey Margaret,

    Thanks for laying that all out. You’re always such a good source of information!

    I linked to you in the post where I put up a mess of photos ( of the actual Piñera celebration at Plaza Italia.

    Annje, you can read my twitter feed even if you don’t tweet! Or you can catch it in sets of three on the blog.

  6. Thanks Eileen- loved your photos (as always!) Great graphic coverage!

  7. You have to be 21 to vote? I think it’s 21 to be a diputado ( – 4th question down) but only 18 to vote ( And it looks like you can register while aged 17 as long as you’ll be 18 by election day.

    I’m not yet eligible to vote and won’t be for quite a while since I’m still on a work visa, but in theory I do think it’s interesting that permanent residents can vote. It makes sense to me that everyone who’s a long-time legal resident gets a say, regardless of citizenship, since they’re just as affected by the government (and taxes!).

  8. Emily- it appears that you are absolutely right. Thanks for the correction! I don’t know where I found that bit about voting age being 21 (the one time I don’t save my sources!) but checking again this morning, all I find is age 18. I’ve updated the info in the post and added a couple of official references with more info for anyone who wants even more details.

  9. Interesting discussions. One of the issues I have is that Pinera has stayed a mere billionaire for an extraordinary amount of time. The simple financial law of sevens dictates that your money in simple savings at 7% interest doubles every 7 years. But with a bit of research, it’s easy enough to see he is as adept at shell companies as anyone educated at Harvard.

    But my main problem is that Pinera will bring these jobs to Chile through his promises that he will further privatize Chile’s copper(that is, sell part of it to private companies)-this is simply more Chicago Boys Friedman thinking. And he will(or has promised) to give “financial incentives” to corporations who will then(theoretically) bring jobs. And he will continue and strengthen the fruit and vegetable export industry-the trickle down effect being that Chileans and you and I will being paying more for our fruit as even more is exported.

    Great blog, I love the details-fascinating to watch the election process here.

  10. Hi Laura- thanks- I’ve been following your blog too- you have some much more informed information going on over there!
    It’s really hard to say where all this is going to lead, and I have no doubt whatsoever that we will have plenty to talk about over the coming 4 years!

  11. Matt, I think that a person who is motivated enough to go to Harvard and become a billionaire is probably never satisfied. Becoming president is the logical next step for a guy like Pinera.

  12. Pingback: Elections in Chile

  13. Thank you Margaret but I am mostly such a lazy blogger-some topics I get very involved in and then I don’t write for weeks sometimes. I admire those bloggers like you post often.

    And my focus is all over the place-Chile politics, US politics, birds in Chile…

  14. Hi Laura-
    uf, how I understand that! I have so many more things I really want to write about and just so little time to actually sit down and do it!
    And yes… varied interests… one of the things that attracted me to anthropology in the first place- if it involves humans, it fits!

  15. as I was reading the “nulo” voting, couldn’t NOT think about this pic:

    (SFW btw)

  16. Hi:

    Just another weird thing about who can vote.
    Chileans residents in other countries lost their right to vote even if they are registered.

  17. That’s right! Voters must be physically present in their assigned polling place. No mail-in votes allowed!

  18. There was pending legislation, although I don’t know what happened ultimately, that would 1)make voting registration automatic, 2)make voting non-mandatory and 3)allow Chilean expats voting privileges. This was one of MEO’s ideas and the Concertacion was trying to get it through as they vied for MEO support. And Pinera’s supporters in Congress were also supporting it since they also wanted MEO support. I would love to know what happened.

  19. I hope they don’t just drop it now that elections are over!

  20. The legislation either passed (but will be implemented for the next election I think I read)-or didn’t (got stuck in Congress-sound familiar?) I wish I knew. I’m no anthropologist but the watching of human nature and culture is fascinating.

    I found this amongst my many saved links:

    THURSDAY, 22 JANUARY 2009 18:00
    Chile’s Chamber of Deputies on Thursday approved two bills that establish an automatic voter registration system and abolish current law that makes voting obligatory for already registered voters. Advocates of the voting reform hope to accelerate the legislative proceedings in order to increase the amount of eligible voters for December’s parliament and presidential elections.

    It had already passed the Senate but had to go back to the senate because…I have no idea lol

  21. Thanks Laura- we probably won’t hear another word about it until the next elections come along!

  22. Don’t get too worried about Pinera- his cousin votes communist and he said (privately so his wife would not hear) that Pinera was a good man. Also thank you for the note about foreigners being able to vote- we are not in Chile permanently yet but plan to be soon- despite the terremoto on the weekend.

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