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