Elections in Chile: Some observations

The voting for president, senators and diputados (representatives) is winding down here in Chile today. The first preliminary results have been posted here. It looks like Sebastian Piñera, the center-right candidate, is leading overall, followed by Eduardo Frei of the center-left, Independent Marco Enríquez-Ominami and Communist Jorge Arrate.

I talked before
about some differences in the voting systems between Chile and the US, but here are some more observations.

1. Once you’re registered, you must vote. The only exception is if you are living 200km or more from your mesa (voting table). If that is the case, you must go to the local police station and register there to prove that you were not able to vote. Unfortunately, a lot of young people in Chile don’t register to vote so they don’t vote. According to this NY Times article, only 9% of voters between the ages of 18-29 are registered.

2. As far as I know, there are no absentee ballots. If you want to vote, you go to your mesa, which was assigned to you way back when you registered. I’m pretty sure you can change your mesa if you move to a different city that’s far away. I’m not sure what you do if you’re living abroad.

3. Elections take place on a Sunday. This makes a lot of sense to me, because people don’t generally work, so they have time to go vote (considering it’s obligatory).

4. Ley Seca (Dry law). You can’t buy or sell alcohol the day of the elections (starting at 12:00am). Last night there was almost nothing open. Everything closed early. I guess this is to prevent people from voting with a hangover? Today when I went to the grocery store, the alcohol sections were covered over with black cloths.

5. A few weeks before the elections, a list of people who must work at the mesas collecting votes is published. These people are called vocales de mesa. If you are on the list, you must arrive early and stay all nine hours until the voting closes, registering and collecting votes. Then, you must stay and count the votes. If you don’t show up, you can be arrested. In case not all the vocales show up, the first person to arrive to vote is automatically a vocal. Most people hate being vocales and this year various people were arrested in Maipu and other places for refusing. Voting can’t start until there are the correct number of vocales.

6. Women and men vote separately. I was walking to the grocery store today and noticed that I was walking with all women. There wasn’t a man in sight. Then I realized that one of the colegios was a voting place. And then I remembered that women and men vote separately here in Chile. I don’t know why. I remember asking a Chilean once why this is, and they said something about statistics, about knowing who women voted for vs. men. But that didn’t make much sense to me, because in the US we have those statistics too, from exit polls. Anyone have a good answer to this one?

7. Once you’ve voted, you’re index finger gets stained with purple dye so you can’t vote again.

8. If no one gets a majority, there’s a run-off vote. Right now it looks like there will be a run-off between Piñera and Frei on January 17th, because Piñera only has 44% of the vote (he would need 50% plus one vote to win outright).

Has anyone else noticed any other differences?


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