With the second round of the elections coming up on Sunday, I thought it would be a good time to talk a little about voting in Brazil. Also, for those interested, the Americas Society put together an excellent election guide in English to help you understand what's going on with the elections.
In Brazil, voting is mandatory. If a citizen fails to vote, he must present himself at a voting office and pay a small fine (somewhere between R$1 and $4 reais) and "justify" his absence from the polls. If abstaining voters fail to make the trip to a government office and pay the fine, they faces several penalties, including:
-They cannot apply for any public position or function.
-They cannot receive any remuneration or salary from a public post.
-There are restrictions on the types of loan they can obtain from federal or local government sources, or from any credit institution administered totally or partially by the government.
-There are restrictions on their obtaining a passport or identity card.
-There are restrictions on their renewing their teaching licences in public educational institutions or those that are controlled by the government.
Source: Ace Project
The minimum legal age for voting is 16, and you can also vote outside the country (in fact, this year has seen an all-time high of Brazilians voting abroad - over 200,000 voters, up from 86,000 in 2006). Voting is conducted on sophisticated machines; in fact, Brazil was the first country to implement fully electronic elections. The system allows for easier voter identification, secure voting, helps prevent fraud, and creates a much easier tallying procedure. They're not foolproof though, and there is a possibility for vote tampering. The way you vote for a candidate is by pressing that candidate's number, which is assigned by political party. When you vote, the candidate's name and face pops up on the screen.
There's some controversy about mandatory voting. Some people are against it, arguing that they shouldn't have to vote for candidates they don't want, or simply because they don't believe they should be forced to participate. But there are two other options if you aren't happy with the candidates: you can put in a null vote (voto nulo) by inputting a number that doesn't belong to any candidate, and your vote will be counted, but won't count toward any candidates. You can also put in a blank vote (voto em branco) by hitting the "blank" key on the voting machine, and again, your vote will be counted but won't go to any candidates. This way, you can do your duty, but protest the absence of a candidate worth voting for.
For those who aren't die hard party supporters or fans of the candidates, it's easy to become disillusioned, especially in these upcoming elections. In a report earlier this month, the NPR reported that apathy is running high amongst young voters, though those who are active are showing support for Dilma, and prior to this round, for Marina Silva. The Spanish newspaper El Pais chimed in this week and reported that Brazilians are disenchanted with the two main candidates, especially after a very acrimonious campaign with endless bickering and even supposed violence, as well as the lack of diverse platforms and definitive stances on key issues. According to the article, high levels of abstentions and blank and null votes are to be expected.
It's not just the presidential candidates that have voters feeling weary. In the first round of elections, only 35 out of 513 congresspeople were elected with their own votes; the rest won their seats from their party, since voting law allows political parties to pull in candidates based on the few candidates who win the most votes. That means 93 percent of congressmen were not actually elected of their own accord, leaving 38 million Brazilians without direct representation in Congress.
Plus, there's the whole issue of ridiculous candidates. Tiririca, the supposedly illiterate clown from Sao Paulo, was not only elected to Congress, but received an overwhelming number of votes, many more so than "serious" candidates. Despite the last minute success of an anti-corruption law that will bar certain candidates from running, some candidates have already found loopholes. Joaquim Roriz, who was running for reelection as the governor of the Federal District, was barred from running due to his involvement in a massive corruption scandal. So in a classic jeitinho, he put his wife up as a candidate instead, despite the fact that she has no real political experience and has proved very lacking in knowledge and intelligence on the campaign trail, becoming something of a Sarah Palin as the constant butt of a joke for her many blunders.
Finally, there's the issue of the opinion polls. There are around four main surveys, and though they have differed somewhat, the biggest problem was during the first round of voting, when they proved to be very inaccurate, especially in reference to Marina Silva's votes. I think this may be due to a couple of factors, mostly "on the fence" voters who made up their minds at the last minute, but some suspect manipulation of the polls by the ruling party. Despite the descrepancies, it does look like Dilma will win on Sunday by a safe margin to become the next president. And to be honest, I think it ultimately comes down less to platforms and promises and progress than to parties: Lula has led an era of unprecedented prosperity, and like in most countries, voters are likely to vote with their wallets and keep his chosen successor in power.
So what do you think, Brazilians? How do you feel about these elections?