In the Newsroom

November 3, 2008
In Brazil, no excuse not to vote

People lined up to vote in São Paulo, Brazil.

Associate Producer Channtal Fleischfresser discusses the voting process in her native Brazil.

Brazil likes to keep things simple. None of this “get out the vote” business.

That’s because voting is mandatory for all citizens over age 18. In fact, even people living abroad are subject to fines if they do not report to their local Brazilian Embassy on election day to explain their absence from the polls.

To make sure no one has an excuse not to vote, elections are held on Sunday, when people have the day off. But that means you have to spend the weekend in town during elections. Many of those who live in big cities and like to skip town on the weekends have developed an unusual compromise. Instead of registering to vote in the city where they live, many people – my parents, for instance – register in the community where they retreat on the weekends.

In a sense, their vote counts more than it would in the big city, but on a decidedly smaller scale. Last Sunday, rather than vote for Gilberto Kassab, the incumbent mayor of São Paulo, my parents helped elect Filipinho, an agricultural consultant in the town of Cunha, nestled in the coastal mountain region between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro states.

While this mayor may have less influence, their vote in this town of about 23,000 people counted much more than it would have in São Paulo, a city of roughly 11 million people.

Compulsory voting presents its own set of obstacles, such as campaign corruption and candidates paying for votes, and it contrasts with the American notion of optional political engagement. But in a country plagued by a limited public education system and where, on average, students don’t stay in school past age 14, an optional voting system would ensure that only the most educated – and most wealthy – made their way to the polls.

This way, democracy is the job of the many, not the few.

– Channtal Fleischfresser

Photo courtesy of R. Motti under a Creative Commons license.




The sarcastic suggestion from Endless is not helpful. We could indeed make voting compulsory, and running over a two-day weekend, but the sanction(s) for non-voting might be the inability to apply for government loans or a driver license or a passport. No fines, no flogging, no stocks. But with an extended voting period on non-work days the new system just might encourage more citizens to participate in what is, after all, an essential part of our democracy.


Maybe we should make voting compulsory. Simply flog people for not voting and you will have the highest voter turnout in the world.

But that is another story.

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