VOTE, People!

In Brazil, voting is mandatory. If you fail to vote, you must present yourself at a voting place to pay a small fine and make an acceptable excuse. If you fail to do that, there are a  number of things that will happen:

  • -You cannot apply for any public position or function.
  • -You cannot receive any remuneration or salary from a public post.
  • -There are restrictions on the types of loan you can obtain from federal or local government sources, or from any credit institution administered totally or partially by the government.
  • -There are restrictions on your obtaining a passport or identity card.
  • -There are restrictions on your renewing your teaching licences in public educational institutions or those that are controlled by the government.

This extends to what is known as external (overseas) voting. You are to pay the fine immediately upon returning to the country, if you haven’t within two months you will face the same sanctions. This is rather draconian but I will bet they have a much better turn out than we get. I went looking for this kind of example when I heard on television earlier we will be lucky to see 30% participation. I am uncomfortable with forcing someone who doesn’t care enough to do it, to do it but I can see there is an argument that could be made, it is a duty of a citizen just like jury duty is. Democracy can’t work when left in the hands of a few. What do the people who stay home tell themselves? “I’m too stupid for my vote?”, or “It doesn’t matter who wins, they’re all the same?” Of course it matters! With someone else in office at the time (if  just a few more people had voted in strategic plces) we wouldn’t be embroiled in two wars. People can argue the right and wrong of the wars but it seems obvious to me that it certainly does matter who wins elections.

Some other things interesting about Brazil’s voting procedures include the fact you can vote at the age of sixteen and that 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 have their share of kooks running for office too.  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” candidate. Then there’s the ethically challenged Joaquim Roriz, who was barred from running due to his involvement in a massive corruption scandal. So 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 jokes for her many blunders. I didn’t say that, it comes from here: http://www.globalpost.com/webblog/brazil/voting-brazil. The arguments for compulsory voting are not new, I’ve heard them before but I am looking at this in a new light. Some of them are:

  • Such a system guarantees that the government represents a majority of the population, not only individuals who vote.
  • It is a measure to prevent disenfranchisement of the socially disadvantaged.
  • If voters do not want to support any given choice, they may cast spoilt votes or blank votes or none of the above. This is preferred to not voting at all because it ensures the person has not been intimidated or prevented from voting.
  • Compulsory voting will potentially encourage voters to research the candidates’ political positions more thoroughly, since they are going to have to vote. This in turn may force candidates to be more open and transparent about their positions on many complex and controversial issues, instead of playing to their reliable ‘base’, they would have to appeal to all the voters.
  • No large campaign funds are needed to goad voters to the polls, the role of money in politics will decrease.
  • Compulsory voting acts as a sort of civil education and political stimulation, which creates a better informed population which will become involved in other political and community activities.
  • High levels of participation decrease the risk of political instability created by crises or dangerous but charismatic leaders.
  • And this is where they are winning me over: if fewer people vote then it is easier for smaller sectional interests and lobby groups to control the outcome of the political process.

I don’t know what we can do to get people to take their obligation to vote seriously but it is clear buttons are a big fail. We need people to start caring about the state of the nation, I can’t think of a time when we’ve had more problems. They need FIXING!

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