Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Brazilian: Elections

When I first arrived in Natal, Brazilian passport in hand, I knew that to become a legal person recognized and protected by the government I was going to have to get official documents. You know, ID, social security #, voter registration card...what? Come again? Voter registration card? No, you did not read that incorrectly. In fact, before I was even allowed to apply for all those other documents (including a certified copy of my birth certificate) I had to register as a voting citizen of Brazil. Voting here is allowed at the age of 16, and becomes mandatory at the age of 18. I even had to pay a fine (a whole dollar!) because I hadn't registered when I turned 18. Oops! I guess I was too busy living on a different continent to remember that.

Fast forward to the first Sunday in October, national election day. This year was just a local election year, so I had the great task ahead of me to decide for whom I would cast my vote for mayor and for whom I would cast my vote for city council. (To answer your question, if I had decided to just not vote I would have had to pay a fine, again, which didn't seem so bad. However, running around town to a bunch of different places to actually pay the fine would have been five times more complicated than just going to vote, so I went with the latter and decided to fulfill my civic duty as a Brazilian citizen.)

Now, if you think election season is a mess in the United States, think again! In the States your TV is flooded with campaign ads, your mailbox is flooded with campaign propoganda, and your front yards are littered with campaign posters of your choosing. You can choose to turn on the TV, choose to throw away all unsolicited mail, and choose whether or not to put up yard signs. In Brazil, you have no such choice. The preferred, and, apparently, most effective method for campaigning in Brazil is the campaign jingle. The campaign jingle is blasted from car speakers all over the city at all hours of the day for like two months ahead of election day. In fact, I came to choose my candidates based on whose campaign jingle did NOT wake me up early on a Saturday morning, or whose campaign jingle I did NOT have stuck in my head for a solid two months. Think BC Clark's anniversary sale song, and multiply it by like five thousand. Yeah. THAT.

So in the actual voting process the candidates are all assigned a 5-digit number that is associated with their name. When you go to vote on the electronic voting machine, you must punch in the candidate's number, his picture shows up, and you confirm. So, imagine what the campaign jingles are all made up of: numbers! I don't know who candidate 40.888 was, his name, his party, his platform, NOTHING, but I sure did have his jingle memorized and I sure did know that there was no chance on earth that he was going to get my vote. However, I did like 15.444's campaign jingle, it was catchy, tasteful, and didn't ever wake me up on a Saturday, so I had all intentions of voting for him for a spot on city council. (However, I found out later, I misunderstood his jingle and punched in the wrong number, 20.444, therefore I voted null and no one got my vote. But he still won. As did 40.888...) You may find my method of choosing candidates slightly lame and politically ignorant, but I had no business voting in this election as I have not paid attention to city politics and the Brazilians promise that anyone who actually wins is corrupt anyway.

So voting day arrived and I went to my indicated voting location (a public school) and punched in my numbers (albeit incorrect) and got my little confirmation ticket (the size of a raffle ticket) that apparently I must guard with my life because it is what validates me as a law-abiding citizen in the Brazilian government. According to my friends, if I ever want to be in the running for a government job or take a college entrance exam I must first prove that I have voted in recent elections by showing my raffle ticket to the powers that be.

We forgot to document the momentous occasion, as it was rather uneventful, but I will leave you with a photo I took from my balcony a couple days before election day. I have no idea which candidate this was for, but it is an illustration of the campaign parades that take place all over the city leading up to the elections.

So, on November 4th when you go to your local voting establishment and fill in the bubble or push the button or punch the card (make sure your chad goes all the way through) next to the candidate's name and not a number, take a minute to enjoy the moment, that it's not a likely problem that you will confuse the names John McCain or Barack Obama with other candidates, and that you don't have a single jingle running through your head, trying to influence your vote.


Lacy Almeda Hefley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lacy Almeda Hefley said...

You know, I kind of miss falling asleep to the sound of "oito, oito, oito." NOT!

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