On Sunday, October 28, several cities in Brazil held elections for mayor. While in the United States (US), voter turn-out for any public office outside the office of the presidency receives very little news coverage or participation, this is not the case in Brazil. However, contrary to the US, in Brazil voting is compulsory. For the past two months I have watched the process unfold leading up to the culmination of “the day,” that is, Election Day.
I want to first start with an apology, because the pictures accompanying this blog don’t fully capture it all. In Brazil, the election for mayor is done in two steps. In the first step, which I call the “weeding- out” step, there is an election held for every candidate that wants to be considered for the Office of Mayor. In this step, the prospective candidates are narrowed down to the two receiving the most votes. Approximately one month after the weeding-out step, there is a second election held to determine which one of the top two candidates will be mayor.
The first thing I noticed was the television coverage. On most, if not all, the public television stations regularly scheduled programming was interrupted to allow for a dedicated hour of pre-election propaganda. During this time, each candidate is given an opportunity to present information pertinent to his or her candidacy and to give their candidate number, which is used when the voters select their candidate of choice. I was told that when the voter goes into the voting booth, the person first enters the candidate’s number, then the candidate’s picture and name appears, at that time the candidate can confirm that the number corresponds with the intended candidate.
The second thing I noticed was that the local advertisement for the weeding-out is different than for the second election. In the first election, the advertisement is similar to what we see in the United States (US), such as placards in yards. However, there are two exceptions. I don’t recall seeing in the US billboards all over the city and people handing out tracks (small pieces of paper with a picture of the candidate and his or her number on it). In the US, even bumper stickers are reserved for presidential candidates.
Finally, I noticed that after the first election was over and the race had been narrowed down to two candidates, the election fanfare was heightened to a new level. It became typical to see candidate supporters waiving large banners on the highly trafficked streets. Typically, they were in groups of fours or eights, divided to cover each side of the street. Tracks and high quality leaflets were distributed regularly at strategic times of the day when the city center was full of foot traffic. The most exciting thing that I saw on the Saturday preceding the Sunday Election Day was two parades, one for each candidate, in the city center.
In the final analysis, it is my belief that the compulsory nature of voting in Brazil makes it necessary to give the people sufficient information which leads to the hope that they will be able to choose the candidate that will better serve the city.