On October 23, during the Chilean municipal elections, voter abstention reached a historic peak.
According to the nation’s electoral service (Servel), only 4,931,041 voters went to the polls, marking a turnout of 35%. The high level of voter abstention (65%) placed these elections under scrutiny, since the democratic system only starts making sense if the citizens allowed to vote participate actively in the choosing of their representatives.
Together with this low turnout, there were other problems that cast doubts on Servel’s organizational capacities. On the one side, the ballots were excessively large, which made them hard to handle. According to the local press, voters had problems to understand the ballot layout, to handle them during the voting (i.e. folding them) or simply inserting them into the ballot boxes. Moreover, logistical issues such as delays in the setup of polling stations made voting harder for many citizens.
After the election, politicians and the media have focused on its political impact. That is the case of president Michelle Bachelet, who after seeing her party coalition lose support, admitted that the country demands better public servants. However, beyond strictly political matters, the truth is that such levels of abstention merit a broad analysis, one that includes the search for a voting model that facilitates access to the polls.
Democracy is legitimized and consolidated through the vote. Auditable, transparent and easily understandable electoral mechanisms are the perfect allies to defeat abstention and the problems that mar Chilean democracy today. Through their silence, the Chilean voters demand that their authorities take on the challenge to modernize their voting practices.