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While you in that big, slightly pig-shaped (at least when I draw it) country in the north are spending precious time and energy on a very long and drawn out campaigning process in which one candidate will triumph over the opponent’s ticket leading to great hilarity and teeth gnashing and blogging the whole world ‘round, we’ve been busy down here, too.

Quietly (with the exception of massive robocalling campaigns) and relatively unmessily, flyers and posters be darned, Chile has held mayoral and town counsel elections througout the country. Results are in, some are pleased, some flummoxed. I have to say that these elections are not actually that important to me since in the famous words of one expat (that’s me), “I can always just pick up my toys and go home.” I’m not threatening, and I have no immediate plans, but I’m just not that excited about who wins or doesn’t unless it’s a crazy hateful bigot. So far, we’re doing okay.

What I was really interested in here was the process. In Chile, voting is compulsory. That is to say, if you are registered, you must vote. Unless you are over 70, sick, have lost your carnet or are more than 200 km from where you are registered to vote. In which case you can have one of these conditions verified at your local police station. There’s a special exception for the infirm, I believe.

Barring being excused, you must vote. Must, because if you don’t, you can be fined about half a month’s minimum wage, (118,000 pesos, which used to be about $225, but is now much less due to the wildly flailing economic situation). So generally, people vote. Now in the United States, polls are manned by volunteers. People who believe it is their civic duty to help people exercise their right to suffrage.

Not so in Chile. In Chile they are… Selected? Chosen? Picked? Drafted? Well, they’re not there out of the goodness of their own hearts. It works like this: voting centers are set up, and each one has a number of “tables” which are usually in separate rooms from all the other “tables.” Every “table” (which is actually a table, so perhaps I could stop using the quotation marks) has five “vocales de mesa” who speak for the table, and deliver its votes when the table closes. The list of vocales is published in the newspaper and on the web, and if you’re selected, you and your four new best friends will staff the table all day long. All five vocales must be present to open the table, and the table must stay open for nine continuous hours. Theoretically the tables open at 7 AM. Realistically, it’s quite unlikely that they will. You try to coordinate five people to arrive somewhere by 7 AM on a Sunday, and see what happens. Also, if one or more of the vocales doesn’t show by a certain hour, they can draft innocent voters to staff the table. And if they refuse, they are also fined. This would indicate that showing up late is a fantastic idea for those wishing to cast their votes.

At any rate, imagine your table is open. Then image it’s all either women or men, whichever you are, because the polling places are gender-separated. Don’t ask me what you do if you’re intersex. I think you stand outside and cry, because this country is no place for you, regardless of who wins. Ahem. So you arrive to your table, show your carnet, they look for you in the ranks, hand you some ballots, and then you go meet the Wizard of Oz.


Having seen the wizard, you drop your ballots into the box, have your thumb dyed blue so you won’t try and vote again (though wouldn’t the vocales remember you, and wouldn’t they already have checked you off on the list?), and then you are free to roll, like Mónica here, who is a friend of mine who I just happened to run into at the voting place about a mile from my house. Because Santiago is the size of a handkerchief, or, as the expression goes, translated directly, Santiago is a handkerchief. Which, if it were true, would have left Mónica with a much cleaner thumb, because I’m sure she would have cleaned it off already by taking a swipe across the city itself.

and just because she’s so sporty, or because this picture makes Santiago look like some kind of urban National Geographic spread, here she is again: