Where in Latin America is Voting Mandatory?

I thought this was an easy question I could find the answer to in an hour, or no more than an afternoon. A week later, I am humbled. I was confused with the range of answers. There were 14, 12, 13, 11 or 8 countries in Central and South America where citizens are required to vote. I checked respected online encyclopedias and newspapers without finding consensus, and finally decided to read the constitutions of the countries in Spanish online to get closest to the source! What follows is a summary of my best understanding of those documents. I thank you for any corrections.

Let’s begin by asking, is it democratic to tell people they must vote? Would you be upset if voting were mandatory in your country? I admit, a rule telling me I must appear at the polling place would rankle a bit. However, since the United States has a very low rate of voter turn out, (55% 2016) I do wonder if mandatory voting would create results that showed the will of more of the people.

In 22 democracies around the world, electoral laws require voting. Eleven of them are in Latin America; Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. Why is obligatory voting (sufragio compulsivo) so popular in Latin America? I’d say because it has a good rate of success in promoting citizen participation.

The highest voter turnout for the Americas in the last five years of presidential elections was in countries with sufragio compulsivo with fines for not voting; Uruguay (90%) and Bolivia (88%). Are they case studies for expanding this type of law to Canada (66%) and the United States (55%)? Perhaps people need an extra nudge to participate in a democracy. Or, is it anti-democratic to require people to vote?

Paraguay (61%) is the only compulsory voting country (fines) in South America that is different than the trend. The political climate there is leaning toward authoritarian rule again, with the former president attempting to change the constitution (unsuccessfully) to run for another term. I think voters were not hopeful about the future, after their fairly recent years under a dictator.

Costa Rica (66%) and Honduras (60%) do not enforce their electoral law with a fine, however their voting rates were higher than the United States. The Dominican Republic (70%) and Guatemala (71%) had good turn outs without mandatory voting. Perhaps in those countries the quality of the candidates and feeling of voter enfranchisement played roles in citizens’ voting choices. Latin American countries with fewer people going to the polls than the US, showed people’s discouragement with politicians and with difficult living conditions; Chile (49%), Colombia (53%), El Salvador (52%), and Venezuela (46%).

What trends do you see?

Compulsory Voting in the AmericasDoes your country have compulsory voting? If not, would it be a good addition to the constitution? I look forward to your comments!

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. ¡Olé! -Rebecca

Mexico City  El voto es libre y secreto/The vote is free and secret  Photo: ProtoplasmaKid




Rebecca Cuningham

8 thoughts on “Where in Latin America is Voting Mandatory?

  1. What interesting research. I think the US might do better by making voter registration more accessible, and by reinstating the voting rights of those who have “done the crime and paid the time”. What do you think?

    Liked by 2 people

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