Friday, November 25, 2011

Automatic voter registration in Chile

In Chile there is of course a considerable gulf between politicians and youth. A group of Chilean academics and politicians hopes to make it easier--indeed, automatic--to register to vote, thereby forcing politicians to pay attention and giving young Chileans a way to participate that doesn't just involve going to the streets. From Robert Funk:

Automatic registration was actually part of 2009 constitutional reforms, but Congress has not approved the law necessary to implement it. Here is a good summary. The upshot is that young Chileans don't register--not only is that typical of younger people, but the fines associated with compulsory voting give them an incentive not to register in the first place. Why register when you're going to be punished for it for the rest of your life? The new law would end that.

Overall, some five million people, most of them young and not well off, would suddenly be more empowered than they previously were. That could have much more political impact than street protests. Electoral law doesn't seem as exciting, but it can be a game changer.

The Chilean Library of Congress has a nice summary of the 2009 constitutional reforms, along with then President Bachelet's praise for them (btw, did anyone know that until 1969 the blind could not vote in Chile? I did not.Yikes.). On this point, she is exactly right:

En tiempos actuales, la democracia puede verse amenazada no tanto por quienes quieren imponer una tiranía, sino por la indiferencia y el escepticismo de los ciudadanos. Porque la automarginación de grandes sectores, equivale a dejar los asuntos políticos en manos de poca gente, y eso sí que debe preocuparnos.

Yet two years later the "poca gente" have yet to release their grip.


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