Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Elections in Brazil are very different from those elsewhere. As is our occasional wont, we shall count the ways, starting with Seeming Weirdness Number One: registered voters cannot be arrested during the five days before the election and two days after the election.
That’s right, after October 2nd, when this was written, the police could not arrest registered voters until sundown October 9th. The reason for this rule, in place since 1932, is that in many places, particularly towns in the interior, the local political bosses (a/k/a “colonels”) would have the police arrest people who did not side with their candidates and keep them in the hoosegow until after the elections.
There are exceptions. If you’re caught in flagrante delicto (meaning red-handed) you can be arrested. The same is true if you’re guilty of a crime for which bail is not possible (e.g. homicide, terrorism, rape, drug dealing, armed revolt and other “heinous” crimes).
These exceptions are the reason the federal government has just dispatched hundreds of armed soldiers and sailors to the hillsides of Rio de Janeiro, to remain on patrol 24/7 through this Sunday’s election, lest the modern-day successors to the “colonels” (drug dealers and bent cops known as “militia”) try to ensure people vote for “their” candidates.
This leads directly to Seeming Weirdness Number Two: voters cannot take a camera or a cell phone into the polling booth. The bad guys still try to insist that voters within their bailiwick vote for their chosen candidates, under pain of … well, pain. How to prove to these thugs that you voted for their candidate? Produce a photo of your screen. Happily, as of this year, that’s not an option.
For similar reasons, you can’t take a child into the booth with you, or any adult unless you have a proven disability; you can’t ask election or political party officials to help you vote. You’ve got to push the electronic buttons your very own self.
You can’t go in topless (male or female), you can’t wear shirts or shorts or caps or anything with political party propaganda on it, especially not Seeming Weirdness Number Three — the dreaded Party Number.
All political parties have two digit numbers, as do the candidates for mayor. All candidates for city council have five digit numbers, the first two being those of their political party. Numbers are easier to remember than names, so all parties try to drum their numbers into voters’ heads during the pre-election period. Happily, this is not allowed when people are complying with their civic duty and voting.
Did you notice we said “duty” rather than “right? By law, it’s a duty. All Brazilian citizens between ages 18 and 70 must not only register to vote but must also, on election day, physically go to the polling station where they are registered and vote.
If you’re out of town, you’re out of luck — no absentee ballots, no early voting, it’s all happening between 8AM and 5PM on the first Sunday of October.
Bummer? Maybe, but the good news is, within a few hours after the polls close on Sunday, the results will have been tabulated and announced across the country. No more hanging chads! No more recounts! No more ridiculous court cases!
The Curmudgeon asks: “What’s not to like?”
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)