My husband and I recently returned from a fascinating trip to Peru, where we floated down the Amazon (the headwaters are in the Peruvian Andes) and hiked Machu Picchu. It’s always instructive to learn that people in other countries have a different perspective on some topics than we do in the United States.
For example, we learned that all Peruvians 18 years and older are required to vote in elections and are fined if they fail to vote without adequate excuse. Absentee ballots are not permitted. A similar approach to voting is followed in Australia and in many other countries around the world. Under these systems, voting is not only a right but an obligation.
As we sailed the Amazon, we noticed flags flying in small villages along the way. Most did not have any writing on them, but were of a variety of colors and had a variety of symbols. In fact, what we saw were “highway” campaign posters, the Amazon being the only means of transportation for the people who live in that region. The proliferation of posters indicated impending elections.
The compulsory approach to voting is intriguing. Voting turnout in Peru as a percentage of the voting age population is much higher than in the United States - in 2012 parliamentary contests, the turnout in Peru was 87.41% of the voting age population compared to 54.62% for Congressional elections in the United States in the same year. The disparity at the Presidential level was also substantial - in the 2011 Presidential election in Peru 86.18% of the voting age population participated, while the 2012 Presidential election in the United States attracted only 53.57% of the voting age population. (This data is taken from a report of the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).)
Would attitudes in the United States about voting change if voting were compulsory? If they have to vote, would Americans who do not now vote be impelled to learn something about the political process and the candidates. Would they have more of a sense of involvement in their communities and their country and feel that they have a stake in the elections? Or would voters feel that they had been coerced into doing something they really did not want to do? Would the attitude of cynicism about politics be exacerbated or reduced?
In Peru, voting participation is tracked through a system of national identification cards. You show up at the polls with your ID and the record reflects that you voted. This seems to work whether you’re an urbanite in Lima or a campesino on the Amazon. In the United States, those who push for ID requirements at the polls are accused of racism. It’s definitely a very different way of looking at things than the Peruvian way.
Frieda Wallison is Chair of the Pitkin County Republicans.
A graduate of Smith College and Harvard Law School, she practiced law for more than 30 years in New York City and Washington, D.C. as a partner in major law firms, before retiring for the good life in the Roaring Fork Valley. Beyond serving as Chair of the Pitkin County Republicans, Wallison is Republican Chair of the Third Congressional District in Colorado and a member of the Colorado Republican Party Executive Committee. She is also the President of the Snowmass/Capitol Creek Caucus and a member of Aspen Rotary. In her spare time, Wallison is a real estate developer in the mid-valley. She is married to Peter Wallison, the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and they are parents of three and grandparents of five.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Her personal Facebook page address is facebook.com/frieda.wallison
You can find out more about the Pitkin County Republicans: http://pitkinpolitics.org/