I am quite sure that you already know that today is Election Day in the United States, a day to elect and reelect government officials at all levels of government. What you probably do not know is that Sunday was Election Day here in Nicaragua. I thought it would be interesting to compare the electoral processes in both countries due to their close proximity and sheer differences as you guys back home are busy going to the polls!
Advertising is the first thing that comes to mind. In Nicaragua, advertising is done mainly through the hanging of signs along streets or the painting of political symbols on buildings, trees, rocks, fence posts and streets. It is not unusual to see a group of people with bucket and brush in hand campaigning for their candidate as you pass by on a bus. Political parties here are represented by numbers (2, 8, 9, 13) and their colors. So a simple number 2 or a post painted red and black is an ad waiting to be read. I am sure that no matter how you are to vote today, you can all agree that it is blessing to be done with those television slots, glossy mailings and phone calls. I would bet that the money spent on just one or two commercials would drain the political funds of all the candidates combined in Nicaragua. I just heard this morning that candidates in the U.S. spent over 4 billion dollars on advertising this election season and it is likely to reach 6 billion.
In Nicaragua, businesses close for a half day before and after the election and almost everything is closed on election day, except for the businesses that are owned and operated by Wal-Mart, which never seem to give their employees a break. The elections always take place on a Sunday here as opposed to a Tuesday, because Sunday is the one day that Nicaraguans have off each week. When you consider that most Nicaraguans use public transportation and that many people travel a great distance to work; you can understand that hardly no one would vote if election day was on a working day.
There are many other differences between how elections take place in Nicaragua and the United States. Nicaragua candidates are pictured on the ballot. In fact much political advertising is done by simply hanging an exact replica of how the candidate’s face will appear on the ballot with his or her information. We have learned that this practice began following the revolution of 1979. Since then literacy has increased dramatically in the country, but the pictures remain.
Here any picture I.D. allows a person to vote, while in the States different documentation is needed dependent upon where you live. The voter turnout is a great deal higher here in Nicaragua, with almost 75% of the voter population showing up for the presidential election last year and almost 70% in this year’s “off-year” election. The United States averages about 55% for a presidential election and 35% for an “off-year” election.
Lastly, the selling of alcohol is strictly forbidden starting 12 hours before election day and remaining in effect for 12 hours following the closing of the polls. The government takes this precaution in the hope to keep riots down and make sure that the voters have clear minds when they are making their choice at the poles.
Happy Voting! We hope that the (un)trusty mail system has delivered our absentee ballots to the State of MN. As the joke always goes, Cassie has to cancel out her dad!
Voter Turn-Out – International Idea: Supporting Democracy Worldwide