The impacts of the expected record abstention in municipal elections due to the pandemic

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The impacts of the expected record abstention in municipal elections due to the pandemic


The coronavirus pandemic has driven more voters away from the polls around the world, a scenario that tends to repeat itself in Brazilian municipal elections, scheduled for November 15, according to political scientists consulted by BBC News Brasil.


In 2016, more than 25 million people stopped voting


© TSE
In 2016, more than 25 million people stopped voting


Monitoring by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (Idea) shows that, of 41 elections held this year in different countries, 26 (63% of the total) registered an increase in abstention compared to previous elections.

In France, where voting is not mandatory, only four out of ten voters went to the polls to vote in June municipal elections, leading to a record 60% abstention (12 percentage points more than in the previous municipal election, in 2014).

As voting is mandatory in Brazil, political scientists do not foresee such a high level of abstention here. They believe, however, that there should be an increase in comparison with the 2016 electoral dispute, when more than 25 million voters did not attend the polls in the first round (17.6% of the total Brazilians eligible to vote) – which may impact results in the tighter disputes.

That year, there was the third high followed by abstention in municipal elections, a phenomenon that indicates an increase in voters’ “dismay”, that is, a lower confidence in politics and in the value of their vote, say scholars. For political scientist Ivan Filipe Fernandes, a professor at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC), this trend should be exacerbated by the pandemic.

“This year, we will have people afraid of contracting covid-19 and making that calculation of whether it is worth leaving home considering the small effect of their individual vote on the election result. Adding this to a process in which people are already discouraged with the policy, my expectation is that the non-attendance will increase a lot. I believe that we will have record abstention this year “, says the professor, author of studies on electoral abstention.

For Fernandes, the increase in abstention may impact the outcome of elections that are more intense, such as the case of São Paulo. “Already in Belo Horizonte, where research shows that the current mayor (Alexandre Kalil, from PSD) has a great advantage and should be elected in the first round, a greater abstention should not affect the result”, he points out.

Elderly and poorer people should be more affected

Political scientist Antonio Lavareda, president of the scientific council of the Institute of Political and Economic Social Research (Ipespe), believes that the pandemic will affect voters’ willingness to vote in two ways: both due to fear of being infected when leaving home, and due to the cooling of the electoral campaign, since this year the holding of events on the street and debates on television networks was reduced as a way of preventing the spread of the disease.

He notes that the regional elections held in Uruguay in September had a high participation rate (85% of voters attended). In your assessment, however, the scenario must be different in Brazil because here the proportion of people infected and killed by the disease is much higher, which tends to generate more caution among voters. While Brazil reports a rate of 710 deaths due to coronavirus per million inhabitants, in Uruguay this index is 12 deaths.

According to Lavareda, the impact of an increase in abstention on the outcome of the elections will depend on how this phenomenon will affect different segments of society.

“If the pandemic moves away from the polls, especially the elderly (covid-19 risk group) and the poorest, who historically have higher abstention rates, naturally candidates who have greater support from these segments will lose more votes with the abstention,” he exemplifies.

It is a phenomenon that could affect, for example, the candidate for mayor of São Paulo Celso Russomano (Republicans). According to an Ibope survey from the beginning of October, the candidate leads the polls with 26% of intention to vote, but has his best performance among those who earn up to a minimum wage. In this group, 34% answered that they will vote for Russomano. In this segment, however, only 69% of respondents said that they will certainly go to the polls, while 31% answered that due to the coronavirus they are in doubt (22%) or will not “at all” (9%).


Federal deputy Celso Russomanno, leader in the polls for the city of São Paulo, may have been affected by abstaining from votes


© Chamber of Deputies
Federal deputy Celso Russomanno, leader in the polls for the city of São Paulo, may have been affected by abstaining from votes


In the overall average of respondents in São Paulo, 75% assured that they will vote on November 15th.

“This year, we will see here something similar to the election of the United States (where voting is not mandatory). It is not enough for the candidate to ask for a vote, he has to convince the voter to go out to vote”, notes Lavareda.

In other cities surveyed by Ibope, the willingness to vote even in the pandemic is even lower, as in Salvador, where 69% intend to go to the polls for sure, and Rio de Janeiro (71%). On the other hand, this percentage rises in capitals such as Belém (83%) and Vitória (84%).

TSE application will make it simpler to justify the vote

Political scientist Julian Borba, a professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), says that a high abstention “can cause problems of representation of the electorate in the political system”, as certain segments tend to be more affected. The voter, he explains, makes a calculation between the “cost” of attending the ballot box and the weight of his vote. As a result, it is generally the poorest, least educated and residents of less urban areas who abstain in greater proportion.

“And this problem of altering representativeness occurs more strongly in the election of councilors,” notes the professor, since candidates for the Legislative Branch tend to have a more segmented electoral base.

For Borba, while the health risk caused by the pandemic will increase the “cost” of attending the poll in this election, the possibility of justifying absence by cell phone application, on the other hand, will reduce the “cost” of missing the election and justify later.

For the first time this year, the e-Título app, from the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), can be used by voters to justify the absence up to 60 days after the election, with the aim of reducing crowds in polling stations where traditionally this is done. According to the Court, the geolocation technology will prevent the voter from justifying his absence even though he is in his voting city.

“Failure to attend is already very inexpensive, as the fine for those who fail to vote and do not justify is only R $ 3.50. Now, the cost of abstention is practically zeroing, since it is enough to register (in the application), justify my vote and everything is ok. So, a negative effect in this sense can also be expected “, predicts the professor at UFSC.

This year, however, another fact may have the effect of contributing to a lower number of abstentions, even if more people miss the election. Borba recalls that this figure is usually inflated by voters who have already died, but who remain in the register of the Electoral Justice. In recent years, however, the TSE is gradually carrying out the biometric re-registration of voters, which should reduce this effect of Brazilians who appear as voters even after death.


The TSE estimated that keeping the polls in operation for another day would have a high cost, of R $ 180 million


© Agência Brasil
The TSE estimated that keeping the polls in operation for another day would have a high cost, of R $ 180 million

TSE rules out extra election day

Although abstention has grown this year in most of the elections held worldwide, a report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance says that measures such as allowing early voting (ballot boxes open before election day) and / or voting by mail were important to avoid a further increase in absence or even increase voter turnout in some countries, even in the context of a pandemic.

These measures, however, will not be adopted in Brazil. The TSE evaluated that keeping the ballot boxes in operation for another day would have a high cost, of R $ 180 million, which includes expenses with polling stations and with the Armed Forces, which assist the Electoral Justice in the transport of electronic ballot boxes in remote areas of the country. parents.

As an alternative to reducing crowds and encouraging voters to vote, the TSE decided that the election will start an hour earlier than usual, at 7 am, and reserved the initial three hours of voting as preferred for voters over 60 years old , who are part of the covid-19 risk group. The closing time, however, was maintained at 5 pm.

To reduce the risk of contagion, the Electoral Court decided that the biometric system will not be used, in which the voter is identified by recognizing their fingerprint. In addition, all polling stations will have gel alcohol to clean voters’ hands before and after the vote, and pollers will receive masks, face shield and gel alcohol for personal protection. The use of masks will also be mandatory for voters, who must provide their own protection.

The pandemic also caused the election to be postponed, which would initially take place in October.

“Health care is very important. And the right to vote and help choose the direction of your city for the next four years comes right afterwards. We invite voters to participate in this moment relevant to democracy with great responsibility, taking everyone the indicated health care “, stated the president of the TSE, minister Luís Roberto Barroso, when announcing the measures in September.

Questioned by BBC News Brasil, the TSE contested the idea that using an app to justify the vote will increase abstention. “This is a feature to make life easier for voters who would no longer vote because they are outside their electoral domicile, in a pandemic scenario, in which we seek to avoid agglomerations,” the Court said in a note.

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