So we’ve taken a look at the presidential race and the candidates in this year’s elections here in Brasil, but that’s really the tip of the iceberg. I think the next step is to give a quick orientation to the lay of the land of the elections this year. Aside from voting for president, Brasilians will also be voting for governor (every state and the Federal District), two state senators and every single deputy (or representative as we know them) in the lower house of congress. But before we break down the races, let’s cover a couple of basics:
-Brasil has 26 states and a Federal District (home of the capital city of Brasília), which acts like a state.
-When voting, Brasilians are supposed to remember a number for each candidate. For president and governor this is easy because it’s just the number of the party, but when you get lower and lower in the hierarchy things get a bit more complex. Here’s how it works:
- President - 2 numbers (Example:13 for Dilma Rousseff, 45 for José Serra)
- Governor - 2 numbers
- Senator - 3 number, the first two for the party (13 for PT) and the third is the candidate’s number (Example: A PT candidate who’s personal number is 3 would have the number 133)
- Lower house of congress - 4 numbers (First two for party and 2 candidate numbers)
- State representative - 5 numbers (First two for party and 3 for the candidate).
- The picture below is one of millions of “voter cheat sheets” that candidates distribute to “facilitate” voting because the number system is problematic for many people.
Ok, so now that that’s out of the way, let’s break down the races:
Because the governor’s seat is an executive position, similar to the presidency, the election process is fairly straightforward. Brasilians will choose through a choice few “viable” candidates, amongst a few other less viable ones. To win in the first round of elections on October 3, a candidate needs 50% + of the vote. If they do not get it, the top two candidates will move on to a runoff election to be held a month later. There are various contentious races this year and some incumbents who are all but assured reelection.
The senator races are still fairly straightforward, but this is where things start to get a bit hairy. Every state (26), as well as the Federal District, have three seats in the national senate for a total of 81. They are 8 years posts and elections are held every four years. This means that in one election cycle there is only one seat open and in the next there are two open (like this year). Instead of holding different races for each seat, Brasilians will vote on their top two choices overall and the two candidates with the most votes will take those two seats. This means that there are a few more candidates than Americans are used to in senate races. On average each state has anywhere between 8 and 20 candidates for senate and of those, 4 to 8 are considered viable. Although this sounds a bit confusing, it is still fairly easy for people to decide on who to vote for. The lower house of congress, however, is where everything gets a bit sticky.
Câmara dos Deputados do Brasil/Chamber of Deputies of Brasil
Ok, hang on because this is going to be an interesting ride. I have talked to many Brasilians about this part of the elections and it is confusing even to them. The Chamber of Deputies has 513 seats proportionally given out to states dependent upon population and other considerations. The state of São Paulo has the most seats at 70 and there are 12 smaller states with only 8 or 9 seats each. Now, ALL of these seats are up for grabs EVERY four years and NONE of them are tied to smaller “districts” within the states. This means that the election is a free-for-all and is flooded with candidates. However, and hold on to the safety bar for this one, the candidates don’t “win” seats, they win proportional votes for their party. Each party then assigns the seats they have won for that state to the candidates of their choosing. In most cases this will be those candidate that got the most votes, but it is at the party’s discretion who they want to appoint.
(A line break is necessary here I think so we can rest our eyes and minds a little.)
So, when voting for Federal Deputies Brasilians can vote either for a candidate or for a party and they vote only once for all the open seats in their state. What this has meant in practice is that there are so many candidates for these seats that Brasilians have a hard time telling them apart (as would anyone). In the state of São Paulo there are over 1000 registered candidates running for the 70 seats. This translates into a different type of campaigning.
During the “Election Hour” on Brasilian TV, Federal Deputy candidates are lined up one after another after another after another giving their 15 second shpeal, but this gives voters little way of differentiating between them. Those who focus their efforts on the TV front are usually famous people (famous soccer players, singers, TV hosts) who will have an easier time getting people to remember their names. Some even use their 15 second slot to act crazy so that people will remember them. No one’s getting their platform across, so why not act in a memorable way so that people will differentiate you from the rest of the pack. It has been mesmerizing TV for sure.
The option most candidates take is to focus efforts in on a certain smaller and specialized populations or interest group. For instance in the Liberdade area of town where there is the largest concentration of Japanese descendants outside of Japan, the candidates tended to be of Japanese descent (see picture).
The other avenue many have taken is to try and build a large internet presence using Twitter, Facebook and Orkut (Google’s social media site. 70% of users are Brasilian), among others. It seems every candidate I come across has 4 to 7 social media sites linked to their official website and they work tirelessly to get their name out to voters. It is a blitz of information for voters, but if a candidate can hook you in, they have a thousand avenues to keep you in the loop.