People at a polling place in Palmares in 2010, for Costa Rica’s last election.
Today is the election in Costa Rica. Like in many places, it’s once every four years, and today they’re choosing the new President and congressional representatives. I won’t get into the different candidates, since any way I did it I’d be sure to alienate some people. So instead I’ll focus on the positive aspects of the Costa Rican political system. I’ve chosen to quickly highlight five things that I like about the system here, and which I wish were commonplace in other countries. Again, this may make other people angry for some reason (politics always does), but this is just my opinion.
5 THINGS COSTA RICA DOES WELL IN ELECTIONS
1. Sunday Voting: Elections here are always held on Sundays. I think this is a great idea since the majority of people don’t have to work on Sundays, which means that they don’t need to coordinate voting with their work schedule, and can thereby hopefully avoid long lines that plague some countries, especially just after the work day finishes.
2. No Registration Necessary: People are automatically registered to vote here; all you need to do when you go to your polling place is to bring your cédula, which is a national ID card everyone gets when they turn 18. Some people–myself included–may question the wisdom of a national ID card, as well as its ubiquitous and obligatory use in all kinds of transactions, but this is one upside of having such a card and registry. You don’t have to jump through hoops or fool around with stupid mail-in registration forms (which is good, since the mail system here is abysmal) or re-register when you move.
3. No Commercials or Polls in the Last Week: I’m not too sure about the details regarding this, but there is a general commercial blackout in the final week before the election. This goes mostly for polls, but also for campaign commercials, I think (I’m not sure, since we’ve not watched TV here in the last year or so). I think candidates can still work to get people to vote through the internet, though. Nevertheless, in previous elections it was a great relief from constant campaign commercials.
4. The Campaign Period is Four Months!: I really had to put an exclamation point at the end of that phrase. As opposed to the U.S., where the 2016 candidates were being discussed even before the ink had had a chance to dry on the 2012 ballots, the campaign season here truly is a season. I think this was just implemented this election, but I think it’s a wonderful idea. It could do wonders to help prevent campaign fatigue and save billions of dollars that the candidates would otherwise need to raise to campaign for years on end.
5. There Really is a Place for New Parties: In countries with only two major political parties, you don’t really have much of a choice of who to vote for, and many people don’t really vote for a candidate, but rather against his or her competitor, in order to choose the lesser of two evils. That’s always going to be an issue, but I think the system here has an interesting twist by adding more than one round of voting, if necessary. In order to win the presidency, a candidate needs to get over 40% of the votes in the first round (which, I’d argue, is probably a percentage that should be raised, in order to more fully represent the electorate). If the no one gets more than 40%, the top two candidates go into a second round of voting, where the winner takes all. Again, that’s maybe not the best solution for the second round, but for the first round, it has given rise to many different political parties, which allows people to vote more based on their beliefs, which I think is good. I think it would be best if they had an option or need to form a coalition government (like is done in Germany) in order to reach a certain percentage, say 65%, but what they have here is still fairly commendable.
So, what about you? What do you think of this voting system? If you’re Costa Rican, do you like it? Where could it be improved? (Also, if you’re Costa Rican, please tell me if I’m wrong on any of these points, since this is all based on what I’ve observed or read, and I’m not a political science scholar). If you’re not Costa Rican, how does this compare to the voting system in your country?
In any case, thanks for reading, and be sure to vote if you’re allowed to!