Argentina Votes, Part 2: Here’s why Argentina’s rugby team can’t vote this year

Argentina’s national rugby team is having an historic year. Coming off a win against Ireland at the Rugby World Cup, the team is set to take on Australia in a semifinal match on Sunday. They have never won the tournament before, although they did come in third place in 2007.

Argentina's rugby team facing off against England, via Wikimedia Commons

Argentina’s rugby team facing off against England, via Wikimedia Commons

However, none of the Argentinian players, coaches and fans who traveled to the United Kingdom for the tournament are allowed to vote in the country’s presidential election on Sunday. Because despite the fact that voting in Argentina is compulsory, there is no provision for absentee balloting.

Compulsory voting is enforced in Argentina via a fine, although citizens can excuse themselves from the process with a doctor’s note or passport stamp proving that they were either ill or out of the country on Election Day (citizens who are in the country but are more than 500 kilometers away from their polling place can obtain a certificate from a local police station). But due to the way the country’s ballots work, voting early or absentee is considered too prone to fraud to be an option. So if your team happens to be playing one of the most important matches in your country’s history on Election Day, then tough, you don’t get to vote that year. I think the players will find a way to cope.

The primary reason I’ve heard for why the country doesn’t have absentee voting is the same argument made against absentee voting in the United States: it’s prone to fraud. But the kinds of fraud Argentinians are concerned about with respect to absentee voting system differ from the rare cases of coercion and vote buying associated with absentee voting in the United States. This is because, unlike ballots in the United States, ballots in Argentina are printed party by party. Rather than having all of the candidates for a given election appear on the same piece of paper, voters in Argentina instead cast their votes by putting party-aligned pieces of paper in an envelope, which then goes in a box. If an envelope contains more than one vote, the entire contents of the envelope are discarded.

Ballots for Front for Victory (top) and Cambiemos (bottom)

Ballots for Front for Victory (top) and Cambiemos (bottom)

Each candidate has their own segment of the ballot, so if you want to vote for candidates from different parties, you tear off the candidates from each party for whom you want to vote and put them in your envelope together. Minor parties with no presidential contenders actively encourage this practice, telling voters to cast a corta boleta (short ballot) on their campaign literature. The current frontrunner in the presidential race, Front for Victory’s Daniel Scioli, is making a similar ask at the expense of his down-ticket candidates as he attempts to get more than 40 percent of the vote and avoid a runoff.

You can check out what the rest of the ballots look like here.

However, since ballots are party-specific, you can cause a lot of problems by messing with the allocation of ballots without having to intimidate or bribe any actual voters (although I was handed a coupon for a lunch promotion while being told to vote Cambiemos yesterday). Despite the fact that members from each party have representatives at polling locations to monitor the election and report irregularities, and despite the fact that ballot boxes are under constant surveillance over the course of Election Day, there are still frequent claims of fraud. The most frequent of these claims is that members from one party took all of the available ballots from another party before they could be cast, which would lead that party’s less-enthusiastic supporters to vote for minor party candidates.

This kind of distrust makes absentee voting, which in the United States is carried out both before and after Election Day — a non-starter. Again, ballot boxes are under constant surveillance while they are in use, but there likely is not enough trust in the system to sustain an absentee balloting system that would require ballots to be held in a central location for a long period of time before the Election, with the counting of ballots continuing after Election Day as they came in from around the world. Speaking to voters here, the sentiment seems to be that such a system would be too prone to ballot-stuffing: The longer the box is left out accepting absentee ballots, the more likely it is that extra ballots get slipped in it.

To be clear, by casting my absentee-in-person ballot last week before leaving the country, I was the oddball democratic citizen, not the Argentinian rugby players who will forego their votes in order to play in Sunday’s semifinal. Absentee and other non-Election Day voting in the United States is far more widespread than in many other countries for a number of reasons, from our larger-than-average population of citizens abroad (to say nothing of our global military presence) to the fact that our Election Day occurs during the work week. That being said, Argentina is a rare case in that it lacks absentee voting despite mandating that all citizens who are able to do so cast a ballot.

Citizens who aren’t in the world semifinals, that is.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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