SANTIAGO — With the upcoming referendum for a new constitution, new obstacles have presented. The government announced that those who are Covid-positive will not be allowed to vote. Two senators presented a reform bill that seeks to modify the electoral system so that infected people can vote.
Senators Guido Girardi (PPD) and Pedro Araya (DC) presented a reform bill that seeks to modify the recently-enacted Safe Referendum Law, after the government made it clear that there was no time to modify the regulations for that to happen. The idea behind the bill is that the Electoral Service (Servel), along with the Ministry of Health, can draft a regulation so that infected people are allowed to vote come Oct 25.
Existing health protocols require that people infected with Covid-19 must remain in their homes or other places of recovery so that they don’t expose others to the virus. Hence, the senators are hoping for an alternative way of voting for those who are infected on the day of the vote.
Senator Girardi told Chile Today that they were expecting the government could come up with a solution “but since they clearly have no interest in doing so, we will present this bill to give attributions to Servel so that they can establish the best mechanism for infected people to vote.”
Senator Araya, the other promoter of the bill, told Biobío that “Servel has to define the best alternative for them to vote. Either they do it in special locations, or through a different mechanism like electronic voting or voting by mail.”
Perseverance Despite Naysayers
On Aug. 27, Interior Minister Víctor Pérez held a press conference after a meeting with Servel and said that this close to the vote it was not feasible to modify the legislation so that infected people can vote. Undersecretary of Assistance Networks Arturo Zúñiga, in an interview with ADN Radio, echoed Pérez. He said that it is not appropriate to regulate this in such a short time. “We would be running a risk of affecting the credibility of an electoral process that has to be as transparent as all the elections we have had in recent times.”
However, on Aug. 30, Patricio Santamaría, president of the Board of Directors of Servel, spoke with Central Table of T13 and contradicted the government’s position. “If there is a will, there is time,” he said.
In a press conference, Minister of Health Enrique Paris said that the government is not against the right to vote. “We have never been against the right to vote, we are just trying to ensure the health of the citizens.”
National Prosecutor Jorge Abbott said that any Covid-positive person caught voting on Oct. 25 will be prosecuted. “If a person is waiting for test results or knows they are infected … and still goes to a voting station, obviously we are going to prosecute … them,” he told La Tercera.
Girardi told Chile Today that he and others who supported the bill would nevertheless press on because they believe it is crucial to make sure that those with Covid-19 (and those who are under home isolation because they have had contact with an infected person) don’t lose their right to vote. “We have the technology to make sure they can exercise their civil and constitutional right.”
Currently, Chile has the 10th highest confirmed cases count in the world. There are still over 16,000 active cases and, until now, the government has made it clear that infected people will not be allowed to vote on the referendum.
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant