Elections in Chile
Chile holds nationwide presidential, parliamentary, regional and municipal elections.
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politics and government of
The electoral process is supervised by the Electoral Service (Servicio Electoral), which is independent from the government. Winners are officially proclaimed by the Election Examining Tribunal (Tribunal Calificador de Elecciones), which is composed of four members of Chile's Supreme Court and one former legislator chosen by the Court.
|Type||Mayoral primaries (19 June)|
Municipal (23 October)
|Presidential and parliamentary primaries (2 July)|
Presidential (19 November)
National Congress (19 November)
Regional Boards (19 November)
|None||National plebiscite (26 April)1
Mayoral and governor primaries (7 June)
Municipal (25 October)
Regional governor (25 October)
|Presidential and parliamentary primaries (4 July)|
Presidential (21 November)
National Congress (21 November)
Regional Boards (21 November)
|National Congress||None||Full Chamber and half of Senate||None||Full Chamber and half of Senate|
|Regions and provinces||None||Regional Boards||None||Regional Governors||Regional Boards|
|Municipalities||Mayors and Councilors||None||Mayors and Councilors||None|
1 Pending a constitutional reform.
|President||None||None||11 March||None||11 March|
|National Congress||None||None||11 March||None||11 March|
|Regions and provinces||None||None||11 March||None||None||6 January||11 March|
|Municipalities||6 December||None||None||None||6 December||None||None|
All citizens of Chile as well as foreigners residing legally in Chile for at least five years, who are at least 18 years of age on the day of the election, are eligible to vote. Enrollment in Chile is automatic and voting is voluntary. Since 2014 Chileans have been allowed to vote overseas in presidential elections (including primaries) and referendums. Before 2012 voting was compulsory for life for Chilean citizens who wished to enroll.
The President is directly-elected by an absolute majority of valid votes (excluding null votes and blank votes). If no candidate obtains such a majority, a runoff election is held between the two candidates with the most votes. Before 1989, the president was confirmed by Congress if elected by a simple majority.
Each legally operating political party may register one of its members as candidate. Independent candidates are required to gain the support of a number of independent electors prior to registering their candidacy. The number of signatures needed is equal to at least 0.5% of the number of people who last voted in the Chamber of Deputies election, nationwide. For the 2013 election, the number was 36,318 signatures.
According to the Constitution, presidential elections take place on the third Sunday of November of the year before the incumbent president's term expires. A runoff election —if necessary— takes place on the fourth Sunday following the election. The president is sworn in on the day the incumbent president's term expires. Since 1990 that day has been March 11.
Before 2011 presidential elections took place 90 days before the incumbent president's term expired. If that day was not a Sunday, the election was moved to the next Sunday. A runoff election —if necessary— took place 30 days after the first election. The Sunday rule was also observed. Since 1990 the president has taken office on March 11; thus, elections took place on or after December 11 of the previous year.
Elections were last held on 19 November 2017.
Current electoral system
Chile's bicameral Congress consists of a Chamber of Deputies (lower house) and a Senate (upper house). The country is divided into 60 electoral districts for the lower house and 19 senatorial constituencies for the Senate. (See Electoral divisions of Chile for details.) Each electoral district and senatorial constituency directly elects two representatives. That is, 120 deputies and 38 senators, in total. Chile is the only country in the world with two-seat electoral districts nationwide.
Deputies serve for four years and senators for eight years. Both deputies and senators may seek reelection indefinitely. Half the Senate is renewed every four years. In the first Senate after the restoration of democracy in 1990, senators from odd-numbered regions served for four years (1990-1994), while senators from even-numbered regions plus the Santiago Metropolitan Region served for eight years (1990-1998). The senators from odd-numbered regions elected in 1993 served the usual eight years (1994-2002).
Candidates may register their candidacy with the backing of either a political party or of a group of citizens. In the former case, party affiliation is not mandatory for the candidates. In the latter case, candidates must not be affiliated with any political party and are required to collect a number of signatures. The signatures needed are at least 0.5% of the turnout of the last Chamber of Deputies election in that electoral district (if running for a lower-chamber seat) or last Senate election in that senatorial constituency (if running for a Senate seat), and they must come from independent electors.
The law allows two or more political parties to ally one another to create "pacts". Pacts may present up to two candidates per electoral district or senatorial constituency. It is not mandatory for the candidates to be affiliated with any of the political parties forming the pact, but they cannot be affiliated with a political party outside the pact.
For every electoral district and senatorial constituency election the two political entities [either a) a pact, b) a political party not integrating a pact, or c) an independent candidate not integrating a pact] receiving the most votes are awarded one seat each, with the leading candidate within each entity taking the seat. To win both seats, the leading entity must out poll the second leading entity by a margin of at least 2-to-1. This is a rare use of the D'Hondt method, with only two seats allocated per electoral division.
Last parliamentary elections were held on November 19, 2017.
This binomial voting system was established by the military dictatorship that ruled the country until 1990, limiting the proportional system in place until 1973 to two seats per district/constituency. Gerrymandering was employed in the drawing of electoral districts to favor the rightist parties, with a positive bias towards the traditionally more conservative rural areas of the country. The vote/seat ratio was lower in districts that supported Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite and higher in those with the strongest opposition. Also, none of the newly created districts had either side in the plebiscite outpolled by the other by more than 2 to 1. The authoritarian regime also made it very difficult to change the system, as a three-fifths majority of both chambers is needed to modify it.
Members of the Concert of Parties for Democracy believe the system undermines their majority in Congress and exaggerates the representation of the right. The right views the system as necessary for the country's stability, and to encourage the creation of large coalitions. The left sees the system as undemocratic, denying representation to candidates outside the two main coalitions.
Electoral system beginning in 2017
A law reforming the electoral system was published in May 2015. It decreases the number of electoral districts to 28 (formed by merging current districts) as well as the number of senatorial constituencies to 15 (one for each region). Each electoral district elects between three and eight deputies, while each region elects between two and five senators. The D'Hondt method will continue to be used to determine the winners. The number of lawmakers is increased in each chamber, to 155 in the lower chamber, and to 50 in the Senate. The new system will debut in the 2017 general elections. Representatives elected under this new system will take their seats in March 2018.
- Note: This section is outdated. The regional boards were directly elected on 17 November 2013 for a period of four years starting on 11 March 2014.
Each region in Chile is governed by an Intendant (Intendente), who is appointed by the President of the Republic, assisted by a regional board, made up of a number of advisers (consejeros).
Advisers are elected by each region's municipal councilmen, who form electoral colleges per regional province. Each region is allotted two advisers per province plus 10 more in regions with up to 1 million inhabitants or 14 more in regions with over 1 million people. These additional advisers are apportioned to provinces in relation to their share of the regional population in the latest census using the D'Hondt method. The winners within each province are those who obtain the most votes. However, if within a province, two or more candidates decide to run together as a list, then the winners are decided using the D'Hondt method.
Advisers serve four-year terms and can be reelected indefinitely. Elections take place 15 days after the councilmen take office. The newly elected advisers are sworn in 60 days after their election. The last election took place on December 21, 2008 and the elected advisers took office on 19 February 2009.
In October 2009, the Constitution was modified to allow advisers to be directly elected by universal suffrage. Advisers will serve for four years with the possibility of reelection. The number of advisers will be proportional to the region's population and area in relation to the country. The law regulating regional administrations has not been modified to reflect this change, so the date when the first such election will take place is uncertain.
In December 2012, a temporary article was added to the Constitution suspending the election that was to take place on 21 December 2012 and extending the mandate of the incumbent advisers to 11 March 2014. The same article states that the advisers's first direct election will take place on 17 November 2013 (to coincide with the presidential and parliamentary election), as long as the necessary changes to the law are published before 20 July 2013.
In February 2018, a new law established the democratic election of regional governors, stating that they will be elected at the same date along with the mayors, councillors, and regional boards. However, the regional boards will be elected simultaneously with these offices only in October 2024, maintaining the current calendary that stated the next regional boards elections will be in November 2021, along with the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Voters directly-elect one mayor and a number of councilmen per municipality. Mayors are elected by a simple majority, while councilmen seats (ranging from 6 to 10, depending on the number of registered voters in each municipality) are decided using a system of proportional representation, similar to the D'Hondt method. Mayors and councilmen are elected in separate ballots since 2004.
According to the Constitution, councilmen have four-year mandates and may be reelected indefinitely. The law sets a four-year mandate for mayors, as well. They are elected concurrently with the council on the last Sunday of October. The newly elected authorities take office on December 6 of that same year. Mayors may also be reelected indefinitely.
Elections were last held on 23 October 2016 (moved one week from its original date of 30 October to avoid falling in the middle of a four-day holiday), and are next scheduled to take place on 25 October 2020.
The Constitution provides for binding referendums (plebiscito) only in the case a constitutional reform passed by Congress is completely vetoed by the President and then confirmed by Congress by a two-thirds majority of each chamber. In such occurrence the President has the authority to either sign the reform into law or call for a referendum. To date, the President has not exercised such power.
The Constitution permits municipalities to organize binding referendums to resolve a number of local issues. They can be called by the mayor with the approval of the council, by two-thirds of councilmen or by residents equal to 10% of turnout in the last municipal election.
There is a system of government-run primaries to select candidates for president, senator, deputy, and mayor. Primaries for president, senator, and deputy are held concurrently.
Primaries can take place within a single party or within a group of parties (a "pact"). Independent candidates may participate in primaries with the backing of a political party or a pact. Independents are barred from being candidates in primaries for Congress seats if the political party backing the candidate is not part of a pact. Political parties may form one pact for presidential primaries and another pact for parliamentary primaries. Political parties and pacts are free to choose whether to allow independent electors or electors affiliated with other political parties to vote in their primary. However, independent electors must be allowed to vote in a presidential primary that includes an independent candidate.
According to the Constitution, primary results are legally binding for political parties using them; the losing candidates are ineligible for the same election in the respective office, unless the winning candidate dies or resigns before the registration deadline.
The law states that primaries take place on the twentieth Sunday before the election. The first legal primaries took place on 30 June 2013 to select candidates for president and deputy. The first legal mayoral primaries took place on 19 June 2016.
The Concertación coalition selected its candidate for President of the Republic via primaries in 1993, 1999 and 2009 (in 2005 they were canceled, after one of two contenders quit the race). The Juntos Podemos pact selected its presidential candidate in a primary in 2009.
Throughout 2013, the Concertación parties organized primaries to select some of their candidates for seats in Congress.
For Chileans, a national identity card (current up to a year before the election) or current passport is the only document required to vote; foreigners must carry their identity cards to be able to vote. The vote is secret and in person. Before voting, a voter must present an identity card or passport (which is retained during the process) to verify registration at that particular polling place, then must sign a registration book. The voter then receives the ballot or ballots (which are printed with all candidates' names, ballot numbers, and party affiliations) and enters a voting booth, where (using a provided graphite pencil) the voter must mark each choice by drawing a vertical line over a printed horizontal line next to the name of the chosen candidate (marking two or more choices nullifies the vote; a vote is considered "blank" when no candidate was correctly marked). Upon exiting the voting booth, the voter returns the ballots to the polling officer, who proceeds to remove the ballots' serial number. The voter then places the ballots inside the appropriate ballot boxes. Once this is done, the voter is given back his/her national identity card/passport.
Most polling places are in schools or sporting centers. The armed forces and uniformed police (Carabineros) are in charge of providing security at these places before, during, and after the elections. Since 2012, polling stations have been mixed-sex.
The state of suffrage in Chile since 1833:
- From 1833: Men over 25, if single, or 21, if married, able to read and write, and owning property or capital of a certain value fixed by law. (Art. 8 of the 1833 Constitution)
- From 1925: Men over 21 able to read and write. (Art. 7 of the 1925 Constitution)
- From 1934: Men over 21 able to read and write (general registry); women over 25 able to read and write (municipal registry, i.e. limited to local elections). (Law No. 5,357)
- From 1949: Men and women over 21 able to read and write. (Law No. 9,292)
- From 1970 until today: Men and women over 18. (Law No. 17,284 modifying Art. 7 of the 1925 Constitution; Art. 13 of the 1980 Constitution)
No Chilean Constitution has ever explicitly banned women from voting. When referring to persons having the right to vote, the various constitutions have used the Spanish term "chilenos," which means both "Chilean men" and "Chilean people." Thus, no constitutional change was needed to allow women to vote.
Election turnout since 1925.
- Note: Since 2017, enrollment and turnout figures for presidential elections and presidential primaries include voters from abroad.
|Date||Election||VAP1||Registered2||%||Turnout3||%||T / VAP %4|
|1989-12-14||Chamber of Deputies||8,414,203||7,557,537||89.82||7,158,646||94.72||85.08|
|1993-12-11||Chamber of Deputies||9,172,608||8,085,439||88.15||7,385,016||91.34||80.51|
|1997-12-14||Chamber of Deputies||9,868,810||8,069,624||81.77||7,046,351||87.32||71.40|
|2001-12-16||Chamber of Deputies||10,640,846||8,075,446||75.89||7,034,292||87.11||66.11|
|2005-12-11||Chamber of Deputies||11,471,909||8,220,897||71.66||7,207,351||87.67||62.83|
|2009-12-13||Chamber of Deputies||12,345,729||8,285,186||67.11||7,263,537||87.67||58.83|
|2013-11-17||Chamber of Deputies||13,160,122||13,573,143||103.14||6,698,524||49.35||50.90|
|2017-11-19||Chamber of Deputies||14,009,047||14,347,288||102.41||6,675,146m||46.53||47.65|
|Date||Election||VAP1||Registered2||%||Turnout3||%||T / VAP %4|
a Excludes 200,638 affiliates from non-participating political parties.
b Held in 10 out of 60 electoral districts.
c Held in 93 out of 346 communes.
d Excludes affiliates from non-participating political parties.
e Provisional results including 99.42% of ballot boxes.
f Provisional results including 99.82% of ballot boxes.
g Provisional results including 99.92% of ballot boxes.
h Excludes 273,017 affiliates and 445,722 'pending' affiliates from non-participating political parties, and 21,270 electors from abroad.
i Provisional results including 99.94% of ballot boxes and excluding 6,555 votes from abroad.
j Held in 7 out of 28 electoral districts.
k Excludes affiliates and 'pending' affiliates from non-participating political parties.
l Provisional results including 99.41% of ballot boxes.
m Revised provisional results.
- ^ Voting Age Population: An estimation of the country's population over the age of 21 (1952-1969) and 18 (1970-2013) on the day of the election. Source: "Annual Population by Age - Both Sexes". World Population Prospects, the 2012 Revision. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Population Estimates and Projections Section. 13 June 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2013. Note: The UN provides data estimated for July 1 of each year disaggregated by age. Linear interpolation was applied to obtain the population for election day. For 2016 mayoral primaries and 19 November 2017 elections: COMUNAS: ACTUALIZACIÓN POBLACIÓN 2002-2012 Y PROYECCIONES 2013-2020, National Statistics Institute of Chile. Note: VAP is for June 30.
- ^ Source: Electoral Service (1925-1973; 1988-2010; 2012; 2013; 2016 (primaries); 2016 (municipal); 2017 (presidential primaries); 2017 (lower-chamber primaries and 19 November 2017 elections)).
- ^ Source: Electoral Service (1925-1969 and 1973 as a percentage only; 1970; 1988-2012; 2013 (primaries); 2013 (regional boards); 2013 (deputies); 2013 (Senate); 2013 (president); 2016 (primaries); 2016 (municipal); 2017). Values for 1952-1969 and 1973 derived from columns 3, 4 and 7.
- ^ Turnout as a percentage of the voting age population.
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