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Chile: Plebiscite on New Constitution Scheduled

(Sept. 22, 2020) On March 29, 2020, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera issued Decree 388, which calls for a national plebiscite on October 25, 2020, on whether Chilean citizens want a new constitution and through what mechanism. The repeal of the current constitution, which was enacted in 1980 during the Pinochet regime, emerged as one of the main demands of protesters who mobilized throughout the country during the last two months of 2019. The social and political unrest left several dead and injured. The protesters blamed the current constitution for causing great inequalities in the country because it gives the state a secondary role in the provision of basic services and resources to the population, favoring their privatization instead.

The plebiscite will ask two questions to record citizens’ preferences. The first question, “Do you want a new Constitution?” has a yes or no answer. The second question asks, “What type of body should draft the new Constitution?” and provides two options for constitutional conventions: one made up of members elected by popular vote and current lawmakers, or one composed exclusively of members elected by popular vote.

The Electoral Service (Servel) has issued rules and instructions for the plebiscite, according to which adults older than 60 will have exclusive voting hours between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. Outside of this time, they will have preferential treatment to vote during the entire process. Other voters will be able to vote in this time range as long as there are no citizens older than 60 waiting to do so.

Pregnant women, people with disabilities, and voters who require assistance to cast their votes will also have preferential treatment throughout the voting process. Those over 60 may also excuse themselves from serving as a vocal de mesa—a citizen charged by the Electoral Board with the obligatory duty to receive the votes cast by the voters and carry out the first count, among other functions entrusted by Law No. 18,700 on Elections. Out of concern for transmitting the coronavirus, the voting booth will not have curtains or doors in order to prevent voters from having physical contact with the booth when entering to cast their votes. However, the president of the polling station must place the voting booths in such a way that they allow observing the entry of voters and ensure total privacy while voting.

Voters are required to sign in at the polling station, register, and mark their preference on an electoral card using their own blue pencil or one provided by the president of the polling station.

Also out of concern for transmitting the coronavirus, voters will cast their votes alone, except when justified assistance is needed, and polling station staff must ensure they offer immediate assistance to voters to enable them to vote quickly so that they spend as little time as possible in the voting place. The maximum number of voters allowed in each polling place at one time will be determined by multiplying the number of tables in the precinct by 10, in order to control the capacity at all times.