Against expectations, pandemic did not have a significant effect on voter turnout

Against expectations, pandemic didn't lower voter turnout that much in Brazil
Polling station in Valparaíso, Goiás. Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ABr

Brazilians went to the polls on Sunday to elect new mayors and city council members in each of its over 5,000 municipalities. As the country’s electoral system only allows for in-person voting, many experts predicted a massive abstention rate in the 2020 election. And while turnout was the lowest on record, it only showed a slight change from previous elections. The total rate of abstention was 24 percent — up six percentage points from the last municipal election of 2016, and only 3.8 points higher than the national election in 2018.

It is impossible to pinpoint exactly how many people skipped the election due to Covid-19. Indeed, voter turnout has been falling consistently for years, as Brazilians grow more disillusioned with political parties and democratic institutions.

The state capital with the lowest turnout was Porto Alegre — in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul — where one-third of voters did not show up. The highest turnout (over 81 percent) was recorded in the Amazonas state capital of Manaus, which was the first Brazilian city to experience a collapsed health system due to Covid-19.Over 5.8 million Brazilians have been infected with the novel coronavirus, while over 165,000 have died. To avoid turning polling stations into coronavirus breeding grounds, electoral authorities made the use of masks, enacted social distancing guidelines, provided hand sanitizer for voters, and advised voters to bring their own pens in order to sign in.

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