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A Step-by-Step Journey Through the Argentine Electoral Process

By | [email protected] | September 9, 2015 1:20pm


It can be difficult at times, to fully understand the Argentine electoral process.

Weird expressions such as ballot captains (sadly, these are not actually superheroes), outdated terms such as telegrams (what is this, 1915?) or even untranslatable ones like fiscales (because it doesn’t mean “prosecutor” when it comes to civic duty day) can make it hard to follow the already complex voting system.

So, in an attempt to describe how things work on an electoral Sunday and briefly explain who is involved in it, we join an Argentine — Timmy (that quintessential Argie name) — as he votes for the first time.

Timmy wakes up pretty early. He didn’t go out the previous night because all the bars close early and shops stop selling alcohol after 10 PM the night before an election, so there wasn’t much to do in Footloose town.

Everybody calm down. It's an election tomorrow.

Everybody calm down. It’s an election tomorrow.

Timmy decides to fulfill his civic duty as soon as possible, so after checking the voting registry online, he heads out to the school that will serve as a voting center he’s been instructed to vote at.

Once there, he locates the table where he has to cast his ballot and greets its authorities, called ballot captainssubstitutes and auxiliaries. They are citizens selected by the body in charge of handling elections, the Electoral Justice. If someone wants to volunteer to be a ballot captain, he/she is allowed to do so and may register on this website.

So, what are their duties?

  • Be present throughout the entire electoral day
  • Make sure voting is carried out in a correct manner
  • Answer to the National Electoral Chamber
  • Check the voting material they get from the national mail employee
  • Set up the voting table
  • Set up the “dark room”
Easy as 1, 2, 3. Just kidding: it's never that easy.

Easy as 1, 2, 3. Just kidding: it’s never that easy. Photo via Council of the Americas.

Once the ballot captain checks Timmy’s ID checks with the voting registry, he or she hands him an envelope signed by all table authorities. The voter enters the class dark room in which there are several tables containing every party’s ballots (remember that each party prints out its own ballot containing all candidates for each political post from that party). After making his decision, he stuffs the ballot into the envelope, goes back outside and proceeds to cast his vote in the ballot box, which marks the end of his electoral journey.

Timmy: That’s it? That doesn’t seem very complicated.

Me: No, hold on. That’s it for Timmy, we still have a long way to go.

Timmy: Damn.

Me: I know.

In his rush to get to the family asado, Timmy didn’t notice the partisan fiscales present at the table.

Fiscales are not table authorities: they are people sent by political parties to represent their respective

Ballot captains and fiscales. Photo via

Ballot captains and fiscales. Photo via

parties’ interests and make sure there is no shady business during the electoral day. Basically, they oversee the ballot captains’ work and make sure their party’s votes are correctly counted. If something goes wrong, they have to submit a formal complaint to the ballot captain. They’re also responsible for replacing missing ballots.

There are four kinds of fiscales:

  • The table fiscal oversees a specific table from the time it opens until the final tally documentation is submitted.
  • General fiscales not only have an assigned table but also coordinate all fiscales present at each school.
  • IT fiscales control the provisional recount’s development.
  • Fiscales who oversee recount forms and the resolutions the Electoral Justice make about challenged votes.

Let’s fast forward a little bit to 6:00 PM.

Once voting hours are over, authorities close down ballot boxes and begin the table recount, where they tally up votes and fill out an electoral form with the results, which they later transcribe onto a telegram. Fiscales oversee the whole process and challenge any irregularities, if needed.

 How are votes sorted out?

  • Valid votes: They’re divided into positive and blank votes, depending on whether people vote for someone, or no one.
  • Annulled votes. The ones that don’t count.
  • Challenged votes: These are votes challenged by one or more fiscales who write down their issue on a special form, which will be attached to the telegram sent to the Electoral Justice.
  • Identity-challenged vote: when table authorities or fiscales believe the person who voted used someone else’s ID.

Tell me about telegrams.

I love your excitement.

I wonder who she's voting for. Photo via

I wonder who she’s voting for. Photo via

Once the recount is over, ballot captains write down the results on a telegram, which they sign along with the fiscales. That telegram is handed over to a post office agent who then sends two copies: one to the district’s Electoral Board and another to the Justice Ministry.

Once telegrams start arriving at their destination, the provisional recount begins. These results, which are the ones you see on TV the same day as the election, do not officially count but work as a good indicator of what the final outcome will be. Candidates even use them to acknowledge whether they have won or lost, since the definitive one usually doesn’t change much.

Are we there yet?

We’re almost done, Timmy, hang in there.

Once elections end, political parties have 48 hours to present official complaints over irregularities before the Federal Courthouse in charge of electoral matters, or the Electoral Board, depending on the case.

The definitive recount consists of revising every table’s challenged votes and adding them to the final electoral forms when needed.

Let’s not forget that this whole process can be complicated by angry activists burning ballot boxes, fraud and a number of other unsavory complications.

That’s it, Timmy, that’s the Argentine electoral system in a nutshell.

You were still talking? I’ve been playing FIFA for over an hour now.

Damn it, Timmy.