Elections and voting rights for expats in Loja Ecuador

A frequently asked question we encounter is about the ability of expats/immigrants to participate in the electoral process of their new country. "Can I vote?" "How do I register to vote?" "Do I have to vote?" Let's explore together the answers to these and similar concerns.

First let me point out that suffrage (the right to vote) is not only constitutionally guaranteed to all Ecuadorian citizens but it is also an obligation. Citizens are required to cast ballots between the ages of 18 and 65 with only a few limited exemptions where voting is optional. Interestingly, one may vote starting as early as 16 years of age, and of course, one may continue voting long after reaching 65 - it's just not required that they do so.

For natural citizens, once a cedula is recorded in the civil registry then voting is mandatory and if one fails to cast a ballot then they are subject to a fine unless they present proof that they meet one of the exemptions. The permitted exemptions include being disabled, living abroad, serving in the National Police or military, or being unable to read or write.

Typical voting booth
The National Electoral Council (CNE) is the body responsible for enacting the voting laws passed by the General Assembly and for carrying out the entire process. For example, 60 days prior to an election they put up a website where one can enter their cedula number and learn where will be the location of their polling place.

But what is the process for foreigners/expats/immigrants? Newly revised laws in December of 2019 now state foreign citizens residing in the country may only vote if they register to vote. Since 2009, they were automatically registered upon getting their cedula, which technically was against the Code of Democracy law that states  two requirements: "legally residing five years in the country and having registered in the electoral register."

To correct the error, the CNE has removed over 113,000 people from the voting roll who had not met the requirements. What this means is that some expats who have been here for several years and exercising the right to vote will now have to register before they can go to the polls. In Loja, that office — known as the Tribunal Electoral — is on Bernardo Valdivieso street between Vicente Rocafuerte and 10 de Agosto, across from SRI.

If you have lived in Ecuador (not just Loja, but anywhere in the country) for 5 years and you wish to vote then you must register, and you can do so at any time but should definitely do so by six months before an election. That allows the CNE enough time to get you "into the system" so you will be able to find your polling place as mentioned above.

Sample voting card
Remember, once you cast a ballot then you are obligated to continue voting in all future elections unless you can claim one of the exemptions. Suffrage is a right that should be taken seriously and not abused. It behooves you to learn about the issues and the candidates to make an informed choice.

Just a few more notes to wrap up this blog post so you will know what to expect which may be different from a North American political system...
  • The political party convention to select a candidate lasts only one day.
  • Articles 99(1) and 160 of the 2009 Electoral Law, establish a 50 percent quota — parity — and the alternation of male and female candidates. This means if a party won four seats in a district, for instance, it would be represented in Congress by two male and two female legislators.
  • Ecuador allows political parties to begin campaigning  and announce their candidates for President and Vice President only six weeks prior to the Election date.
  • No polling results are to be announced beginning 10 days prior to the election date.
  • All campaigning ends three days prior to the election, and the sale of alcohol is prohibited during this three day period.
  • On voting day (Sunday) it is prohibited to hold any public meetings.
  • For presidential elections, Ecuador uses a two-round voting system. To win outright and avoid a runoff election, presidential candidates need to get 40 percent of the vote and hold at least a 10 percent advantage over the nearest rival in the first round. Otherwise, the two candidates receiving the most votes go to a runoff.
Of course, there is a whole lot more to know about voting in Ecuador in general, and Loja in particular — such as referendums and local positions (mayor, city council, prefect, etc.). This is why the law stipulates one must have lived here for five years before winning the right to vote. That time allows one to become familiar with the many nuances of our politics.

If you'd like to know more, message Life in Loja and we'll be happy to chat.


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