A "Fair" Vote

With a lot of elections this year, the idea of a fair vote goes beyond Nicaraguan borders. This seems like a good chance to explain the election process in Nicaragua and contrast it with both what you may be more familiar with and what appears to be a model.

First, some references.

What is a Cédula?

To vote in Nicaragua (and many other Latin American countries) you need a cédula. It is a national ID card, in theory issued to every Nicaraguan citizen when they reach (for our concerns here) voting age. It is actually mandatory that you have one and law enforcement can demand to see it. In other words, it is illegal to be here without one.

The idea of a national ID card comes up in the US every few years. Your Social Security number has been (sometimes illegally) used as such an ID. Illegally because the law specifically says it cannot be used as an ID. It's use has been shoehorned into your tax ID for the IRS and grandfathered into use for other purposes (such as the pilot's ID number). Some states (the state of Washington being an example) tried to require it in order to obtain/renew a driver's license but that administrative decision was later recinded.

While 50 years ago, the argument that a national id was a breech of privacy made sense, today there is no such privacy. That is, in spite of how many different id numbers you may have, computer technology has made it easy for governments to effectively have a single id/place with all your data.

In Nicaragua and Costa Rica, I have never heard anyone complain about a national id being an invasion of privacy. It just seems to be considered how things work. The result is that most everything--from getting a telephone to voting requires a cédula. Irritating for newcomers to Nicaragua who don't yet have one but it is practical/does make sense.

So, everyone can vote?

Much like the naive statement that everyone of voting age can register and vote in the US, you can say the same about Nicaragua. In fact, as voting simply requires you to have a document which you legally must have anyway, it appears that being able to vote is far easier in Nicaragua. In many ways, it actually is but there are two specific complaints:

  1. There is no absentee voting in Nicaragua. You must travel to your polling place to cast your vote. This requirement is justified by some by saying "if you are not here, you should be casting your vote". Some will agree, others will disagree.
  2. Some assert that cédulas are not issued/issued quickly to those who oppose the current government. We have seen posts here in NL that assert that. What is missing is an organized effort (for example, some organization) bringing this issue forward rather than just individual statements.

Is there a solution?

There appears to be and Venezuela seems to have done it. If you watch the video about the election process in Venezuela there seems to be no question of the registration/voting process. The issues in Venezuela have to do with whether an incumbent can take advantage of their position by using government resources to their own advantage. This problem is clearly not unique to Venezuela. It is an issue in Nicaragua as well as the US. But,it is a different issue.

With the price of technology dropping, it would appear that other countries could take advantage of the system design being used in Venezuela. Because of the checks built into the system along with the level of automation, the ongoing cost of operation is lower than what is currently being done. In Nicaragua it would mean automation where none exists. In the US it would mean replacing a combination of systems--from manual to electronic with insufficient checks--and different registration processes/requirments with something similar to what is used in Venezuela.

While there are many other pieces of the election process to address (in most if not all countries) this could at least fix one.

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Some National ID

seems to be inevitable going forward. I have no idea when it will happen. There is still stiff opposition to intrusion by the federal government in everyday life in the US, with some justification.

Barriers are quickly falling to data access by government agencies. Law enforcement agencies at every level now have easy access to cell phone records. Not the actual conversations, but the logs that show where a person is or was, to the nearest cell tower. Many Americans have voluntarily provided information about themselves to qualify for a defense job, to qualify for Global Entry, or the nautical equivalent. I don't know the extent of the "centralization" of all this available data, but my past work experience leads me to believe that some agency is quietly putting all these disparate pieces together in some bank of super computers.

This quick and easy access to cell records makes the job of law enforcement easier, but is subject to serious abuse. A married politician who spends a couple of afternoons a week with his girlfriend would be vulnerable to extortion; other scenarios are not hard to imagine.

In the US everyone uses their driver's license as ID because in the US just about everyone drives. Even if you live in Manhattan you rent a car for weekend jaunts out of the city. Most states issue an ID card similar to the DL if you don't drive.

An argument is raised that the criteria for issuing a driver's license varies widely from state to state. It's still possible to obtain a fraudulent license in some states, and of course, some states issue licenses to illegal immigrants, where true identification of the individual is impossible.

The US State Department issues a cute "Passport Card" that can be used for identification, and for crossing some borders (not for travel to Nicaragua yet, as far as I know). I used it recently to come back from Mexico. A very stiff laminate, RFID chip, completely waterproof, sturdy, business card size, it's much easier to travel with than a passport. You can have both. This IMO would be a good example of what a "US cedula" could look like.

Like everyone reading this, I have the same anxiety about the federal government enjoying that much, and that extensive, information about its citizens.

I don't want to turn this thread into an argument about voting, elections, etc, but it is looking like this election will be one with two winning votes: Romney is surging in the polls and may get the popular vote by some significant margin, but Ohio still looks like it will cast its electoral votes for Obama. Without Ohio's electoral votes the "road to the White House" becomes problematic for Romney, even if he captures the majority of the popular votes. It's never been done.

While this "electoral vs popular" reality has nothing to do with voter ID it will provide an on-going platform for talking about it.

And you wonder why

You wake the sleeping lioness of Jinotega.

Stop lobbing up tennis balls for her will you!!

Good luck selling the ID card...only 117,014,020 Americans have passports (population was 311,591,917 at that time)

Um, did I say how much I hate Windows again?

Very much. And stuff

You're lucky

I'm taking a vacation.

Back soon.

The issue with the current US election is that there is no national ID -- and certain parties are putting up billboards saying that voting requires one even though the current laws were overturned by judges.

Getting a national ID set up in the UK hasn't been easy going. Americans are probably a decade or so behind the UK on this one and the same cultural imperatives apply. 50% of the people in West Philadelphia didn't drive. My boss had never driven (and he'd lived in Paris at one point). I suspect the percentage is higher for people in Manhattan (I've got a friend who lives there who doesn't drive to the best of my knowledge, and he may never have learned to drive, and he had a Presidential Fellow appointment at Temple University -- something like a fully endowed chair anywhere else).

The reason for all the protest was the attempt by state Republican administrations to pass laws without providing the voter ids, with people not being told that they didn't have to pay for them. It's not nation-wide (voting in the US is at the state level, and is governed by state rules with Federal oversight).

Fraud is minimal, so it's not a pressing problem like passing single payer health insurance.

So, since my time is limited on this library computer, I can't expand this through my Google-foo.

Rebecca Brown

Well I Didn't

really want to start an argument about . ..anything. I agree that voter fraud is minimal but it certainly exists. The thread was really about cedulas and ID's.

Florida just purged 198 non-citizen "voters" from the voting rolls, over the objections of Dems who used a technicality in Federal Law to object to the purge. Purge went ahead, federal judges found that the law did not apply to non-citizens. If the Dems had their way the non-citizens could have voted. That's just the 198 they happened to find. There could be hundreds more.

My point has always been, why tolerate any fraud, real or potential? There HAVE been instances of voter fraud in the US; JFK's election was supposedly tainted by fraud in Chicago. Much of the political process is discouraging to the average person; last night I watched Obama look into the camera and lie to the American people about his treatment of the Libya debacle. If the voting process is fraudulent then the average person will be less encouraged to vote, assuming the fix is in and his vote won't count

There is a large body of federal law to protect voter's rights. I really see no problem in providing a photo ID in order to vote provided the relevant concerns are addressed. . I noticed in following up with the Global Entry program that the kiosk takes a print of four fingers and immediately verifies the identify of the entrant. Why could we not have something like this at polling stations to definitively identify voters? That would obviate the need for any ID at all.

If there is fraud in the US

what makes you think that we won't have fraud here in Nica. Twenty years ago I got my passport in Nicaragua without setting one foot in any government's office. I paid 100 dollars, gave the lady 2 photos and a photo copy of my US greencard and my birth certificate and 2 days later I had my passport. It would seemed that now days things are a little harder. I think is mostly a matter of whom do you know and how much are you willing to pay. There has been more cases of foreigners getting cedulas illegally. High profile personnel has been arrested and convicted. Who knows for how long and how many cedulas this particular guy handed out. But it seems that he did it long enough to live a lifestyle well above what his salary could afford him. I am pretty sure there are still guys doing it. Only that now the price will go up. More hands to grease. By the way, I got my cedula yesterday, the right way, I mean legal. They brought it to my home. I am impressed. It only took 1 month and a half. My cousins and I were fingerprinted. They, my cousins have dual citizenship, US and Nica. Crooks and cheats will always be trying to get away with their scams right up until they get caught.


Papahoward, California you noticed Obama's lie too. As usual I planned to boycott the corrupted election process but once again was scared into voting for the least awful of 2 candidates. More coal, more oil and more military isn't going to help my grandchildren live in a peaceful world.

Fingerprints as ID

This has been used in Venezuela for at least the last two presidential elections. It seems so simple/obvious. Thumb prints are not taken when you get your Nicaraguan cédula. The data is there.

Some will say that to have a thumb print good enough for unique identification you need more than a $100 scanner. That may be true but all the system needs to do is say :"He claims he is Joe Schmaltz. Does this thumb print look close to that of Joe Schmaltz?" Very different from having to find a person based on what thumb print appeared at a crime scene.

That should handle identify of the individual. The other big fraud situation is mainpulation of the vote count. The system in Venezela addresses that by giving the voter a receipt. While the video didn't explain the process it did state that the voter could then verify that their vote was counted correctly. This seems like the other area with a simple technological solution.

One thing not mentioned and I don't know the status of this in Venezuela is the software involved. There have been decisions in the US that while the electronic machines used to vote are purchased, the software remains property of the vendor. This is totally wrong. The software must be peer-reviewed which pretty much means Open Source. Nothing magic here -- this software is pretty trivial. It just takes legislation to say "that is how it will work".

My thumbprints were taken with the cedula

I think there are a lot of ways to do verifications and eventually, the US will sort out one that's not the equivalent of a poll tax or not a poll tax only if you know that the state must issue an ID for free. SC has made it difficult to get state IDs -- per friend who lives there and who doesn't drive. Taking the machines for ID to schools would be one way to do it (DMV locations are not necessarily easy to reach for people -- hers is something like an hour or an hour and a half away).

Rebecca Brown


Hehehehehe! Lioness of Jinotega! hahahaha, funny! a sage and a lioness, both from Jinotega! something in the water?

"Maybe, just once, someone will call me 'sir' without adding, 'you're making a scene." -Homer J. Simpson

And that voting age is...

16 in Nicaragua.

All cedulas, even expired ones, are good until the end of 2012 (after this next Municipal Election).

I'm Conflicted

just like everyone about becoming a file in this monstrous data base. Other countries don't give the national ID a second thought; some countries keep close track of visitors (hotels are required to submit daily lists of passport names and numbers).

In some countries when people move they are required to visit the local police station and register their new address. We have little or none of that in the US yet.

In some cases the trade-off between becoming better known and reaping some advantages seems worthwhile. If for example, I could provide bona fides that would allow me to skip the airline inspection line and walk directly to my plane, well, that seems like a very fair trade-off.


To a certain extent, I think the openness about a national ID in some places is what makes it less of an issue. Assuming they are really issued to to everyone and not to those who don't exist the idea that you get everything except a driver's license (particularly voter registration) with one document is certainly an advantage.

Just to list a few uses:

  • Voter registration
  • Retirement plan
  • Health care (in Nicaragua a cédula is not required to get the free health care but it is used for enrollment in government and private for pay plans.
  • Opening a bank account
  • Getting credit (e.g., buying a toaster on credit at El Gallo Más Gallo)
  • Having a way to identify yourself with law enforcement and all government agencies.
  • For someone like me with 3 Hs in my name, having a way to show someone how to spell it.