When I made the decision to study abroad in Quito, Ecuador, I was prepared for my world to completely turn around. I read hundred of pages of paperwork about life in Ecuador and readied myself for changes in culture, schedule, diet and overall lifestyle. Because of this, my transition to life abroad went much smoother than anticipated, and I enjoyed the constant stimulation of an entirely new environment. Yet, despite all my research, the biggest surprise to me came in how I was able to experience political life in a country where I am not a citizen. The government of the Republic of Ecuador isn’t all too different from that of the United States. The country is a representative democracy divided into three branches. They elect a president by popular vote, and their Supreme Court is the highest authority. Despite these similarities on paper, living and studying in Ecuador gave me a glimpse into the many differences that take shape in a community through different political systems.
About a month into my semester abroad, Ecuador held an important referendum vote. The referendum involved seven yes or no questions that would change the country’s approach to democracy, including a referendum that would only allow a president to run for reelection one time. The two major political parties were divided, campaigning for “Seven Times Yes” or “Seven Times No” for each question on the referendum. The ballot did not include a single candidate running for an elected position, yet there was deep power in those seven questions. Watching Ecuador’s campaign from a third-party perspective was an incredible learning experience, and it reminded me of the decision-making power that is the right to vote. While the controversy surrounding this important vote was certainly eye-opening, it is the country’s voting policies that have stayed with me since then. In Ecuador, voting is mandatory for any literate individual between the ages of 18 and 65. Citizens can be fined or even barred from signing a lease if they fail to show up to the polls on election day. Ecuador also implements a 72- hour dry law or ‘ley seca.’
This law prevents the sale of alcohol for the 72 hours surrounding the election. During this time, all campaigning comes to a harsh halt. This three-day buffer time is intended to bring calm before the election and allow citizens to decide on their vote free from distractions. While some Ecuadorians see these restrictions as a means to ensure that the whole country participates in election decisions, others recognize how many apathetic voters make decisions at random or according to their family’s political ties. My host family spent the day before the election talking through each of the seven votes and choosing a position as a family. On election day my host dad brought me with him into the polls so I could experience an Ecuadorian vote for myself. My host family’s inclusion during the election weekend allowed me to experience such a powerful component of life in Ecuador: the civic duty of all citizens to make decisions regarding the country’s future. The regulations surrounding voting in Ecuador opened my eyes to the different ways in which democracy comes to life across the world. As I watched my Ecuadorian community prepare for the referendum, I was reminded of the gift of democracy: the opportunity to have a voice in the direction of the communities to which we belong and a celebration of the power of the people.