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Chile's voter registration reform gives major boost to democracy

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With the US presidential election warming up, the political parties are sure to swarm across the country, registering new voters.

While they may lament that many seem uninterested, they have it easy compared to Chilean operators. Here, many people stay off the voter rolls not necessarily because they are politically apathetic, but because they want to avoid a hefty fine.

But now, under a law passed this week, all that will change. Voter registration will be automatic for all qualified residents. And the vote? Voluntary. No more fines. It will be up to the candidates to inspire people to the polls.

"Yesterday, the national congress approved the law to establish automatic inscription and the voluntary vote," President Sebastian Piñera said Wednesday. "This means that almost 5 million Chileans who didn't participate in our democracy will be citizens with the right to vote."

Registered voters in Chile had long been required to cast ballots, under the threat of a fine of up to $224. That means that itinerant miners, overworked house cleaners, and anyone else who may not be near their voting location on election day has a big incentive to stay unregistered. In fact, only one in seven low-income youths is registered.

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