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Year 1 No. 3 September - December 2008

The Electoral Registry and the territorial criterion -Dra. Magdalena Chú Villanueva

Dra. Magdalena Chú Villanueva
National Office of Electoral Processes of Peru



Doctor in Science with mention in Statistics,

Doctor in Public Health,

Master in Public Health with mention in Health and Population, 

Expert in Public Administration, Licentiate in Statistics, Professor of Mathematical Sciences.

She has published various books, essays, and articles on her specialty areas. 

She is the Titular Professor at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia.

In the Public Administration has held various directive and professional positions in the area of statistics. Is currently the Chief of the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE).


Years 2006 and 2007 constituted an intense period of organization and implementation of electoral processes in Latin-America.  This period also discovered the diverse aspects of the administration of electoral processes over which is convenient to reflect to further guarantee an adequate exercise of the right of suffrage of the citizens.

One of such aspects is related to the electoral registries, the same that provide the electoral roll, which constitutes a basic element in the electoral processes, defining who has the possibility to vote.

It fits to note that the electoral registries are complex institutions and their characteristics vary among the Latin-American countries in accordance with their regulations, their location between the state entities, and the type of inscription, among many other factors. Among so various characteristics, is of interest to comment about the type of inscription, and the territorial criterion used.

On the matter, fits to indicate that the registrations can be of automatic or nonautomatic inscription.  It is said automatic when the citizen requests his/her document of identity and simultaneously remains included in the registry of voters.  It is called nonautomatic when the citizen, already provided with a document of identity or another similar document, requests his/her inclusion in the electoral roll1. 

Usually the automatic inscription occurs when the entity in charge of the electoral roll is also in charge of the registration of the identity and, frequently, of the civil registration.  In the past, especially when the registrar electoral entity did not depend directly of the electoral agency, such centralization could give rise to inaccuracies in the electoral roll due to the difficulties for the updating of the data of the voter, the purging, and the control.  Nevertheless, the registrar technology has progressed enormously in the last decades thanks to the incorporation of the electronic technology, by which the operations mentioned can be done of safer, more direct way and allow maintaining the electoral roll in a continuous way. 

The nonautomatic inscription, generally much more dependant of the electoral organisms, has allowed a more direct control of the electoral roll, and an allocation of the voters to their voting centers in a more appropriate way, while the data of the residence is updated; however, it must be elaborated and updated on the occasion of each electoral process, also must be related to the other registries for the updating and purging of the data. This type of inscription has therefore its own risks of errors.

Currently, in Latin-America, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela have registries of automatic inscription.  Among them, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela have more recently established this type of inscription.

On the other hand, the territorial criterion for the inscription can be the political-administrative division or, by default, the electoral division, which can or not correspond to the previous one2. The automatic inscription, since it corresponds to a registry more continuous and also dedicated to assure the identity of the person, tends to use the political-administrative division as territorial criterion of inscription. It is deduced that this can incorporate some difficulty for the allocation of the voter to his/her voting center. Where as the registries with nonautomatic inscription should be more effective in the handling of that relation. It is possible to indicate that this relation has important consequences in the aspect of the representativeness contained in the election, mainly in the local processes.

The territorial criterion used in the inscription of voters is reflected therefore in the voter's access to his/her voting center.  Approaching the ballot box to the voter, the residential vote, are some denominations of the strategies being used to facilitate the access of the voter to his/her voting center.


In the case of Peru, the electoral registry is automatic.  That is to say, the citizen is recognized as a voter when he/she requests his/her document of national Identity (DNI)3. The electoral registry is driven by the National Registry of Identification and Civil Status (RENIEC), an independent entity of the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE), which is the agency in charge of the organization of the electoral processes, and of the National Jury of Elections (JNE) which is in charge of the jurisdictional aspects, and supervising the electoral legality.  For each electoral process, the RENIEC furnishes the JNE with the electoral roll within the terms of the law; this entity oversees the electoral roll and furnishes it to the ONPE to organize the voting.  It fits to say that the RENIEC has prompted the application of modern registry techniques, so much for the inscription as for the updating and purging.


In Peru, the territorial criterion used corresponds to the political-administrative division; being the district the basic unit of the registry of identity and, therefore, the electoral registry.  This type of registry relates the voter with his/her voting center in the district where he/she has informed resides.


Nevertheless, in the country, the surface of the districts tends to be sufficiently extensive, in such a way that can be constituted in a difficulty for the access of the voter to his/her voting center, especially in the rural areas of the Amazon and Andean zone, where many of the districts do not include adequate road or drainage systems.  The voting center that corresponds to a voter is found in the district; but not necessarily within the limits of his/her populated center, and could be found in the other extreme of the district; arriving to it could take not hours but days.  In fact the index of participation in the elections in many of such districts is below the national average, being attributed such fact in part to the difficulties in access to the voting centers.  In such districts, the most affected population by the geographical difficulties and roads is the one who resides in populated centers far from the capital city of the district, where the voting center is usually located.


A strategy that has been used to get the ballot box closer to the voter is to have voting centers in far away populated centers. For the national elections of 2006, the ONPE has received hundreds of requests from populated centers in order to have voting places there. This activity goes back to the year 2001, when the RENIEC experimentally applied the inscription in the registry of identity with a territorial criterion at the populated center level; initiative that finally was not generalized.


Having as an objective getting the ballot box closer to the voter, the ONPE has welcomed the requests from the populated centers. The main issue to solve was the adequacy of the underlying territorial criterion in the electoral roll.  For this, in coordination with the RENIEC, it was included in the electoral roll an additional nonautomatic procedure.  What it attempts is to discriminate within the district electoral roll, the residents of a populated center to group them and to assign them a nearby voting center. 


This implies that electoral officials visit the place and they carry out a work of careful diffusion in order to avoid the errors to which the nonautomatic inscriptions are exposed.  An important aspect of this procedure of elaboration of the electoral register was always to maintain the transparency; since the participation of the different actors involved was sought: citizens, authorities, organizations, etc. 


For the general elections of the year 2006 the ONPE installed in this manner 99 voting centers, which included a total of 449 voting tables, pertaining to 100,415 voters.  In the regional and municipal elections of the same year, 244 voting centers were installed, facilitating the emission of the vote to 174,333 citizens. 


The experience shows the diversity of solutions that can be established in order to resolve inconvenient by-products, under special conditions, of the criteria of elaboration of the electoral roll.  In the case of Peru where an electoral roll with automatic inscription exists, it has resorted to procedures of the nonautomatic inscription to facilitate the citizens of zones of very difficult geographical access, the exercise of their right to vote.  Finally, the ONPE in coordination with the RENIEC is examining how to make the access to the voting centers easier also in certain urban areas, where certainly also the problem of distances to the voting center often arises, and the complications of traffic during the election day.



1  Tratado de derecho electoral comparado en América Latina. Nohlen, Picado y Zovato (compilers).  Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, 1998. P. 252.

2   Op. Cit. Pág. 270.

3   Political Constitution of Peru, article 183°