Uruguay, Electoral System

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Uruguay, Electoral System


The double simultaneous vote, a crucial element of the Uruguayan electoral and party systems, allows the voter to choose a set of specific candidates within the party of his choice. The practice has been used since 1910, although it has undergone some important constitutional changes. The system is similar to that used in the United States in the primary and general presidential elections, except that the voter simultaneously indicates the party of his preference as well as the candidate of his preference within the party. The candidate with the most votes from the party with the most votes wins. Senators and representatives are elected this way as well.

The practice has contributed to the survival of "catch-all" parties with mixed ideologies and class bases, and it has provided a basic mechanism through which differing factions within parties can cohabit and negotiate. However, the double simultaneous vote has been criticized for promoting intraparty factionalism and transforming parties into mere "vote cooperatives." The Left has called it one of the reasons for the perpetuation of an artificial bipartisan format, which is reinforced by the Ley de Lemas. However, the Left itself uses this electoral mechanism when it embraces the strategy of popular fronts. The double simultaneous vote allows it to present unified electoral fronts while still maintaining original party identities.


Ley de Lemas (Law of Party Names), is a key component of the complex Uruguayan electoral process. A complement to the "double simultaneous vote," it regulates the registration and use of party lemas (literally "mottoes," it refers to the formal name) and sublemas (the names of factions within the parties). A 1925 law defined the notions of lema and sublema, the criteria for their registration and guidelines for considering them permanent or temporary. This law recognized the traditional political identities of the Blancos and the Colorados and legitimized the practice of the double simultaneous vote for inter- and intraparty competition. A 1934 law stipulated that proprietorship of a party's lema belonged to the party sublema that had the most legislators, and that this sublema could place conditions on or deny the use of the lema to others. In 1939 another law was passed that restricted the registration of lemas with names similar to existing ones.

The Constitution of 1952 explicitly established a rule that permitted the reunification of the Blanco (National) Party under a single lema. The factionalism in this party had resulted in part from the laws of 1934 and 1939. This rule, however, was applicable only to "permanent" lemas, thereby preventing different parties on the Left from unifying into popular fronts while still maintaining their original identities. It did not prevent the creation of the Frente Amplio in 1971, although this coalition's members still had to vote under the slogan of only one of its constituent parties, the Christian Democrats. When this party left the Frente Amplio in 1989, the political system decided to recognize the Frente as a permanent lema.

See alsoUruguay, Constitutions .


Philip B. Taylor, "The Electoral System in Uruguay," in Journal of Politics 17 (1955): 19-42.

Alberto Pérez Pérez, La ley de lemas (1971).

Aldo Solari, "El sistema de partidos y régimen electoral en el Uruguay," in Rolando Franco, ed., El sistema electoral uruguayo (1986).

Luis E. González, Political Structures and Democracy in Uruguay (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Costa Bonino, Luis. La crisis del sistema político uruguayo: Partidos políticos y democracia hasta 1973. Montevideo, Uruguay: Fundación de Cultura Universitaria, 1995.

Crespo Martínez, Ismael. Tres décadas de política uruguaya: Crisis, restauración y transformación del sistema de partidos. Madrid: Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, 2002.

                                         Fernando Filgueira