In Brazil, everyone has to vote — it’s a law. However, when you vote, you have two options to “not vote.” The first is to vote for no candidate, which means you don’t think any of the candidates are fit to hold the office. The other is to vote “white,” which means you give your vote to the candidate who gets the most votes numerically. In order to win, a candidate must obtain a certain percentage of the overall vote, including votes for no candidate. Thus in Brazil, “no candidate” an win the election, in which case the election has to be held again.

In the US, not voting is equivalent to voting “white” in a Brazilian election. Thus the act of not voting doesn’t make the statement that “I think this election is a joke.” Rather, it means “I cast my vote with the majority among people who care to vote.” In the Three Ring Circus that is California, you could vote for No Recall, but you could also vote for a candidate in case the recall passed. All those who didn’t vote for a candidate after voting No Recall just voted for Arnold. All those who didn’t vote in the 2000 Presidential Election voted for whoever won their state.

I’m not saying the Brazilian system is better, but comparison points out clearly the political significance of not going to the polls.