Saturday 19 June 2021

U.S. (and Canada) Could Take A Page From Costa Rica: The “Cedula”

Watching the CNN special reports "Democracy in Peril" and my own experience, I wondered why the US (and Canada) do not have the 'cedula' like here in Costa Rica.

Rico’s TIOC BULL – The United States is gearing for the 2020 presidential elections. And without a doubt, alleged voter fraud will be part of the process. Though studies suggest voter fraud isn’t a widespread problem in the US, it does happen.

In 2014, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, found 31 known cases of impersonation fraud in one billion votes cast in all US elections between 2000 and 2014. And in 2012, News21 analysis of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 turned up 10 cases of voter impersonation.

The cedula in Costa Rica, the only document you will ever need

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To date, there has not been (to my best to search any cases) one case of voter fraud in post-1948 Costa Rica elections, the year when the elections were deemed fraudulent and annulled by Congress, leading to the Costa Rican Civil War later that year.

Why has there been no or almost no voter fraud in Costa Rica’s elections in the last 50 years? One word, “cedula”.


Front of the Cedula in Costa Rica

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In Costa Rica, in recent years, the cédula de identidad, is a credit card-sized plastic card that includes a photo of the person, a personal identification number, and the card’s owner personal information (complete name, birth date, and others). The cedula is issued to every Costa Rican over the age of 12.



Back of the cedual in Costa Rica. Recent changes have eliminated the “sex” or “gender” on the cedula.

Foreigners with legal residency in the country are not issued the “cedula”. Legal residents are issued a ‘Dimex’ as the residency card is often referred to; all others use their passport which, according to my local bank manager (if you can find one), is the only acceptable ID other than the cedula or dimex.


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The cedual in Nicaragua

The cedula – Cédula de Identidad – is in practice in many countries in Central and South America and Europe.


The cedual in Italy

In Costa Rica, like its neighbors above and below, a cedula is the only valid identity document for many purposes; for example, a driving license or passport is not valid to open a bank account. The term “cedula” may also colloquially refer to the number on the identity document.

Former Costa Rican president would not be able to open a bank account, renew his driver’s license or even pay for groceries with plastic without his cedula

A cedula is given to citizens upon birth or at the time of naturalization for immigrants (the cedula number starts with 8).

In the United States and Canada, has no ‘cedula’.  The Social Security Number (Social Insurance Number in Canada) is not a cedula.

Before you go off on me, a driver’s license, state (or province) ID card or any other photo ID card, issued in the US and Canada, to be best of my knowledge, does not include citizenship status.

My Ontario photo ID card and driver’s license (you can have one or the other) or health card does not state my Canadian citizenship, yet it would be my ID to vote. Many of my friends in Ontario have the same document and are not Canadian, only legal residents. They don’t vote because they know they are not Canadian.

The US election administration is highly de-centralized, with each state setting its own rules and local officials administering them. Voter ID requirements have huge variations.

Under this system voter impersonation – in which a person who is not eligible to vote in an election does so by voting under the name of another eligible voter or a person who is eligible, to vote a second or more times by otherwise pretending to be another eligible voter.

Outdated voter registration is perhaps a more serious problem in the U.S. that voter impersonation. In 2012 NPR published figures related to the Pew study claiming that over 1.8 million dead people were registered to vote nationwide and over 3 million voters were registered in multiple states.

All the above could all be solved –  listen up America (and Canada) – with a simple, one document does it all, called the “cedula”.

Cedula (Costa Rica) trivia:

  • It’s free. Meaning it costs nothing to obtain one (save for the 25 colones to buy a stamp to put on the form requesting it), though it costs the state ¢8,000 colones to produce one. However, due to the many replacements, the TSE has begun charging for a replacement cedula after issues.
  • The current cedula numbering started on October 25, 1956.
  • Cedula numbers are made of three parts: the first number corresponds to the province where the person was born, the second indicates the Volume in which it is registered in the Registry, and the third to the entry of the annotation of birth.
  • In the case of naturalized persons, the number is composed in the same form, but the number eight is recorded in the place of the province.
  • 1 – San Jose, 2 -Alajuela, 3 – Cartago, 4 – Heredia, 5 – Guanacaste, 6 – Puntarenas, 7 – Limon, 8 – naturalized, 9 – Special Birth Certificate (special cases).
  • A youth cedula is issued to Costa Ricans from 12 to 17 years of age and includes the aacronymTIM (Tarjeta de Indentificación de Menores) – a minor’s card.
  • The cedula has no expiration date (save for the minor’s card which has to be replaced at the age of 18).
  • The cedula is a all-in-one identification card.
  • The cedula is more important (in-country) than a passport or driver’s license.
  • Costa Ricans 65 (Cuiadana de Oro) and over can use the cedula to ride the public bus and train for free.
  • You can look up the ID of any Costa Rican with his or her cedula number. Try it here.

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We strive for accuracy in its reports. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, send us an email. The Q reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it’s accuracy.

"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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