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São Paulo city to offer free transportation on Election Day

São Paulo Mayor Ricardo Nunes on Monday said the municipality will offer free buses on Brazil’s Election Day, next Sunday.

Brazil’s biggest city did not offer free transportation during the October 2 first round. The measure announced today will only apply to buses, run by the municipality — as opposed to the subway and trains, run by the state government.

Free public transportation on Election Day has become a major topic of national debate, with left-wing parties requesting that city governments and federal courts consider making transportation more accessible to voters.

Voting is mandatory in Brazil, but bus fares can be prohibitively expensive for poorer voters, who tend to favor the Workers’ Party and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Ahead of the first round, Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso ruled that municipal governments were not mandated to offer free public transportation on Election Day if they had not done so in the past, but that those that had already adopted this policy previously should stick to it

Later, the Supreme Court confirmed in a floor vote that mayors cannot be punished for offering free transportation on Election Day. Some had feared that the measure could be a breach of electoral law.

“It’s a nod to democracy,” Mr. Nunes said in a press conference. He also argued that abstention rates were actually higher in wealthier neighborhoods.

On Election Day, São Paulo will have 2,000 more buses than usual for a Sunday. The total operation, the mayor said, will cost the city BRL 7 million (USD 1.3 million).

President Jair Bolsonaro got more votes in São Paulo state than his rival Lula, 47-40, but Lula won in the capital, 47-38. Free buses are thus more likely to help Lula rather than the incumbent.

Separately, the city of Belo Horizonte also announced it will offer free buses on Election Day, a measure it had also not adopted in the first round. In the city, Mr. Bolsonaro narrowly defeated Lula in the first round, 46-42. Belo Horizonte is the capital of Minas Gerais — and since 1989, no one has won the presidential election without winning a majority of votes in the state.

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