What Other Countries Are Doing to Make Voting Accurate and Accessible



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Getting Out the Vote

America's electoral process has been in the news quite a bit since early April, with many presidential primaries postponed or even canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With 16 of those now scheduled for the next two and a half months — 12 in June alone — it remains to be seen how each state, not to mention each voter, will proceed in these uncertain times. While the American electoral system is unlikely to be overhauled right now, many are casting a newly critical eye upon it. Given all that, it's worth noting that there are varied electoral systems in use all over the world — many with higher voter registration, better turnout, and generally more trusted practices than we have in the U.S. What are those countries doing right, and could the U.S. eventually adopt those practices? 

Sweden: Automatic Voter Registration

Sweden: Automatic Voter Registration

Voter registration in Sweden is automatic — any Swede already documented in its Tax Agency's Population Register 30 days prior to an election is automatically eligible to vote. (By contrast, as of April 2020, fewer than half of U.S. states have enacted Automatic Voter Registration processes, a tactic that lets voters opt-out of registration status rather than opting in.)

Sweden: Revote Option

Sweden: Revote Option

In Sweden, voter cards are sent out 30 days prior to the election date, and Swedish residents can vote in a number of ways: at their polling stations up to 18 days in advance of the election; from abroad via mail or by visiting an embassy or consulate; and even by proxy (meaning someone can submit your voter card for you) in the event of advanced age, illness, disability, incarceration, and more. Finally, Swedes who change their mind after an initial vote can go back and revote based on their new point of view.

Australia: Registration Oversight
Australia: Registration Oversight by AEC images (CC BY-SA)

Australia: Registration Oversight

The Australian Electoral Commission's (AEC) website is a central, well-organized resource where residents can enroll to vote, check enrollment status, update personal details, find their electoral division, and more. The AEC also maintains a permanent electoral roll for the Commonwealth that is compiled on a state- and territory-wide basis.

Australia: Compulsory Voting
Australia: Compulsory Voting by AEC images (CC BY-SA)

Australia: Compulsory Voting

Combine the permanent electoral roll with the fact that voting is also compulsory in the Land Down Under — those who don't vote can be fined — and you have a government that is both determined to incentivize voters to register and keep up with those who move to a new location but don't bother to let the government know. According to a 2018 New York Times story, this compels about 96% of Australians to register to vote, and around 90% of them then follow through on casting that ballot.

Canada: Voter Registration Timing

Canada: Voter Registration Timing

Voter turnout can be a pretty good indicator of voting ease, and Canada's — while not nearly as high as nations with compulsory systems — is still consistently a few percentage points higher than that of the U.S. One reason for this might be that Canadians can register to vote even on election days, whereas in the U.S. there is a voter registration deadline that differs by state (some states do allow election day voter registration). The voter registration rates are higher in Canada, too, more than likely due to its system of letting residents register to vote via their Canada Revenue Agency tax forms.

Ranked Voting

Ireland: Ranked Voting

The Emerald Isle allows voters to rank candidates rather than choosing just one. This allows Irish voters to vote for a third-party candidate without worrying that their vote will be a throw-away. When votes are counted, if their first choice doesn't receive a majority vote, their second-ranked choice gets that vote, and so on, until there's one candidate in the majority. This system is also in place in Australia and India. There's only one state in the U.S. that has used ballots to this effect in federal elections: Maine, which in 2018 elected a U.S. senator and two House members via ranked ballots. Other states have used it for municipal and other less high-profile elections.

Hands in Air

India: Millions of Election Officials

With more than 900 million registered voters, it's important to have a well-run electoral system, and India does a pretty impressive job of it. According to Aljazeera, India employs 11 million election officials, who "travel by foot, road, trains, helicopters, boats and sometimes elephants to reach remote areas." In 2009, a polling station was even set up in a remote area of western India for just one voter.

India: EVMs and Indelible Ink
Kailash Kumar/istockphoto

India: Electronic Voting Machines and Indelible Ink

Voting in India is conducted by electronic voting machines, or EVMs, and each machine travels in a GPS-monitored car to track movements and prevent fraud. India also uses indelible ink, which stays on the skin for days or even weeks, to mark voters' left index fingers after they cast ballots to prevent repeat voting.

German Flag

Germany: Proportional Representation

For one of its two parliamentary legislative branches — similar to what would be the U.S. House of Representatives — Germans are asked to cast not one vote, but two. Citizens first vote to elect a member of parliament in their district, which determines how half of the nearly 600 seats are assigned. The second vote is for a political party, which decides how the other half are assigned. Germans often split their votes between multiple parties, and there are other measures in place to ensure that political parties are proportionally represented — all of which helps promote a political system in which candidates and parties are encouraged to work together and form coalitions. Germany's electoral system of proportional representation, or PR, is complicated, and opponents argue that even some Germans don't understand it. Proponents, however, say that its complexity makes it a more fair and representational form of government, giving smaller parties a chance to make an impact and providing for broader political debate.

Costa Rican Flag

Costa Rica: A Two-Round System

It might come as a surprise to some that, in the Americas, Costa Rica has the highest score on the Electoral Integrity Project's index (79, whereas the U.S. clocks in with 61). This is due in large part to its practice of proportional representation voting in the legislative branch. In presidential elections, Costa Rica also uses a two-round system, meaning that if no candidate receives at least 40% of the votes to win in the first round, a second runoff vote is held between the two candidates with the largest number of first-round votes.


Malta: Single Transferable Voting

This southern European island country is one of a few around the world that uses a single transferable vote, or SVT, system. This system combines proportional representation with ranked voting. According to the Electoral Reform Society, Malta's voters rank a list of candidates, using "1" for their favorite and so on, voting for as many or as few candidates as they wish. The way the votes are then tallied results in "bigger areas [electing] a small team of representatives [who] reflect the diversity of opinions in the area." Proponents argue that independent candidates have a stronger chance of success with the SVT system, and that elected candidates are more likely to succeed based on their individual merit.

Norway Parliament

Norway: Voluntary Female Representation

In 1992, legislative reform in this Nordic country mandated that parties' lists of candidates for local executive boards be made up of at least 40% of each gender. Since then, four Norwegian political parties have adopted 40-50% voluntary gender quotas that have resulted in more than 40% female representation in the country's parliament. By contrast, there are no legislated or voluntary gender quotas in place in the U.S.

Rwanda: Legislated Female Representation
Republic Of Rwanda, Ministry Of Gender And Family Promotion

Rwanda: Legislated Female Representation

This African country is one of 60 around the world with legislated candidate quotas for the makeup of parliamentary houses and/or sub-national councils, according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Though the quota laws in many of these countries and territories differ, Rwanda has a "special nationwide tier for female candidates only," ensuring that women are elected in 24 provinces through a "specially designated electoral college." The African nations of Uganda, Morocco, and Mauritania have similar systems in place.

Brazil Voting Card

Brazil: Weekend Election Days

In Brazil, elections are held on weekends, which many argue makes it easier for voters to cast ballots. This is also the case in Australia, Austria, Greece, and many other countries. U.S. registered voters, by contrast, usually have to schedule casting their ballots before or after work hours on Election Day, which for federal elections falls on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Vladislav Zolotov/istockphoto

Belgium: Much of the Above

Belgium's system equates to voter turnout that regularly hovers around 90%, and has some media outlets asking, "Why are Belgians so much better at voting than everyone else?" Part of the reason likely lies in the fact that Belgium's electoral system combines many of the facets already covered here, including proportional representation, compulsory voting, a Sunday election day, automatic registration, legislated gender quotas, and so on. The electoral system works so well in Belgium, in fact, that it had the highest voter turnout in the Europe Union in 2019, according to Politico.

Online Voting

Estonia: Online Voting

This country of just over 1.3 million is leagues ahead of most when it comes to electoral technology. Since 2005, Estonians have voted digitally using their national ID cards — chip-embedded and PIN enabled — and it is still the only of the world's nations to allow internet voting for the entire electorate and with every election. Of course, systems like Estonia's have their limitations. Those without easy access to technology or who aren't necessarily tech-savvy, like older voters, could be left out of such a process. And elections that are as important to the world's political stage as the U.S.'s are certainly going to become a target for hackers. Still, "Why can't we just vote online?" isn't a question that's going away anytime soon.

Indonesia: The 'NOTA' Vote
Wikimedia Commons

Indonesia: The 'NOTA' Vote

This country is one of a few around the world where voters can choose what amounts to a "none of the above," or NOTA, vote if they feel all of their electoral candidates are subpar. While one U.S. state — Nevada — has this option, it's mostly devoid of meaning; if NOTA votes in Nevada were ever to win a majority, the next highest total would win the election. That's not the case in Indonesia, however. In the 2018 mayoral election in the city of Makassar, the NOTA votes exceeded the only candidate's votes by 35,000, forcing a repeat election that will take place later in 2020.

south african flag

South Africa: Official Election Holidays

Another way of addressing the workday-coinciding-with-election-day issue? Declare Election Day a national public holiday, which is what South Africa does, in addition to other nations like Germany, India, Chile, Vanuatu, the Philippines, and Samoa. Sure, in the U.S. many folks can vote via mail-in ballot or early voting, but that's still not the case in nine states: Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.