5 Ways Other Countries Encourage Voting (That We Should Totally Steal)

May 25, 2016

A world globe with I voted signs all over it

You know how there are all kinds of crazy flavors around the world that we can’t get here at home? It’s sort of the same thing with voting. We should explain: the United States has a big voting problem. Turnout compared to most other countries in the world is ridiculously low, and yet many states seem hell-bent on making it even harder for people to get out to the polls. That’s weird and unhealthy, but admitting that you have a problem is the only way you can start working toward a solution. Come on, America: you can admit it, right?

The thing is, lots of other countries are getting voting right. Sure, their strange flavors look delicious, but their approach to holding elections is pretty darn tasty too. Yes, America, we should totally steal these ideas:


1. Make Voting Compulsory

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, there are nearly 30 countries around the world that make voting mandatory. While not all of these countries consistently dish out punishments (Australia, however, issues a fine of $20 to any citizen who can’t come up with a good excuse), the law definitely seems to lead to high turnout rates. Belgium and Turkey topped the list at 87.2% and 86.4%, respectively, and both have compulsory voting. Chile, on the other hand, used to require voting, and when it did away with the law turnout dropped from 87% in 2010 to 47% in 2013. The numbers are obviously impressive, and President Obama seems to be on board with the idea…


2. Automatically Register Everyone to Vote

Some countries, such as Sweden (85.8%) and Germany (66%), automatically enter all their eligible citizens to vote, which removes just about all of the inconvenience and hassle from voting. The US is pretty much alone in the world in placing the burden of registering to vote and voting entirely on its citizens. And remember: voting is the right of every citizen. Why, exactly, should we have to register with the government to do something that the government already knows we’re allowed to do? The good news for America? Oregon, California, Vermont, and West Virginia have passed automatic voter registration laws. Four down, forty-six to go.

3. Vote on the Weekend

A very long time ago, Tuesday might have been a fine day to have an election. The majority of Americans were farmers and it took a while to get to where they had to vote. Travel on Monday. Vote on Tuesday. Then head home. And remember, the Sabbath (Sunday) was sacred. But times have changed. Everybody’s working and few people get time off for their civic duties. So why not put Election Day on the weekend like so many other countries do? Take a look at France and Thailand, for example, both of which have significantly higher turnout rates. Or, if the weekend won’t work, make it a national holiday.


4. Bring Clarity to the Election Process

The US has a crazy-quilt approach to voting and elections, with something like 13,000 election jurisdictions overseen by a hodgepodge of local and state officials, guided by a rather vague set of national standards. Other countries, like Sweden, have more centralized election processes, contributing to high turnouts and all but eliminating the kind of confusion particular to American elections, with our competing and contradicting election laws and practices. Imagine an America where states weren’t allowed to pass their own voting laws, let alone the kind of discriminatory voter-suppression legislation we’ve been seeing pop up everywhere.

5. Vote Online

Estonia started allowing its citizens to vote online in 2005. At first, only 2% of Estonians took advantage of this option, but that number was up to 25% by 2011. While hacking and security breaches remain a concern, so far Estonia has reported no problems. Research indicates that online voting might be a boon to the sick or disabled and others who often find it quite difficult to get to the polls on Election Day. If those people alone were helped, that would mean millions more voters who had their voices heard.  

The United States may claim to be a democracy, but that doesn’t mean we’re all that good at it. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to check out other countries’ great ideas and see which of them might help increase participation and turnout? After all, a democracy only works if it works for everyone.