1 Research report, June 2006. Compulsory voting around the world We are an independent body that was set The Electoral Commission Trevelyan House up by the UK Parliament. Our mission is to Great Peter Street foster public confidence and participation London SW1P 2HW. by promoting integrity, involvement and Tel 020 7271 0500. Fax 020 7271 0505. effectiveness in the democratic process. The Electoral Commission 2006. Democracy matters ISBN: 1-904363-81-4. Translations and other formats For information on obtaining this publication in another language or in a large-print or Braille version please contact the Electoral Commission: Tel: 020 7271 0500. Email: The Electoral Commission We are an independent body that was set up by the UK Parliament. Our mission is to foster public confidence and participation by promoting integrity, involvement and effectiveness in the democratic process.
2 Compulsory voting around the world Research report Copyright The Electoral Commission 2006. ISBN: 1-904363-81-4. EC voting 7/6/06 20:24 Page 1. Contents Foreword 3. Executive summary 5. 1 Background 9. 2 Introducing Compulsory voting 13. 3 Compulsory voting systems 17. 4 The impact of Compulsory voting 27. 5 Sources 37. Appendix 39. EC voting 7/6/06 20:24 Page 2. 2. EC voting 7/6/06 20:24 Page 3. 3. Foreword The Electoral Commission is As part of this process, we believe there is merit in opening up the question of Compulsory committed to increasing voting for wider debate in the UK, as one of a participation in the democratic series of options which may facilitate higher process in the UK. Encouraging rates of Electoral participation. International voting at elections is a central part experience is often referred to by both advocates and opponents of Compulsory of this agenda.
3 Since our reform in the UK. Yet until now there has been establishment in 2000, we have no single reference source analysing the actively promoted debate and international experience. This report has been prepared by the Commission in the belief that research into the reasons why access to objective and up-to-date information people choose to vote or not vote. about international experience of Compulsory voting can only assist future debates in the UK. The principal aim of this research was to provide factual information about how Compulsory voting operates in different countries. This report analyses the historical background to the introduction of Compulsory voting in several countries across the world (and its abolition in others). We have also looked at current legislation and enforcement, sought to identify common features of Compulsory voting systems and reviewed academic studies into the impact of Compulsory voting on turnout and political engagement.
4 Finally, two important caveats. This report does not consider the merits or otherwise of Compulsory voting for the UK, and the Commission makes no recommendation in this regard. Additionally, this report is not an exhaustive global survey, but aims instead to take an analytical approach to understanding the issues involved. Compulsory voting around the world : foreword EC voting 7/6/06 20:24 Page 4. 4. We hope that the information provided here will stimulate further debate. Sam Younger Chairman June 2006. Compulsory voting around the world : foreword EC voting 7/6/06 20:24 Page 5. 5. Executive summary This research looks at Compulsory Background to research voting systems around the world . Turnouts of and at the last two UK Parliamentary general elections1 have It analyses the historical prompted some discussion of Compulsory background to the introduction voting .
5 Although Compulsory voting has of Compulsory voting in several never been part of the UK Electoral system, countries across the world (and its mandatory participation in elections is a feature in a diverse range of countries across the world abolition in others). We have also in Western Europe, South East Asia, looked at current legislation and Australasia and Central and South America. enforcement, sought to identify The principal aim of this research was to common features of Compulsory provide factual information about how voting systems and reviewed Compulsory voting operates in different academic studies into the impact countries and, where possible, to assess the efficacy of penalties for non- voting and the of Compulsory voting on turnout impact of Compulsory voting on turnout rates. and political engagement.
6 The research has drawn on evidence supplied to us by British embassies and Electoral authorities in a range of countries across the world where there is, or has been, Compulsory voting . We have also drawn on academic research and analysis, but this report does not represent an exhaustive survey of Compulsory voting systems or the literature about them. Introducing Compulsory voting Countries with very different types of political systems, from newly established democracies through to emerging democracies, have legislated to introduce Compulsory voting . The reasons behind its introduction are more complex than might, at first, be assumed and are not simply concerned with a desire to boost participation rates. Country-specific political 1 Hereafter referred to as general elections'. Compulsory voting around the world : executive summary EC voting 7/6/06 20:24 Page 6.
7 6. and historical events and factors are product of such arrangements, it is clear from overwhelmingly the prompt for a move the available evidence that Compulsory voting to compulsion. both increases aggregate turnout and reduces the variation in turnout rates among different Compulsory voting has been introduced for groups. Less clear is the effect Compulsory a number of reasons and often at times of voting has on political engagement more constitutional and political change, but the generally, encompassing political interest, desire to maximise turnout among all sections knowledge and participation. The available of society seems to have been a common evidence does suggest that compulsion is less objective. It has often been implemented as a effective in promoting better public knowledge result of wider political reform such as a change of politics or in increasing political engagement.
8 In a country's political system, as in Chile, or alongside the introduction of universal suffrage, We have been mindful that, while there is much as in Belgium and Luxembourg. to be gained from international comparisons, the Compulsory voting systems currently in Compulsory voting systems place across the world reflect the unique Our research has found considerable diversity political and Electoral systems and cultures in the different Compulsory voting systems of the individual countries involved. The across the world . Some are perhaps better practicability of effective imposition of described as Compulsory attendance systems Compulsory voting also depends significantly since they do not require electors to actually on the extent to which registration is mandatory cast a vote; some are underpinned by (and is enforced) or automatic.
9 Compulsory registration, others are not; while some systems are strictly enforced by the The only obvious example where an authorities and some utilise significant established democracy appears to have sanctions (see Table 1 on the next page for a introduced Compulsory voting solely in summary of Compulsory voting systems and response to low voter turnouts is Australia. their sanctions). By contrast, in some countries However, the academic Lisa Hill argues that the it appears that the existence of Compulsory greatest obstacles to the introduction of an voting in law is enough to ensure public Australian-style system of Compulsory voting compliance, even without the application elsewhere may be psychological, or at least, of sanctions. cultural'.2. Impact of Compulsory voting on political engagement 2 Cited in L.
10 Hill, Democratic assistance: A Compulsory While higher turnouts in countries with some voting template', paper presented to the Jubilee form of Compulsory voting are not solely the conference of the Australasian Political Studies Association, Canberra (2002). Compulsory voting around the world : executive summary EC voting 7/6/06 20:24 Page 7. 7. In those countries in Western Europe where (International IDEA) suggests that it is probably Compulsory voting has been introduced, this due to the long history of Compulsory voting in typically followed the introduction of universal some Western European democracies that it is suffrage in the early twentieth century, still practised this history has helped to make sometimes combined with the introduction of the practice a more commonly accepted or proportional representation.