Ballot Breakdown: 6 Different Ways People Vote Around the World
Fingerprints, Marbles, and Astronauts.
Ah, if only elections were like “Dancing with the Stars,” and you could elect your favorite candidate in with a text message. It might even work in 2016, a year in which some countries have better access to cellphones than to toilets.
However, despite the world being more connected than ever, voter turnout is still a challenge. That’s why our #ShowUpVote campaign is so critical — it’s the literal foundation of democracy: you, an individual, have a voice, and through your vote, you can influence how your country is run.
And yet it is also one of democracy’s most imperfect aspects. From trivial technical difficulties to serious voter fraud, making a vote count isn’t ever that easy. That’s why the pursuit of a foolproof voting system is a point of pride for democracies around the world.
From Zimbabwe to Estonia, here are some of the different ways governments have tried to perfect the process.
By far the most convenient system, online voting is comfortably up and running in Estonia. Since 2005, the country has collected their ballots online by way of a national ID card. The cards, which are embedded with unique chips and PIN codes, were already in use to do things like pay taxes and bus fare.
But convenience isn’t necessarily perfection. The online system is poopular and cheap, but it has its limitations. Voters must be comfortable with technology which isn’t always the case, especially among older voters. And it also relies on all eligible voters having access to computers and the internet, which are still rare in some parts of the world.
Online voting has, without a doubt, grown more and more popular in Estonia. In 2005, just 2% took advantage of it. But, in 2015, over 30% of the country voted online.
“I believe this is the future,” Mait Sooaru, the director of an Estonian Logistics company, told NBC News.
And if online turnout in the country sticks to the same trend, it certainly will be. By comparison, countries like the United States and Norway have both tried an online ballot, but have since left it behind.
With Your Fingertip
In recent years over 25 countries on the African continent have tried switching to a fingerprint system. It’s known as biometric voting, and it’s designed to identify voters by fingerprint pattern in order to defend against fraud and to overcome.
It’s a cool idea in theory, but not so much in execution. In Ghana, for example, the system fell apart halfway through their election day. The fingerprint reading kits failed, forcing the government to extend the election for a second day. In Kenya, it was a similar story: laptops ran out of battery only an hour into polling, forcing the results to be delayed almost a week.
"Biometric voter registration is not a silver bullet,” Rindai Chipfunde, the national director of Zimbabwe Elections Support Network, told AllAfrica. “The process alone is insufficient to address the shortcomings such as the lack of transparency, inaccessible voters' roll and results management.”
Critics like Chipfunde have been quick to debunk the panacea of fingerprint voting. For one, it’s an expensive system. The Ghanaian government spent $76 million on biometric systems for the election, and in Cote D’Ivoire, individual votes cost $44 to collect. By comparison, journalists have estimated the average price of a vote in an established democracy to be between $1 and $3.
In the Gambia, your democratic voting power comes in the shape of a little glass marble.
The country doesn’t use conventional paper ballots, nor does it use conventional ballot boxes. Instead, citizens cast their vote by rolling a marble down a iron chute representing their choice candidate. Cast beads hit a bell inside the drum, which makes the act of voting a loud event around the town.
The Gambia’s method is probably one that could only work in a country of its size; it’s the smallest country on the continental mainland.
Moreover, it’s not necessarily a sure-fire insurance of democracy. For the past 22 years the country has been ruled by one president, Yahya Jammeh, after he took the country by coup.
Electronic ‘Phone-Booth’ Machines
In 2000, Brazil became the first country to have elections completely electronically. Modeling their new machines after easy-to-use telephone booths, Brazilians widely accepted going electronic.
While Brazil’s new system was hailed as a success, it hasn’t done much to increase voter turnout. In 1998, turnout was at 78.5%. In 2014, it was 78.9%.
The new method of voting is considered a success in other ways, though.
The new system cut invalid votes by two-thirds. And electronic voting is known to speed up the ballot counting process significantly, like it did in the Philippines. Just two hours after polls closed the country had already counted 80% of its votes.
India and Belgium have also been proponents of the system, while other countries, such as Germany, have discontinued it.
In some American states, like Georgia, electronic voting will also be used this November. But by and large technological upgrades to the US system have been slow moving. Proponents of electronic voting machines believe that the systems will facilitate the process like it did in Brazil. Meanwhile, critics have called them “scarily easy targets” for hackers to interfere with.
And considering the amount of hacking already had in the 2016 election, that concern is, well, justifiable.
The Old-Fashioned Ballot
Who could forget the good old pen and paper ballot? One answer might be the hundreds of countries worldwide that have tried to ditch the fallible mechanism.
But around the world they’re by and large the order of the day, and not just out of a sense of traditionalism. Paper ballots have their advantages — they’re easy to use, hard to hack, and not reliant on energy sources. Plus, they can be recounted — a simple fact that does much to put voters at ease.
And they’re much, much cheaper than the electronic apparatuses that developing countries have come to equate with vote-security.
Albeit, a paper ballot is not as sexy as a fingerprint reading machine, nor will it be helpful for anyone in outer space.
Voting from space isn’t that unusual, according to this story from PBS. The first to do it was Leroy Chiao, who, at the time, was commanding the International Space Station's Expedition 10 mission in 2004. In 2007, astronaut Clayton Anderson voted as well, which makes voting from outer space officially a thing.
In 2016 the American astronaut Kate Rubins will be continuing the tradition. Currently in orbit, Rubins will cast her vote via a PDF version of an absentee ballot. The biggest difference for her will be in the address section, where she’ll list “lower-earth orbit.”