May 7, 2012 at 2:31 pm #160463
Yesterday, in France’s presidential election there was an 80% voter turnout. This is incredibly high – in the last U.S. presidential election, 56.8% of Americans visited the polls.
One thing that France did differently was that they held their elections on Sunday, so that people were not constrained by work and other weekday activities. It makes me wonder whether or not having elections on the weekend would help turnout in the U.S.
Do you think having elections on weekends would increase voter turnout in the United States?
For more information, check out this article – French ambassador ‘rejoiced’ by voter turnout
May 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm #160495
I think that it would help voter turnout BUT I think the French system where there are multiple parties rather than just 2 parties also helps drive voters to the polls as people can align their values much closer to a candidate or a platform.
May 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm #160493
Voter turnout is such a multi-determined thing, I don’t know that any strategy that attempts to second guess the voter’s motivation would be as successful as you might think.
It’s also a highly contextualized thing. What brings out the vote in one jurisdiction – where, for example, they might vote directly for leader – might have little bearing on a jurisdiction where people direct their votes in a different way. I’m curious about the voter turnout in the runoff election over the weekend, relative to the earlier election that determined the two finalists for the runoff. In the American context, the inclusion of propositions, and a surfeit of other things being voted on at the same time, may well squeeze out the maximum vote possible, but it may also serve as an obstacle to those who feel under-informed about the may things they are being asked to vote at the same time. In the European context, the economic crisis French citizens feel can easily prompt more voting, and they may have gotten 80% whether on a Sunday or Wednesday.
Though plenty disagree with me, I think there is also something to be said for the manner in which the wired (and wireless) world is gradually encouraging citizens to think about democracy in a more “à la carte” manner. Rather than casting a vote and leaving it all up to the elected official, they view each emerging issue in political discourse as something they can tweet or otherwise express their views about (e.g., ranting on a call-in show, blogs, e-mails to the congressman) at the time that it interests them and elicits the most passion. As such, voting becomes simply one more perceived means to affect change in the desired direction. I’m not proposing that a tweet IS as good as a vote, or that the perceptions are correct, merely noting that for a great many people of a certain generation or two, not voting is not treated as having forfeited all one’s opportunities for democratic input.
Then there is the matter of how often elections are held and the electoral system. One might also expect different turnouts depending on the number of candidates, and the likelihood that one’s own preferred candidate could snag enough votes. People talk a good game about how proportional representation could turn things around, but personally, I’m not convinced.
Finally, there is the elephant in the room of electoral advertising, the manner in which campaigns are run, and the extent to which they motivate people to treat voting as a positive expression, or just make them sour about the whole enterprise.
Like I say, it’s complicated. Moving things to a Sunday might predict 1-2% of the variance in voter behaviour at any given time. Statistically signifcant on the scale of a national vote, but there’s that pesky other 98% of voter behaviour to predict.
May 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm #160491
I think it would improve voter turnout. Work and school definitely get in the way, and even though we’re legally entitled to time off to vote if we need it, people still don’t want to look like they’re skipping out. It’s silly to think anyone would consider voting skipping out, but I’m sure there’s that mentality out there.
When I saw France’s turnout I was definitely shocked, that’s huge.
May 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm #160489
I would move the general election day to Veterans’ day and standardize all primaries on Memorial Day. It puts election day on a federal holiday and reminds people of the price which has been paid to secure their right to vote. When Veterans’ Day falls on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, those with religious objections could vote absentee.
May 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm #160487
I second this idea.
May 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm #160485
I really like this idea too, Peter!
May 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm #160483
I agree with many of your points. I think there is also a problem about people thinking their vote “doesn’t matter” because of the electoral college system. What would you do to try to get a higher voter turnout in the US?
May 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm #160481
Absolutely no idea, I’m afraid. Your voting system is so radically different from ours in Canada that any guess I’d make would likely be dead wrong. We make one little check-mark, and that’s it. No voting for sheriffs, judges, propositions, senate or leader, no electoral college. You vote for the preferred candidate in your riding, from the half-dozen or so parties represented, and you’re done. People add up the votes, and first past the post wins. Assuming they won their own seat, whomever leads the party with the most seats becomes the national leader.
Then there’s stuff we never think about and have little information on. For instance, what is the average distance any voter has to travel to cast their ballot in various jurisdictions? How long a wait are typical lineups during low-turnout or bumper years? I have absolutely no idea. Myself, we live right beside an elementary school whose gym is frequently used as a polling station. A 90 second walk from the back door to the polling officer’s desk in the gym, vote, and you’re back before the commercial break for the suppertime Big Bang Theory rerun is over. Hard to imagine everyone has it that easy.
If anything, having it on a Sunday might increase the likelihood that some folks will be out of town or somewhere other than where they are registered. Squeezing in a polling station visit after work may be awkward, but at least there’s a greater likelihood you’re in the place/city where you are supposed to be voting. My son worked as a polling officer on campus in 2008, and spent a goodly chunk of time explaining to irritated college students that simply because one had been living in residence for the last 9 weeks did not make you a registered voter in the district/riding where the university/college is; you were registered where your home address is and had to have voted there.
I don’t know how much you follow Canadian politics, but we have been weaving in and out of a potential electoral scandal here. As the investigation progresses, it is starting to appear, in at least one district so far, that campaign staff for candidates of the ruling party deliberately targetted supporters of other parties, misrepresented automated voice messages sent to those voters as coming from election officials, and misdirected voters to locations other than the polling station where they were supposed to go. It’s an evolving story at the moment, but hints at the manner in which contemporary campaign strategies (and these ones were borrowed from American campaign strategists that had consulted with them), coupled with current technology, can also serve to undermine voter turnout. I have no idea how much any of that sort of nonsense plays a role in other jurisdictions.
May 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm #160479
I thought you also voted for provinicial leaders. How is the premier of say Quebec chosen?
May 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm #160477
Suspect it really doesn’t make much difference; Several states hold elections on Saturday and turnout is USUALLY based on the interest of the electorate.
I am old enough to remember when local elections, especially, would create 80 percent turnout. And yet the recent local election created 5 % turnout (yes it was a runoff but…)
Alot of times people are looking for an excuse NOT to vote, whether it be weather, mini-vacations, too busy at work, etc.
Would guess that there MIGHT be some significant resistance to voting on Sunday for “religious reasons”
May 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm #160475
Exact same kind of process. One ballot, one vote. Check off a name from the list shown, and you go home and wait to see which party won the most seats to know who the provincial premier will be. As with PM, it is assumed the provincial premier will have won their seat as well. To the best of my recollection there’s only been one former sports figure (Alberta premier Don Getty) elected, a couple of “media personalities” (another Alberta premier, Ralph Klein, and Newfoundland & Labrador premier and cable TV mogul Danny Williams), and the odd Bible thumper (Bennett, Aberhart, Douglas, Manning) if you go back 50-70 years. Apart from those exceptions, our gubernatorial equivalents tend to be lifelong public servants, many of them lawyers, with some doctors and business people thrown in. No movie/TV stars or former WWF wrestlers for us. Remember that they can only become premier if they lead a party and have a seat in office already so they tend to be folks who have been in public life for a bit.
Municipal elections are generally the most complicated since that’s where you elect not only mayor, but city councillor, and school board trustees. With the exception of only a very few cities (including Montreal and possibly Vancouver), there is no party system at the municipal level, just candidates. That,s not to say that mayoral or city council candidates don’t have relatively obvious political affiliations/sensibilities, but they do not run under a political party banner.
May 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm #160473
You’re definitely raising a good point in the last half of this post. For most people there is the time, but they don’t really want to admit it.
May 8, 2012 at 1:21 am #160471
I think sometimes the efforts by candidates/parties to secure the “middle ground”, and attract the largest voter share, can leave a great many voters confused and unable to choose, especially if the choice concerns issues they might not have devoted enough time/effort into thinking about so as to be able to identify critical nuances. And it may not be related at all to any particular degree of respect for the candidates themselves, but simply be a choice that is difficult to make without having put in more time. Under those circumstances, it’s easy to imagine someone staying home instead of voting.
May 8, 2012 at 2:58 am #160469
As silly as it sounds…what if elections ran two days? friday and Saturday? Give both crowds the ability to get out.
That said…I know this November my vote for president will largely be a waste. I lean democrat and I live in a strongly republican state…and thanks to the electoral college my vote is meaningless. And I think a lot of people feel that way. Our election system is so messed up and corrupt that you feel ‘why bother’.
For the past several years most elections have been a ‘choice’ between bad and worse.
Simplify the electoral system and give voters back their power. Maybe then they’ll feel like it’s worth getting out.
May 14, 2012 at 10:00 pm #160467
I wonder if automatic receipt of absentee/vote-by-mail ballots would boost turnout. In New Jersey, a voter can request a vote-by-mail ballot for any reason, not just absenteeism from the state. Additionally, there’s a check box on the ballot that allows the voter to opt in to receive ballots for all future elections automatically by mail.
A bit off topic, but I am surprised that many countries including developed countries like France still use paper card ballots that you stuff into a box. I would have thought that developed countries, at least, would have wider adoption of some kind of voting machine, either the older lever-pulls or the newer touch screens.
May 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm #160465
Some states have “early voting” which is maybe what you’re thinking of.
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