Nov. 2, 2012 — -- If you've been following the news for the past decade or so, you've probably heard a lot of complaining about our voting system: hanging chads, voter ID laws, long lines, untrained polling workers, the electoral college, voter fraud and so forth.
In the United States, voting laws vary drastically from state to state. While Minnesota, for example, has same-day voter registration and no picture ID laws, other states, like Tennessee, require voters to register a month ahead of time and present a picture ID when they get to the polls.
Various factors in certain states -- including strict ID qualifications, long registration periods, time-consuming lines at the polls, and the fact that the election takes place on a Tuesday (a work-day) -- make voting more complicated for Americans. Voting law opponents contend that the patchwork of voting restrictions discourages certain individuals from voting --- namely, minorities, the elderly, the working class, and the poor.
Whether these hurdles have an impact on the outcome of the election or not, here are a few countries that have figured out how to make voting a little easier for real people:
Voting in Sweden (unlike constructing Ikea furniture) is not a huge headache. The Swedes have a virtually automatic enrollment system, which tracks every citizen's name, address, birth, and marital status. Voting registration is automatic, and for every election, proof of registration material is sent to the homes of every eligible Swedish citizen in the national database. Read more here about Sweden's voting practices.
So, yes, voting is compulsory in Australia (at risk of roughly a $20 fine), but their government also ensures that their citizens vote by making it easier to do so. Aussies, like the Swedes, keep a federal list of its eligible voters, which they then use to put together local voting lists. The Australian government is also much more persistent in ensuring that all citizens register.
"It does this by getting in your face," Slate's Juliet Lapidos writes. "If you're a new citizen, you get an enrollment form. When you get your test results in your final year of high school, you get an enrollment form. If you move but don't bother to tell the government, they'll find out anyway by cross-checking the national database against other sources, like billing records from utilities companies and the post office.Call it a nanny state, but Australian paternalism works." Read more about Australia's voting laws here.
This tiny Baltic nation is making waves for introducing something that seems completely logical in the digital age -- online voting. In Estonia, a national ID card (required for every citizen in the country) can be used to vote remotely. Priit Vinkel, Estonia's National Electoral Committee adviser, told CNN that they had detected no serious "attempts to tamper with the votes," but that the entire process had to based on "trust" in the system, because no paper trail is left by the votes. Twenty-five percent of the people who voted in Estonia's 2011 election voted online, according to the election commission. Read more about their system here.
The United States ranks 138th out of 172 countries in voter turnout, with less than half of Americans turning up to vote in the last presidential election. It could be nothing more than old-fashioned apathy, but a complicated set of voting rules probably doesn't help much.
Aside from the three aformentioned nations, which all have higher voter turnout than the U.S., other countries have made voting easier by holding election day on a holiday or a weekend, instead of a day of the working week, like we do in the United States. Many of such countries have higher voter turnout than the United States, including France (67.3 percent voter turnout), Germany (80.2 percent), Russia (56.6 percent), Thailand (82.1 percent) and Japan (68.7 percent).
So if you ever get fed up with American voting law --- and find Swedish meatballs, marsupials, or the sound of the Baltic fiddle are more your thing -- consider moving to Sweden, Australia, or Estonia, where governments seem to be making voting a little bit easier for their citizens.