Voter Registration Outside US

For some reason voter registration in the US is complicated and prone to error and fraud. How do other countries handle it? What happens when you move?

IIRC, voter registration is done during tax time; you fill out a box on your tax return which allows Elections Canada to collect your contact information to make the voter list with. Individual provincial elections lists come from that list too, I think. If you move, you’re supposed to notify revenue Canada (or, more likely, you file taxes before the next election anyways, and take care of it then).

I think the driver’s/car licensing provincial agencies can also send your info to Elections Canada, or you can register in person on the day of the election, or, I suppose, at any other time with the agency directly.

There are mistakes; there was something in the news about a voter card (giving info about where/when to vote) for yesterday’s election being sent to an Australian citizen. Of course, the card did say “Occupant” for the address he was at. I think he wouldn’t have been on the list at the actual polls had he tried to vote, though, and he wouldn’t have been able to register without proof of citizenship.

In Australia all citizens aged 18 or over are required by law to register on the electoral roll. The electoral rolls for all elections (Commonwealth, state and local) are maintained centrally by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Enrolment is pretty simple. Forms are available at all post offices. Once you are enrolled you don’t have to do anything else unless your details change (e.g. address). Then you just fill in a new form and send it off.

I don’t know that it’s complicated at all – but I agree that it’s got more error and fraud than is necessary.

Part of the complication comes from the fact that voter registration in the US is done at the state level, and not at the federal level (as in the comparable federal states, Canada and Australia). This means different rules and procedures in each state, and difficulties in checking whether the same person is registered in different states.

On thing that happens in Australia, which is not mentioned by Cunctator, is the the AEC regularly checks at each address to find out who is living there. If someone is eligible, but not on the roll, they will be given a form to fill out. If someone is registered at the address, but appears not to be living there, they will take steps to remove the person from the roll. Obviously, this costs money, but it does keep the rolls more up-to-date.

Registering? What’s that?

A few weeks before the elections I get a form in the mail informing me of the location of my polling station. On the off chance it doesn’t arrive, I suppose I’d have to stop by the Ministry of the Interior offices and make sure my address is up to date.

In Britain we receive a form from the Electoral Commission once a year. It’s one form for the whole household, I think, and you fill in the names of everyone over 18 and eligible to vote and everyone resident who will be 18 by a certain date a few months in the future. If you also add that you would prefer a postal vote, you will later receive another form asking you to verify that. If you need to have the form in another language, you proceed with that, and presumably later receive the registration form in the required language.

It’s one of the simpler bits of the bureaucracy and forms game. :slight_smile: Yet there are still people who don’t vote. Grrrr:(
On EDIT … oops, forgot to add link

It can be as simple as ticking the box on the federal income tax form in Canada. There are other methods who aren’t caught by this.

What was new this time around was being required to show proof of identity at the polling station. It tripped up some who were not anticipating the requirement to show photo id and/or photo id that also displayed the address within the riding. Here in Saskatchewan, a photo driver’s licence was sufficient.

In Ireland the local authorities are responsible for maintaining the voter rolls. The actual registration process is just filling out a form and returning it to them. Unfortunately, a lot of them have made an absolute mess of it, so there are a lot of calls for reform, but nothing’s happened yet.

It’s automatic in Sweden. I’m sure there are glitches, but I don’t recall ever hearing of any.

Automatic here in Norway, too. You get a card in the mail about four to six weeks before the election, and unless the card contains incorrect information that’s that.

The British system is extremely simple, the trade-off being that it’s very open to small-scale fraud. It would be very very easy to add a couple of fictitious extra names to a household, or to register at multiple addresses in different parts of the country (something which innocently happened to both me and my siblings while we were at university). The reason this isn’t a major concern is the way the two stages of our first-past-the-post system, with both the winning of individual constituencies and then the national tally of MPs, means that a few false votes here or there are almost certainly going to have no impact on the outcome. Certainly it would be pretty much impossible to ‘target’ such fraud in an effective way without working on a much larger and more noticeable scale, something for which people have been caught.

I believe it is based on the information on your residence (folkbokföringen) as known by Skatteverket (tax authority).

About a month or two before the election you get sent a voting card informing you where you are registered to vote and in which elections (national, regional, municipal). On the election day you bring this card to the polling station and they check you off against the list that they have. If you’ve lost your card you can just bring an ID and that will work as well. The card is also used if you vote by mail.

In the Netherlands it is similar to the Nordic countries. Every citizen is registered in the municipality where they live, if you move (even within the city) you should change this registration.

When elections are imminent, all people over 18 at every adress get a votingcard sent to them through the mail. So the only thing you need to do is follow the directions on the card to the closest polling place and vote, everyrhing else is done for you.

the common thread in all of these replies is that the government in other countries assumes the responsibility for registering all the voters, unlike the US, which leaves it to the individual. I would think that the US system skews the voting rolls in favour of those who can register more easily because of their financial position - able to take time from work to register, able to travel to the registration point, have the necessary photo IDs, and so on. In Canada, the mandate of the elections offices is to register every eligible voter, to ensure the most complete voting rolls as possible. Obviously, there may be errors made, but it is a completely different philosophy about the role of government in facilitating the right of citizens to vote.

as well, GorillaMan makes a good point about the difference between the US presidential system and the parliamentary system - the stakes aren’t as high in a constituency vote as they are in a state-wide vote for the state’s electoral votes.

On a related point, in the parliamentary system, you can have re-votes, which allows for more flexibility in allowing irregularities on the rolls. That sounds odd, but it works.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that in the US there are fixed cut-off dates to register - if you don’t get registered in time, or there’s a mistake in registration, you don’t get to vote. The rationale is apparently that the system doesn’t allow for a re-vote in the Presidential race, so the law tries to reduce irregularities as much as possible.

However, in a parliamentary system based on individual constituencies, you can have a new vote if need be. So, you can allow voters to register right up to the last minute, if there’s been a problem with their registration. That may be an irregularity, but normally won’t cause problems if there’s a clear winner in that constituency. It’s only if there’s a really close vote in that particular constituency that the parties will closely scrutinize the late sign-ups or any other irregularities, to see if there’s sufficient grounds to call for a re-vote. Having a re-vote in one particular constituency will be important for the candidates in that constituency, but odds are it wouldn’t affect the overall outcome of the election nationally.

For example, when I went to vote in the federal election two days ago, my name was on the list, but it had been stroked off. There was a notation that suggested I no longer lived in the district, which is why I’d been stroked off. No-one knew why that was the case, but I just had to fill in a form, declaring under penalty of the Elections Act that I still lived in the constituency. They added my name in a supplemental roll, and gave me my ballot. I would have been very irritated if I’d been denied my vote by a clerical error of some sort at Elections Canada, but our system allows for those types of errors to be fixed right up to the close of polls. Since the candidate who took the riding did so by a hefty plurality, there won’t be any need for anyone to review the irregularities and late sign-ups, because they won’t have affected the outcome - but I got to exercise my franchise, which is personally very important to me.

So what is all this in the US about “registering as a Democrat” or “registering as a Republican”? is that different from registering as a voter?

My son and his wife moved to a new riding this year. All they had to do was go was go to the local electoral office and give their new address. They actually were asked if they would like to vote then and there, about 3 weeks prior to the election. Easy.

Before we went to the tax based lists, we had this thing called enumeration. 2 enumerators went door to door in their polling district and got everyone’s name, etc. I did this once - we got 16 cents per name and faced fines if we falsified info. We left a card for them to register themselves if we were unable to contact them after two visits. It was kind of fun 30 years ago, but I am glad Canada switched to the new way.

It’s only relevant during the primaries. In many states, you can only vote in the Democratic primary if you are a registered Democrat, similarly for the Republicans.


Provincial registration systems vary from province to province, since each province is responsible for maintaining its own voter list, separate from the federal list. As Giles noted, that’s another difference from the US, where the states are responsible for registering voters for federal elections. One reason for this is that the qualifications for the franchise may be slightly different between the federal and provincial governments (e.g. - residency requirements). For example, in Saskatchewan, some older British citizens have been grandfathered and can still vote, even if they’re not Canadian citizens.

Here in Saskatchewan, we still have an enumeration each time an election writ is dropped. The Elections office hires people to do a complete enumeration of all the electors in the province in the first couple of weeks after the writ issues, like Lynxie mentioned. So it’s a completely new roll for each election.

Last year, in the Saskatchewan election, the enumerator for our riding came to our door in the early evening. Mrs. Piper and I were baking cookies, so we asked him to come into the kitchen to do the paperwork. He made himself comfortable, saw we were baking cookies, and settled in for a nice 20 minute cozy enumeration session, while we gave him tea and fresh cookies (plus some raw cookie dough - he shared my taste for nibbling the raw dough). Then, as he started taking our names and info, he said to Mrs. Piper, “I thought I recognized you - didn’t you use to be a Crown?” turned out he was acquainted with some people who had some connexions with some of her cases, so they started gossiping a bit while I baked cookies. That morphed into a discussion of some other notable recent cases in the courts. When he was finally done, and the tea drunk and the cookies eaten, he sighed and pulled himself up. But then he explained that as soon as he was finished with his enumerating duties for the night, he was off to the local casino, and showed us he roll of hundred dollar bills.

All in all, an odd little glimpse into the enumeration process.

In Germany, each adult person is required to be registered at the Einwohnermeldeamt (citizens office of registration) with their address. Based on that information, the city sends out a letter several weeks before the election informing you about the upcoming election, and where you polling station is.

If you misplace/lose/forget the letter at the election day, each polling station for each district (a voting district is about 1400 people legible to vote) has a list printed late at night before with the most current names and adresses, so an offical ID card is enough proof for the volunteers.

If you didn’t get the letter or there is some problem, the voting office is open the whole election day so you can go there and get things sorted out at the last moment if necessary.

The only requirement is that you have lived in the district/county/state for the last 3 months (so you know enough about the politicans and local issues you are voting on, so you don’t get to vote twice - old and new place - by moving shortly, and to avoid massive moving to influence a local election).

Also, election is always on a Sunday, so most people have the day free. Because we are a secular country and don’t have to depend on some 18th century Christian hardliners who didn’t want to travel on Holy Sunday. (Some people over here think the real reason that the US has elections on workdays is to disenfranchise the poor and normal workers who can’t afford to take a day off from work, and who would otherwise vote less conservative).