The right to vote has been guaranteed to every individual in their respective countries through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Given the massive discrepancies in social and political systems in countries around the world, it is evident that the way people go out and vote as well as how that vote count differs.
In a democracy like the United States, elections are held at federal, state, and local levels. Elections held at the federal level, i.e. for the President of the United States are held and counted in each state and a first-past-the-post system is used. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom as well as some other countries (who had previously been under British rule) that have parliamentary elections, the countries are divided into local areas (or constituencies) and are each represented by a member of parliament. In both these systems of voting and elections, the right to vote is provided to all citizens above the legal voting age of 18 years, without any type or form of discrimination. The United States and United Kingdoms (as well as many other countries) also provide the option for an absentee ballot (for someone unable to go to the official polling place) and mail-voting. These were especially used during the 2020 Presidential elections which were held amidst a global pandemic.
The voting practices in countries around the world are far from homogenous, and each has its own discrepancies, for good or for bad. In India, the largest democracy in the world, voting is said to be largely disproportionate with the country’s largest minority group, Muslims, being denied their voting rights. In Saudi Arabia, women were given the right to vote (as well as the right to be candidates in the elections) as recently as 2015. In Bolivia, one of the 27 countries where compulsory voting is enforced, people who do not materialize at the polls (by any means) can be fined or even denied their salary. In this situation, the idea of compulsory voting locks horns with the idea of freedom which is recognized in a democracy. In the United States, even after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many states continue to suppress the votes of black Americans and other underrepresented communities. Lastly, in many countries such as Brazil, Malta, Austria, Scotland, and Wales, etc. the voting age has been lowered to 16 so that the representatives can be for a larger proportion of the country’s citizens and cater to the youth as well. This has been a topic of much debate in many democracies around the world where advocates for a lowering of the voting age claim that the youth should be entitled to a larger proportionate representation in a public election which would directly impact their future.
Elections are considered to be the hallmarks of a democracy, which is why it appears odd that many dictatorships around the world also participate in elections. The political state of China has been up for debate for years, with modern Chinese politicians referring to it as a ‘socialist democracy’ while others calling it a dictatorship or totalitarian regime under a single party: the Chinese Communist Party. Regardless, the people of China do have the ability to vote, though many people feel that the elections do not provide actual results and representation because of the single party’s heavy influence and power. The same can be said for military dictatorships in the world like Sudan where elections are held but do not hold much traction. Thus, it can be inferred that in places/countries with high levels of repression by the elite, fair elections cannot exist.
The political spectrum of the world and the countries in it is ever-changing. The voting practices we see today are almost foreign to the ones which existed back in the day. Topics like voting age, inclusion, and compulsion around voting continue to be discussed and debated by citizens, politicians, and lawmakers around the world, something which is necessary to increase representation and ensure fair elections.