Voting for elected officials is a freedom afforded to the citizens of many (but not all) countries around the world. The right to vote is particularly likely in democratic countries and republics. However, not every person eligible to vote does. The reasons for this phenomenon vary: some potential voters have no interest in politics or feel their vote doesn't matter, some dislike the available candidates, and others lack certain material requirements—for example, a government-issue I.D. is required in more than half of U.S. states.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Voter Turnout:*
|Rank||Country||Election Type & Year||Turnout (%)|
|8||Equatorial Guinea||2016 Presidential||92.70|
|10||Antigua and Barbuda||2014 Parliamentary||90.27|
*Computed by most recent national presidential or parliamentary election within the past 20 years. Results from Somalia (1984) and Angola (1992) have been omitted due to age. Rwanda and Singapore ranked in the top 10 based upon both presidential and parliamentary elections. In both cases, the highest score was chosen.
Voter Turnout by Country
Based on data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Rwanda has displayed the highest voter turnout in a recent national election. Several additional African or Asian countries also show strikingly high voter turnout, including Laos, Turkmenistan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Nauru.
It is worthwhile to note that high voter turnout does not always indicate a healthy election, especially in fourth world or global south countries. For example, watchdog group Freedom House gives Rwanda a score of 4 points out of a possible 28 in the categories of the electoral process and political participation, stating that Rwandan elections are "marred by numerous irregularities," which included forcing citizens to view propaganda, preventing certain candidates from running, unfair registration practices, and stuffing ballot boxes. Similarly, Laos (which earns 0 of 28 points) is ruled by a single political party that chooses which candidates will appear on the ballot. As such, it is fair to question even the official turnout numbers.
That said, high voter turnout can be achieved in free and fair elections as well. For example, the island nations of Antigua and Barbuda (26 of 28) and Nauru (26 of 28) have both obtained turnout percentages over 90%.
Recent trends in voter turnout
Globally, voter turnout has decreased over time in recent decades, with most countries posting lower voter turnout in recent elections than in those which took place 20-30 years ago. Election experts have identified multiple causes for this trend. Voter apathy is one—young voters in particular are more likely to be unaware of the voting process or disenchanted with what they see as a corrupt and dysfunctional system. Another influential cause is voter suppression, especially in countries classified by the Democracy Index as flawed democracies or authoritarian regimes.
On a more positive note, election experts also point out that lower turnout can also be a positive sign that the right to vote is being extended to more and more people. Throughout history, voting was often confined to rich, usually white males who could easily take time off work to vote. However, voting is now more likely to be available to women, blue-collar workers, and minorities who were often previously denied voting rights and who may not be able to rearrange their lives in order to vote on a specific day or time. This reality is one of the main reasons that many states and countries are working to expand voting access by offering mail-in ballots, longer voting hours, and other voting aids.
Top 10 Countries with the Lowest Voter Turnout:**
|Rank||Country||Election Type & Year||Turnout (%)|
**Computed by most recent national presidential or parliamentary election within the past 20 years. Haiti qualified for the list twice, once for its presidential election (18.11%) and again for its parliamentary election. The lower score was used.
Voter turnout in the United States
In the 2020 U.S. presidential election, an estimated 158 million Americans turned out to vote. About 66.5% of eligible voters voted in the 2020 election, the highest turnout since 1900. The 2020 election saw about 20 million more votes than the 137 million in the 2016 election. Only about 55.72% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 election. Even in the 2020 election, U.S. voter turnout lagged behind that of several developed nations around the world.
When voting doesn't matter: The corruption of national elections
The fact that a country or state holds public elections is not a guarantee that the elections are free or fair. Election scandals both large and small are quite common in most countries, from accusations of ballot box stuffing or improper counting procedures to unreasonable voting requirements. Authoritarian regimes have access to more sinister tactics, such as outlawing all other politcal parties or candidates, and fully controlling every aspect of the voting process. Even in elections that are otherwise fair, the gerrymandering of voting districts can give one party an unnatural advantage and deliver a result contrary to the desires of the people as a whole.