May 15, 2019
India, the world’s largest democracy, hit its highest ever voter turnout in 2014 — 66.4% of eligible voters, or 540 million people, the world’s biggest voter pool. In comparison, in recent elections, South Korea saw a voter turnout rate of 77% (32.8 million), Malaysia 84.8% (12.3 million), and the United States 55.7% (137 million). How does India, with fewer resources and more people, get its citizens to show up to elections?
There are three main drivers: spreading voting over many days and concentrating them every five years, active voter registration, and creating solutions for underrepresented groups.
In India, the Electoral Commission’s job is to register voters, unlike in the United States, where voters must register themselves. The Electoral Commission has set specific rules in India around voter accessibility — no voter should have to travel more than two kilometers to a polling station.
Holding elections over multiple days (39 this year) also means that environmental factors don’t impact elections as much. In the United States, which has day-long elections, studies have shown that rain can severely impact voter turnout. Most major elections in India — both for local and federal officials — happen only once every five years, reducing voter fatigue. In the United States, elections are held every two years, for President every four years and for Congresspeople every two.