Special voting arrangements (SVAs) are designed to expand voting opportunities to individuals who are otherwise not able to vote and thus to facilitate the principle of universal suffrage.
SVAs are defined as arrangements that allow voters to exercise their right to vote by alternative means to casting their ballot in person, on election day, in the default polling station in the voter’s constituency.
In recent decades, electoral stakeholders have been keen to study and explore the opportunities of how to make voting more accessible and convenient to voters, especially in the face of declining voter participation across the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed the focus on this topic with the aim to enable the greatest number of people to vote with the lowest amount of risk.
International IDEA’s comparative SVA data provides insight into postal, early, mobile and proxy voting for in-country voting in 204 countries. It is intended to inform researchers, policy makers, electoral administrators, and other stakeholders on the use of SVAs across the globe and to initiate research and policy discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of these voting methods and contribute to improvements in their application.
This dataset has been compiled in recent months and the full dataset will be ready for publication shortly. In the meantime, this page provides first summaries of the collected data.
The data in Figure 1 shows early voting as the most frequently used SVA around the world, followed by mobile ballot boxes, postal voting and proxy voting.
When data are divided by continents (Figure 2) a different picture is presented, with a noticeable variation in the use of different types of SVAs across the continents. In Europe, Asia and Oceania SVAs are comparatively more common than in the Americas and Africa. A more detailed presentation of the data by continent is presented below in the text.
Figure 3 shows that globally one third of countries do not offer any SVAs for in-country voters. The lowest number of countries are in Europe, followed by Oceania and Asia. In Africa, the proportion of countries with no SVAs is significantly higher at 44%. The proportion of countries with no SVAs is highest in the Americas with 52%. In 20(*) Latin American countries the proportion of countries not using any of the SVAs reaches as much as 75%.
(*) Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala. Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela
Another interesting angle is to look at the data from the perspective of comparing OECD with non-OECD countries (Figure 4). The non-OECD group has three times more countries which do not use any SVA. Postal voting is the least used SVA in non-OECD group.
MORE DETAILS ABOUT EACH SVA
Figure 5 shows that the use of early voting is rather evenly spread out across the globe. Even if only 9 countries are using early voting in Oceania, this represents half of the countries in the continent. This means this type of SVA is more common in Oceania compared to other continents. In total 18 countries are using early voting in Africa. With this, the share of countries using early voting in Africa is slightly higher compared to Europe, the Americas and Asia.
Figure 6 shows that the mobile ballot boxes are mostly used in Europe and Asia, and to a lesser extent in Oceania. The use of this type of SVA is rather limited in the Americas and Africa.
According to the Figure 7, in-country postal voting is rarely used in both the Americas and Africa. This type of SVA is more common in Europe, Asia and Oceania. Oceania has the highest proportion of countries using postal voting.
Figure 8 shows that Africa leads the world when it comes to the use of in-country proxy voting. Europe and Oceania have lower levels of use of this type of SVA. In the Americas and Asia, the use of proxy voting is very limited.
The global data was collected using the desk research. Researchers coded the data based on specific regulations providing for SVAs in the electoral legislation and the regulations of electoral management bodies. Whenever possible, those legal provisions were checked against the real-life implementation of SVAs.
Types of SVAs covered
- Postal voting is defined for this dataset as those measures that allow a voter to submit their ballot by physical post to the election administration. While postal voting is in principle early voting, it differs in that the vote can be physically submitted remotely by the voter themselves.
- Early voting is defined for this dataset as in-person opportunities for submitting one’s vote at a polling station before election day. Other early methods that are not in-person (such as postal or e-voting) or that do not take place in a polling station (such as mobile voting) are not included in this category.
- Mobile ballot box voting is defined for this dataset as the case when members of the election administration visit a voter either at home or at an institution with a mobile ballot box to facilitate their vote.
- Proxy voting is defined for this dataset as cases in which an authorized individual casts or transmits a ballot on behalf of the voter. While proxy voting is generally restricted to special circumstances, some countries allow it for any reason. In most cases, voters must request to vote by proxy in advance and a procedure must be defined for the voters and their proxy to identify themselves.
The four SVAs presented here are globally the most common arrangements for in-country voters. Other, less common SVAs include online voting covered in International IDEA’s ICTs in Elections Database. Online voting is currently offered in 11 countries and is in most cases limited to voting from abroad.
Early voting does not include extended polling times at the same polling station or the replacement of a single election day with multi-day voting (including the Covid-19 responses in Chile, Czech Republic or the Netherlands). Early voting does also not include staggered voting conducted on different days for electoral districts in different geographic areas (such as in India or the Seychelles)
Special arrangements for out of country voters, including postal voting, proxy voting, in-person embassy voting and online voting from abroad are covered in International IDEA’s Voting from Abroad Database.
The global data has been collected in collaboration with the leading regional organizations and experts working with elections. These include NAMFREL (Asia and the Pacific), EISA (Africa), SODE (Middle East), and an individual consultant working on the Americas. Data for European continent have been collected by several researchers of International IDEA.
- Event Report: Special Voting Arrangements (SVAs) in Europe
- Special Voting Arrangements (SVAs) in Europe: In-Country Postal, Early, Mobile and Proxy Arrangements in Individual Countries
- Event Report: Out of Country Voting: Learning from Practice
- Voting from Abroad Handbook
- Voting from Abroad Database
- ICTs in Elections Database