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Nudging, Turnout and E-Voting

Low turnout is a serious democratic problem. Countries and respective governments have debated on how to solve this issue and increase the overall turnout of elections. Because of that, e-voting has started to be seen as a possible solution. But does E-voting matter for turnout? How can Behavioural Economics contribute to the debate? In order to increase the turnout in elections, governments have taken different approaches to convince citizens to go to polling stations and vote. For instance, 13% of countries with free elections adopted compulsory voting. However, most of the countries have been looking for other alternatives and E-voting has been the one getting most of the interest.

What is E-voting? E-voting (electronic voting) is voting that uses computerised means, as electronic ballots, and automated vote-counting machines. It has been claimed to be an effective tool that can improve the efficiency of the election process. Well-executed e-voting solutions can increase the speed of the vote count and overall, simplify the whole voting process.

Drawbacks Nevertheless, such a complex task does not come without challenges. There are three general categories of criticism: issues with technology, the possibility of fraud, and protection of voters and votes. From a behavioural perspective, it is not easy to trust a system that the general public is not allowed to access, i.e., the software that controls the voting machines. Furthermore, people without a fairly good knowledge about the internet could commit mistakes due to confusion and because people would have to identify themselves to vote could lead to problems with keeping the anonymity of the voters.

Main advantages Despite these concerns, there are also advantages in adopting e-voting and countries have continued to embrace them at an amazing speed. One of the significant benefits of adopting this strategy would be the increased efficiency both in counting votes as well as stopping common election mistakes i.e., selecting more than one candidate.

Evidence in Brazil For instance, in Brazil, after adopting e-voting, 135 million votes were counted and released in less than 75 minutes after closing polls. Additionally, e-voting could increase the ease of voting for citizens who are otherwise geographically isolated from election centres and polls. This would be important for immigrants and dual nationality citizens who often are located far away from abroad election centres (embassies and consulates).

Evidence in Belgium In 2014, a case study was made about Belgian local elections where voting is compulsory. Regarding various elements related to the electoral system such as political competition and socio-demographic factors, models showed that turnout decreases in municipalities where e-voting is used. This is true for all election years since e-voting has been implemented in Belgium, from 1994 up to 2012. The paper also shows that the negative effect of e-voting on turnout increases over time. Another study made by Bochsler about Estonian local elections in 2010 had no discernible influence on turnout.

By offering an easier way to vote, internet voting is expected to increase turnout. Empirically, most studies relying on aggregate data have found nearly no effects of e-voting on turnout, which shows that people who would cast their vote online would also be the same that would go to the polling station. Therefore, e-voting would be a good candidate to solve efficiency problems in elections but no use to increase turnout.

Turnout and behavioural economics Social science has pointed to some factors that affect voter turnout. These factors do not appeal to self-interested motives and may be considered nudges.

In 2008 during US elections, Nickerson & Rogers carried out a social experiment to test interventions to get people to the polling stations. It consisted of a phone campaign and compared three tactics to a control group that was not contacted at all. In group 1, people were reminded of the upcoming election and their duty to vote. In group 2, the self-prediction group people were also asked if they intended to vote. The last group tested implementation intentions meaning they were also asked, on top of their intention to vote, about the time at which they would vote, where they would be coming from and what they were doing beforehand. By making a mental link between situation and behaviour in advance, it becomes more likely that a person will do as planned and go vote. Also, it was perceived that households with more than one eligible voter already required coordination and that involved making plans beforehand (intentions). The results were impressive as adjusting for contact rates, the effect spikes at a 9.1% increase in turnout.

Most decisions are shaped by how people act around each other and making voting a social situation, an event, can contribute to higher participation rates and increase voter turnout.


Adrien Petitpas, Julien M. Jaquet, Pascal Sciarini, Does E-Voting matter for turnout, and to whom?, Electoral Studies, 2020

Bochsler, D (2009). Can the internet increase political participation? An analysis of remote electronic voting's effect on turnout. DISC Working Paper Series 08, Center for the Study of Imperfections democracy (DISC), Central European University, Budapest

Dandoy, Régis. The Impact of e-Voting on Turnout: Insights from the Belgian Case. 2014 1st International Conference on eDemocracy and eGovernment, ICEDEG 2014. 29-37. 10.1109/ICEDEG.2014.6819940.

Lin, G. and Espinoza, N., 2007. Electronic Voting. [online] Cs.stanford.edu. Available at: https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/2006-07/electronic-voting/index_files/page0001.html

Nickerson, David & Rogers, Todd. (2010). Do You Have a Voting Plan? Implementation Intentions, Voter Turnout, and Organic Plan Making. Psychological science. 21. 194-9. 10.1177/0956797609359326.

Petitpas, A., M.Jaquet, J. and Sciarini, P., 2020. Does E-Voting matter for turnout, and to whom?. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/articl/pii/S0261379420301244

Urnas biométricas garantem mais segurança ao processo de votação. (in Portuguese). Globo Ciência. September 29, 2012. Available at: http://redeglobo.globo.com/globociencia/noticia/2012/09/urnas-biometricas-garantem-mais-seguranca-ao-processo-de-votacao.html

Wolf, P., Nackerdien, R. and Tuccinardi, D., 2011. Introducing electronic voting. Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

By Maria Sofia Murça

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