Section 5: Voting: Who, What, When, How

This post is part of an archived series of blogs called The LeVine Line, written by former Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine during her time at U.S. Embassy Bern.

25 October 2016

In Switzerland and Liechtenstein, if you are a citizen and 18 years or older, you can vote. Also – the process of voting in federal elections is pretty consistent across the Cantons and/or regions. (And remember – if you don’t vote, you can’t complain!).

In the United States, however, each voter needs to register to vote before he or she is able to actually vote (and if you move, you need to re-register) and, because of our Federalist system,  the registration and voting processes differ from state to state. That means that how ballots are made available, when voting booths are open, how accessible voting booths are, whether mail-in voting is possible, what kind of ID you need to show to vote and many other aspects of casting a vote all are determined at the state level. For example, some states make it very easy to register.  In California when you get a driver’s license you also have the option to register to vote, and 11 states allow voters to register and vote on the same day.  Some, on the other hand, make it much more difficult, even requiring potential voters to show proof of citizenship before being allowed to cast a ballot (although recent court decisions have challenged those laws as unconstitutional)

While the official Election Day in the United States is November 8th, the reality is that “Election Day” starts September 23rd when Minnesota will be the first state to distribute its ballots. It is after that point that the various states – depending on what their administrations have decided – will have early voting where they make the voting booths open so as to avoid long lines on November 8th.  Some states want to make it very easy to vote – Washington State and Oregon have 100% mail-in ballots and typically get higher than 80% voting response – but 13 states do not allow early voting in any form.