Paper ballots, plastic tubs, human counters: It’s remarkably similar all over.
After the 2000 presidential election, which Al Gore lost by a hair, talk of hanging chads threw the technology of voting booths into question. More recent chatter around the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump led Kara Swisher to muse, on recent episodes of Recode Decode, about the likelihood of voting machines getting hacked and the possibility of phone-voting in the future.
But when you look at polling stations around the world, whether the elections are considered fair or fraudulent, most of us are using the same methods: Paper ballots, marked by humans, put in boxes, counted by other humans.
The general election in Spain on June 26, 2016, was the second attempt to produce a government after an election in December failed to do so. This voter’s got no turntables or a microphone, but he does have a voting booth.
A Peruvian peasant shows her ink-marked finger, proof that she voted in one of several elections in 2000 that ultimately put Alejandro Toledo, the country’s first indigenous leader, in charge after months of contested runoffs and allegations of widespread fraud in the administrations of his predecessors.
Voters at an elementary school on July 2, 2016, in Woongarrah Public School in the electorate of Dobell. They were there to elect that country’s 45th parliament.
A few days later, “scrutineers” counted mail-in votes; the election was still too close to call.
In Liberia, a woman voted in the runoff election held on November 8, 2005, to decide between popular soccer star George Weah and Liberian Finance Minister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who eventually prevailed to become the first democratically elected female head of state in Africa. She is still in power and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Anne Hidalgo, Paris’s deputy major and a candidate from the Socialist Party for mayor, took to a voting booth on March 30, 2014. Her victory made her the first female mayor of Paris, though her party took a beating elsewhere around the country.
Iranians held that country’s first parliamentary elections since its nuclear deal on February 26, 2016.
Just last month, voters in Thailand supported that country’s 20th constitution (in the 84 years since the end of monarchic rule), which puts military leaders in control of the government. The hope is for at least a few years of stability.
On October 26, 2014, Ukrainian voters elected billionaire businessman Petro Porshenko by a huge margin. The election was supposed to unite factions in that country, which is not recognized by Russia, but so far the Minsk peace agreement (patched together in 2015) is still not quite defusing the conflict.
In advance of the 2010 parliamentary election in Afghanistan, the Taliban threatened violence at the polls, and claimed in the aftermath to have carried out more than 100 attacks. A human rights organization monitoring the election said that although there were several bomb and rocket attacks, voting on the whole was safer than expected and hadn’t been disrupted. Turnout was understandably low.
In a vote held on July 10, 2016, Japanese voters ushered in the two-thirds majority needed for prime minister Shinzo Abe to revise that country’s pacifist, war-renouncing constitution.
Here’s an interesting twist: The polling stations and ballot boxes are metal. But the ballots are still paper, counted by hand.
Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil
On October 5, 2014, Brazilians barely re-elected progressive President Dilma Rousseff, a populist heroine whose approval ratings nosedived during her tenure. Two years later, she was impeached and removed from office in a move some called a coup. Voter fraud, however, was never considered to be an issue; rather, she said she was ousted by the manipulations of elite government insiders.
After Vladimir Putin changed voting laws, candidates who supported him sailed to victory on March 4, 2012. Many of them had previously been appointed by him and then resigned (while still serving under a special arrangement with the Kremlin) so that this special election would have to take place, knowing they were favored to win anyway. Confusing and not quite aboveboard, but these ballot boxes weren’t the issue.
A historic election on November 8, 2015, had the Burmese National League for Democracy winning a landslide “super-majority” over the military parties that had controlled the country for half a century. This was the first free and fair national election since a 1962 military coup. As in Peru, ink-stained fingers served as proof of voting.
The Burmese vote wasn’t perfect. There were complaints that unregistered factory workers couldn’t vote and reports of absentee ballots without names, and the military retained automatic control of 25 percent of the seats. Still, the ballot system (and more plastic tubs!) was not the issue.
A colossally low voter turnout in the first election since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, who had been Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, led international observers to criticize that country’s election process. They cited repression of opposition to the established leadership and the financial advantage of and media attention to the eventual winner, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Sisi won with about 94 percent of the vote; 3 percent went to his opposition, and 3 percent were defaced protest votes. So, you know. Plastic tubs and inky fingers are no guarantee.
Seoul, South Korea
Voters on April 13, 2016, made sure its politically conservative president would be up against a parliament consisting mostly of centrist and progressive candidates. The surprise vote of no-confidence in President Park Geun-hye, whose father was dictator throughout ’60s and ’70s, came as a shock. Also: Dog.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Early voting has already begun in the Clinton-Trump race. One would be hard-pressed to imagine a more American process than voting booths set up in a mall with Elvis overlooking the proceedings.