Despite Switzerland’s legendary levels of democracy, surprisingly few vote. At the last general election in 2019 only around 45% of voters voted. To encourage voter participation the canton of Schaffhausen fines those who don’t take the time to take part in democracy, reported SRF.
Across Switzerland, since 1979, more than 49% of eligible voters have never voted. One way to get more voters involved in elections is to fine those who don’t vote. However, only one of Switzerland’s 26 cantons has such a system. In the 19th century, voting was compulsory across the country. In the 1970s the last few cantons to abolish it did so, leaving only Schaffhausen with it.
The canton of Schaffhausen fines resident citizens CHF 6 per missed vote. With four rounds of votes a year, CHF 6 per missed vote can add up. 50 years of failing to vote could cost more than CHF 1,000.
Does the system work? It seems to. During the last main elections in 2019, Schaffhausen had a voter turnout of 60%, far higher than the Swiss average of 45%. However, Raphael Rohner, head of education for the city of Schaffhausen, thinks compulsory voting isn’t the main driver of the canton’s high level of participation. She thinks the community has been politically committed for decades.
In addition, the number of spoiled and blank votes is relatively high in the canton. It seems that some of those who are forced to vote in effect don’t.
The public in the canton appear to be divided on the subject. Some think the fine should be abolished. One man who had paid the fine thinks the amount should be increased. The fine was increased from CHF 3 to CHF 6 in 2014.
Some nations with higher penalties have even higher turnout rates. Australia fines those who don’t vote A$ 20 for first offences, with fines running as high as A$ 180 for repeat offenders. Voter turnout in Australia is typically over 90%.
SRF article (in German)