Are More Choices in the Ballot Better? Cross-National and Experimental Evidence

Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 11 Sep 2011

See all articles by Aina Gallego

Aina Gallego

Autonomous University of Barcelona; Stanford University

Date Written: 2011


Some voting procedures allow citizens a larger amount of choice than others, for example by enabling to rank or weight support to different candidates. Yet, we know little about the consequences of providing more freedom of choice in elections. This paper presents two contending perspectives on ballot structure effects on voter turnout. Ballots that allow for preference expression increase the benefits of voting which should promote voter participation. However, they also increase the costs of voting. While the highly educated can easily bear larger costs, the poorly educated are more sensitive to changes in the costs of voting. The poorly educated should vote at lower rates if the voting procedure is more difficult. The hypotheses are tested using two different research designs: an original survey experiment examines the internal validity of the argument, while the external validity is tested using a cross-national comparison with survey data from 88 elections. The results provide strong evidence that granting citizens more choice in the ballot reduces the electoral participation of poorly educated people by more than 10 percent points. More freedom to choose can effectively disenfranchise some citizens and results in larger inequalities in voter participation.

Keywords: Voter turnout, electoral systems, unequal participation, open ballots

Suggested Citation

Gallego, Aina, Are More Choices in the Ballot Better? Cross-National and Experimental Evidence (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Aina Gallego (Contact Author)

Autonomous University of Barcelona ( email )

Plaça Cívica
Cerdañola del Valles
Barcelona, Barcelona 08193

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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