The Principles of Electoral Law
The principles of electoral law in Austria are laid down in the Federal Constitutional Law. The electoral laws governing elections for the various democratic institutions at federal and provincial level have to comply with these principles.
All Austrian citizens are entitled to vote (active suffrage) and to be elected (passive suffrage) once they have reached voting age, independently of gender, class, property, educational background, religion etc. The only reason for exclusion is a court conviction carrying an unconditional sentence of more than five years’ (and in certain cases more than one year’s) imprisonment, in which latter case the court must so decide expressly.
The votes of all voters have the same weight in respect of the outcome of the election. Nobody must be accorded more than one vote on account of his/her higher tax payments or the possession of several residences.
Every person entitled to vote may elect Members of the National Council directly and without intermediation. This principle excludes the use of an electoral-college system such as exists in the United States of America.
Voters cast their ballots in person – in the presence of an election authority or a government organ entrusted with organising and running the election. In the case of postal voting, voters have to sign a solemn declaration that they have filled in the ballot sheet personally and in the absence of any observers. And nobody can appoint another person to vote for him or her by proxy.
A voter’s choice is nobody else’s business. The guarantee of a secret ballot makes sure that voters can cast their vote without anybody observing them. They put their checkmark against the name of their choice in a screened booth and place their ballot in an anonymous envelope, which is then put into the ballot box. This ensures that the way an individual has voted cannot be reconstructed when the votes are counted.
Voters are entirely free in their decision and must on no account be interfered with by threats or pressure. This is guaranteed by provisions to this effect contained in the Code of Penal Law. There is a close connection between the free suffrage and the secret ballot.
The principle of proportional representation makes sure that the parties standing for election are represented in accordance with the share of votes they have received in the latest election. The procedure by which care is taken that the individual party’s share in the vote is adequately reflected in the number of seats assigned to it is highly complex: the counting and assignment of votes cast (“seat allocation”) passes through three phases. The system of proportional representation is the opposite of majority representation (also called the first-past-the-post or winner-take-all system).