50 Biggest Elections in the World

January 12, 2018 by John Harrington

Source: bizoo_n / iStock

Democracy in all its forms has been celebrated since it became a core principle of Greek society over 1,500 years ago. Today, whether or not citizens are granted the right to choose their leader or representative is one of the main litmus tests for fair governance.

While voting may not always mean a democratic process, from China, with a population of more than 1.4 billion people, to tiny Montserrat, which numbers 5,215 residents, virtually every nation on Earth votes. It is a right millions have died for, and the very act of voting in many parts of the world is itself an act of bravery. Few images were more moving than those of voters in war-torn Iraq holding up their purple-hued thumbs to indicate they had voted.

To track down the largest voting contests in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed total votes cast in elections and referendums around the world since as early as 1945. Because China and India are the world’s most populous countries, those nations’ elections over the years would by default dominate a significant portion of the largest elections.

To provide a broader perspective on voting contests worldwide, we considered each country only once. Included on our list are the biggest turnouts for presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as for referendums such as the Brexit vote, by country.

Click here to see the 50 biggest elections in the world.

The journey to gain universal suffrage has been a long and arduous one. Though many free men could vote in ancient Greece and Rome, that right was not extended to women or slaves. For long stretches of history, power was held by royalty and the aristocracy. That began to change after the Enlightenment and philosophers such as John Locke, who believed the power to govern had to be conferred on rulers by the people.

In colonial America, only white Protestant men who held property could vote. In the 19th century, the vote was extended to men who did not own property, and then to freed slaves by the 15th Amendment. In reality, though, African-Americans were kept away from the ballot box in the South by poll taxes, literacy tests, and intimidation tactics. They would not be able to truly exercise their right to vote until civil rights legislation was passed after World War II. Women did not get the right to vote until 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

For one-party countries such as China and North Korea, the outcome on election day is not in doubt. Even so, people are compelled to vote in those countries, where the voter turnout is at or near 100%. In many multi-party countries such as Germany and Italy, the voter turnout tops 80% routinely, well above that of the United States.

In 22 countries, voter turnout percentages are boosted by compulsory voting requirements, mostly for those residents 18 years and older. Not voting in certain nations can have punitive consequences. In Australia, for example, citizens who don’t vote can get fined $20.

To identify the biggest elections in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed total votes cast in parliamentary and presidential elections between 1945 and the present, as well as referendums, from the Voter Turnout Database, a program produced by the Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). We also considered vote counts in elections held in nations IDEA does not track, such as North Korea, China, and Vietnam. Only the largest election in each country’s history was considered.

Population figures came from the International Database of the U.S Census Bureau. Population data is adjusted during an election year to calculate the voting age population. In the case of Syrian Arab Republic, this adjustment results in a voting age population that is smaller than the number of total votes.

Source: Paul Morigi / Getty Images for Concordia Summit

50. Ghana
> Presidential election of 2012: 11,246,982 total votes
> Population: 24,652,402 (total) 13,682,083 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 80.2%
> Highlight of election:

John Dramani Mahama is declared president-elect after getting 50.7% of the vote amid claims the result was manipulated.

Source: Nicky Loh / Getty Images

49. Malaysia
> Parliamentary election of 2013: 11,257,147 total votes
> Population: 29,628,392 (total) 17,883,697 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 84.8%
> Highlight of election:

Malaysia’s governing coalition wins a majority of parliamentary seats in the biggest turnout in the country’s history.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Salah Malkawi / Getty Images

48. Syrian Arab Republic
> Presidential election of 2014: 11,634,412 total votes
> Population: 17,951,639 (total) 10,852,241 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 73.4%
> Highlight of election:

President Bashar al-Assad gains a landslide victory in the war-torn nation with almost 88% of the vote.

Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

47. Sudan
> Parliamentary election of 2010: 11,646,822 total votes
> Population: 35,505,000 (total) 18,168,000 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 72.0%
> Highlight of election:

President Omar al-Bashir is declared the winner of the country’s first multi-party election in more than 20 years.

Source: Buddhika Weerasinghe / Getty Images

46. Sri Lanka
> Presidential election of 2015: 12,264,377 total votes
> Population: 21,866,445 (total) 15,262,770 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 81.5%
> Highlight of election:

Sri Lankan leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, in office since 2005, is beaten by Maithripala Sirisena in a presidential election.

Source: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

45. Iraq
> Parliamentary election of 2014: 13,013,765 total votes
> Population: 32,585,692 (total) 16,942,233 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 60.5%
> Highlight of election:

Iraqis elect 328 lawmakers for the parliament, which then chooses Haider al-Abadi as prime minister to form an inclusive government from the Shiite alliance, Kurds, and Sunnis.

Source: Andrew Wong / Getty Images

44. Taiwan
> Parliamentary election of 2012: 13,514,199 total votes
> Population: 23,230,506 (total) 18,115,247 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 74.7%
> Highlight of election:

For the first time on the island nation, legislative elections are held simultaneously with the presidential election.

Source: Staff / Getty Images

43. Romania
> Parliamentary election of 1990: 13,707,159 total votes
> Population: N/A (total) N/A (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 79.7%
> Highlight of election:

The first free elections are held in this Eastern European nation since 1937, and they are the first free elections since the overthrow of the communist regime six months earlier.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Ryan Pierse / Getty Images

42. Australia
> Parliamentary election of 2016: 14,262,016 total votes
> Population: 22,992,654 (total) 18,063,010 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 91.0%
> Highlight of election:

The 2016 Australian federal election is a double dissolution election to resolve deadlocks in the bicameral parliament to elect all 226 members of parliament.

Source: rchphoto / iStock

41. Venezuela
> Presidential election of 2012: 15,176,253 total votes
> Population: 28,047,938 (total) 18,511,639 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 80.3%
> Highlight of election:

Hugo Chavez is elected to a fourth term as president but dies two months into his term.

Source: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

40. Algeria
> Presidential election of 2009: 15,356,024 total votes
> Population: 34,178,188 (total) 23,315,450 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 74.6%
> Highlight of election:

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is re-elected to a third term with 90.2% of the vote.

Source: Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images

39. Kenya
> Presidential election of 2017: 15,590,236 total votes
> Population: 47,615,739 (total) 25,374,082 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 79.5%
> Highlight of election:

Kenya’s supreme court upholds the triumph of President Uhuru Kenyatta following a controversial rerun of presidential election.

Source: Nick J. / iStock

38. Tanzania, United Republic of
> Presidential election of 2015: 15,596,110 total votes
> Population: 51,045,882 (total) 24,994,742 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 67.3%
> Highlight of election:

John Magufuli, a chemist by trade and an anti-corruption candidate, wins 58% of the vote in Tanzania’s presidential election.

Source: Mario Tama / Getty Images

37. Colombia
> Presidential election of 2014: 15,794,940 total votes
> Population: 46,245,297 (total) 30,134,194 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 47.9%
> Highlight of election:

Juan Manuel Santos is re-elected president. The result is seen by political observers as an endorsement of the president’s continuing peace talks with rebel group FARC.

[in-text-ad]

Source: korea-dpr.com

36. North Korea
> Parliamentary election of 2015: 17,000,000 total votes
> Population: N/A (total) N/A (voting age)
> Voter turnout: N/A
> Highlight of election:

Local elections are held in North Korea for the first since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011.

Source: Ian Willms / Getty Images

35. Canada
> Parliamentary election of 2015: 17,711,983 total votes
> Population: 35,099,836 (total) 28,512,041 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 68.3%
> Highlight of election:

Justin Trudeau, whose father was prime minister, is elected PM after the Liberal Party prevents the Conservative Party from winning a fourth straight mandate.

Source: piccaya / iStock

34. Peru
> Parliamentary election of 2016: 18,731,066 total votes
> Population: 30,741,062 (total) 20,909,390 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 81.9%
> Highlight of election:

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist, wins the presidency of Peru by less than half a percentage point over Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori.

Source: John Moore / Getty Images

33. Congo, Democratic Republic of
> Parliamentary election of 2011: 18,911,572 total votes
> Population: 71,712,867 (total) 34,036,859 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 59.1%
> Highlight of election:

President Joseph Kabila is declared the winner of the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, igniting protests and prompting a claim to power by his top challenger.

Source: efesenko / iStock

32. Uzbekistan
> Presidential election of 2015: 18,942,349 total votes
> Population: 30,492,800 (total) 19,248,000 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 91.1%
> Highlight of election:

Islam Karimov’s re-election as president is criticized by observers over irregularities and lack of competition. He has been president of Uzbekistan since 1990.

Source: JacquesKloppers / iStock

31. South Africa
> Parliamentary election of 1994: 19,726,610 total votes
> Population: 40,436,000 (total) 23,063,910 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 86.9%
> Highlight of election:

In the first elections in South Africa in which citizens of all races are allowed to take part, former political prisoner Nelson Mandela is elected the first black South African president by the National Assembly and is inaugurated the next day.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images

30. Myanmar
> Parliamentary election of 2015: 23,911,784 total votes
> Population: 56,320,206 (total) 38,646,398 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 69.7%
> Highlight of election:

In the country’s first national vote that ended 50 years of military rule, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party wins a landslide victory.

Source: DimaBerkut / iStock

29. Poland
> Parliamentary election of 1980: 24,816,304 total votes
> Population: 35,578,016 (total) N/A (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 98.9%
> Highlight of election:

Election results are controlled by the communist government, which is beginning to confront the emerging Solidarity movement.

Source: Mario Tama / Getty Images

28. Argentina
> Parliamentary election of 2015: 26,048,446 total votes
> Population: 43,431,886 (total) 31,996,332 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 81.1%
> Highlight of election:

Argentina shifts to the center-right after 12 years of leftist government by electing Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri as president.

Source: Bruno Vincent / Getty Images

27. Spain
> Parliamentary election of 2004: 26,155,436 total votes
> Population: 42,345,342 (total) 34,304,048 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 75.7%
> Highlight of election:

Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party gets 43% of the popular vote, gaining 39 seats in the Congress of Deputies for a total of 164 seats.

Source: Graeme Robertson / Getty Images

26. Ukraine
> Presidential election of 2004: 29,068,971 total votes
> Population: 47,732,079 (total) 37,206,111 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 77.3%
> Highlight of election:

Viktor Yushchenko wins 52% of the vote after two runoff elections due to contested voting results.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

25. Egypt
> Parliamentary election of 2012: 29,279,884 total votes
> Population: 83,688,164 (total) 53,245,955 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 62.0%
> Highlight of election:

Nearly 30 million votes are cast in the first election after Hosni Mubarak’s dismissal as president and the dissolvement of Parliament by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Source: Jean Chung / Getty Images

24. Korea, Republic of
> Presidential election of 2017: 32,807,908 total votes
> Population: 51,181,299 (total) 42,104,992 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 77.2%
> Highlight of election:

Democratic candidate Moon Jae-in wins 41% of the vote.

Source: Jack Taylor / Getty Images

23. Brexit
> Referendum of 2016: 33,600,000 total votes
> Population: N/A (total) N/A (voting age)
> Voter turnout: N/A
> Highlight of election:

United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union.

Source: Leonid Andronov / iStock

22. United Kingdom
> Parliamentary election of 1992: 33,653,800 total votes
> Population: 57,998,000 (total) 44,658,460 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 77.8%
> Highlight of election:

Conservative Party maintains control of Parliament for fourth consecutive elections.

Source: RAMIRO_BERROCAL / iStock

21. Ethiopia
> Parliamentary election of 2015: 34,351,444 total votes
> Population: 99,465,819 (total) 49,011,364 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 93.2%
> Highlight of election:

Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front wins majority of seats in the House of People’s Representatives.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Chumsak Kanoknan / Getty Images

20. Thailand
> Parliamentary election of 2007: 35,844,272 total votes
> Population: 63,937,800 (total) 47,021,213 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 78.5%
> Highlight of election:

Close to 36 million votes are cast in the first election after the Council for National Security overthrew the elected government in 2006.

Source: Photitos2016 / iStock

19. France
> Presidential election of 2007: 37,342,004 total votes
> Population: 63,713,926 (total) 48,651,555 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 84.0%
> Highlight of election:

Nicolas Sarkozy defeats Ségolène Royal for president with 53% of the vote.

Source: Majid Saeedi / Getty Images

18. Iran, Islamic Republic of
> Presidential election of 2017: 41,366,085 total votes
> Population: 83,768,457 (total) 60,447,043 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 73.3%
> Highlight of election:

Reform candidate Hassan Rouhani is re-elected with 57% of the vote.

Source: CaronB / iStock

17. Italy
> Parliamentary election of 1992: 41,479,764 total votes
> Population: 56,859,000 (total) 44,918,610 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 87.4%
> Highlight of election:

A strong majority of Italians vote in the first election held with the Democratic Party of the Left, replacing the disbanded Italian Communist Party.

Source: agafapaperiapunta / iStock

16. Nigeria
> Presidential election of 2003: 42,018,735 total votes
> Population: 129,934,911 (total) 64,319,246 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 69.1%
> Highlight of election:

Olusegun Obasanjo wins the presidency, but no opposition party recognizes the results due to widespread electoral fraud.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Dondi Tawatao / Getty Images

15. Philippines
> Parliamentary election of 2016: 44,549,212 total votes
> Population: 102,624,209 (total) 61,728,990 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 82.0%
> Highlight of election:

Rodrigo Duterte wins the presidency with 39% of the vote.

Source: Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

14. Pakistan
> Parliamentary election of 2013: 46,217,482 total votes
> Population: 193,238,868 (total) 114,309,516 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 53.6%
> Highlight of election:

Pakistan Muslim League wins the majority of seats.

Source: Elif Sogut / Getty Images

13. Turkish
> Presidential power referendum of 2017: 48,500,000 total votes
> Population: N/A (total) N/A (voting age)
> Voter turnout: N/A
> Highlight of election:

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s presidential powers are expanded with the passing of several new constitutional amendments.

Source: Photo_Russia / iStock

12. Turkey
> Parliamentary election of 2015: 48,523,610 total votes
> Population: 82,523,053 (total) 57,579,752 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 85.2%
> Highlight of election:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP Party loses 70 seats due to high voter turnout for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party.

Source: shakzu / iStock

11. Mexico
> Presidential election of 2012: 49,087,446 total votes
> Population: 114,975,406 (total) 76,008,240 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 63.1%
> Highlight of election:

Enrique Peña Nieto replaces Felipe Calderón as president.

[in-text-ad]

Source: cbies / iStock

10. Germany
> Parliamentary election of 1998: 49,947,087 total votes
> Population: 82,172,259 (total) 66,313,874 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 82.2%
> Highlight of election:

Social Democratic Party becomes the largest faction in parliament with 41% of seats.

Source: vinhdav / iStock

9. Vietnam
> Parliamentary election of 2016: 67,000,000 total votes
> Population: 95,261,021 (total) 68,142,322 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 99.3%
> Highlight of election:

Communist Party wins 95.75% of total vote.

Source: Karimphoto / iStock

8. Bangladesh
> Parliamentary election of 2008: 69,172,649 total votes
> Population: 151,289,991 (total) 87,634,867 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 85.3%
> Highlight of election:

Awami League Party (consisting of 14 different parties) wins 263 out of 300 seats in parliament.

Source: Buddhika Weerasinghe / Getty Images

7. Japan
> Parliamentary election of 2009: 72,003,538 total votes
> Population: 127,078,679 (total) 103,833,813 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 69.3%
> Highlight of election:

Democratic Party wins in a massive victory to take 221 of 308 seats in the House of Representatives.

Source: DedMityay / iStock

6. Russian Federation
> Presidential election of 1991: 79,498,240 total votes
> Population: 148,624,000 (total) 108,495,520 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 74.7%
> Highlight of election:

The first ever presidential election results in Boris Yeltsin winning 58.6% of the vote.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Vergani_Fotografia / iStock

5. Brazil
> Parliamentary election of 2014: 113,232,072 total votes
> Population: 202,656,788 (total) 150,803,268 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 80.6%
> Highlight of election:

Pro-government coalition parties wins twice the amount of votes as the opposition coalition.

Source: Nurcholis Anhari Lubis / Getty Images

4. Indonesia
> Parliamentary election of 2014: 139,573,927 total votes
> Population: 253,609,643 (total) 168,300,873 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: N/A
> Highlight of election:

Democratic Party of Struggle wins majority of the votes and gains 15 seats.

Source: PeteHendleyPhotography / iStock

3. United States
> Parliamentary election of 2016: 140,114,503 total votes
> Population: 323,995,528 (total) 250,293,421 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 65.4%
> Highlight of election:

Republicans take control of the House and Senate.

Source: rmnunes / iStock

2. India
> Parliamentary election of 2014: 553,801,801 total votes
> Population: 1,236,344,631 (total) 787,860,328 (voting age)
> Voter turnout: 66.4%
> Highlight of election:

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins majority of seats in parliament (282).

Source: long8614 / iStock

1. China
> Parliamentary election of 2016: 900,000,000 total votes
> Population: N/A (total) N/A (voting age)
> Voter turnout: N/A
> Highlight of election:

2.5 million Communist Party-approved deputies are appointed to local governing bodies.