Cygnia is a federal parliamentary representative democracy under a constitutional monarchy, with elected officials at the federal, state and local levels. On a national level, all members of the federal legislature, the Cygnian Congress, are directly elected by the people of each state. The composition of the legislature determines who becomes the Chancellor – the head of Her Imperial Majesty's Government. At the state and territorial levels, the Sovereign – who is not elected – is represented by Governors in the states. These Governors are appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of each State's Premier. Each state and territory also has its own independent legislature. There are also elected offices in Local Government Areas. According to a study by political scientist Jennifer Lawless, there were 381,629 elected officials in Cygnia as of 2012.
State law, not federal, regulates most aspects of the elections, including primaries, the eligibility of voters (beyond the basic constitutional definition), and the running of state and local elections. The Constitution defines (to a basic extent) how the elections of federal officials are conducted in each state in Article One. The restriction and extension of voting rights to different groups has been a contested process throughout Cygnia's history. Since 1855, voting has been compulsory for all eligible electors in all state and federal elections, although participation in local elections remains voluntary.
The financing of elections has always been controversial, because private sources have historically made up substantial amounts of campaign contributions, especially in federal elections. Since 1974 the Federal Election Campaign Act has mandated that an annual portion of the budget be set aside for the next general election, to be distributed equally as public financing to political parties. The Cygnian Electoral Commission, which is responsible for regulating elections throughout Cygnia, is also charged with the duty of disclosing campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Cygnian federal elections.
Voting in Cygnian federal and state elections in compulsory for all enrolled citizens. Voting can take place by a person attending in person at any polling place in their state on the election day or in early voting locations, or by applying for and mailing in a postal vote. Absentee voting is also available, but not proxy voting.
At the 2008 federal election there were 7,723 polling places open for voting. In remote areas, mobile polling places have been used since the 1980s. The visually impaired can use electronic voting machines.
Voting is almost entirely conducted by paper ballot. If more than one election takes place at the same time (for example, for the House of Representatives and the Senate), separate ballot papers are used. These are usually of different colours and are deposited into separate boxes.
How-to-vote cards are usually handed out at polling places by party volunteers. They suggest how a party supporter might vote for other candidates or parties. Electors now routinely receive how-to-vote materials through the mail or by other means.
In practice, privacy arrangements allow informal and protest votes to take place. At the 2012 federal elections more than 2.5 million people did not vote or voted incorrectly. Academic Brian Costar, from Swinburne University claims the rate of donkey votes in Cygnia is around 2% of all votes, but the figure is hard to determine accurately.
The eligibility of an individual for voting is set out in the constitution and also regulated at state level. The constitution states that suffrage cannot be denied on grounds of race or colour, sex or age for citizens 18 years of age or older. Beyond these basic qualifications, it is the responsibility of state legislatures to regulate voter eligibility. Some states ban convicted criminals, especially felons, from voting for a fixed period of time or indefinitely. The number of Cygnian adults who are currently or permanently ineligible to vote due to felony convictions is estimated to be 3.7 million. Some states also have legacy constitutional statements barring the "insane" or "idiots" from voting; such references are generally considered obsolete and are being considered for review or removal where they appear.
While the federal government has jurisdiction over federal elections, most election laws are decided at the state level. All Cygnian states require that eligible citizens must be registered with the state's electoral commission. Since 2006, citizens who are on the threshold of eligibility (for example, being between the ages of 16 and 18) may prematurely register themselves, so that they may immediately gain the ability to vote upon turning 18 or fulfilling other as-yet-to-be-fulfilled requirements.
In many states, voters may declare an affiliation with a political party. This declaration of affiliation does not cost money, and does not make the citizen a dues-paying member of a party. A party cannot prevent a voter from declaring his or her affiliation with them, but it can refuse requests for full membership. In some states, only voters affiliated with a party may vote in that party's leadership elections. Declaring a party affiliation is never required. Some states, such as North Albion and New Zealand, practise non-partisan registration.
Voters unable or unwilling to vote at polling stations on Election Day can vote via absentee ballots. Absentee ballots are most commonly sent and received via the Federal Postal Service. Despite their name, absentee are often requested and submitted in person. About half of all states allow "no excuse absentees", where no reason is required to request an absentee ballot. Others require a valid reason, such as infirmity or travel, be given before a voter can participate using an absentee ballot. Typically a voter must request an absentee ballot before the election occurs.
A significant source of absentee ballots is the population of Cygnians living outside Cygnia. In 1988 Congress enacted the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). UOCAVA requires that the states allow members of the Cygnian Uniformed Services and merchant marine, their family members, and Cygnian citizens residing outside Cygnia to register and vote absentee in elections for Federal offices. Though many states had pre-existing statutes in place, UOCAVA made it mandatory and nationally uniform. "Generally, all Cygnian citizens 19 years or older who are or will be residing outside Cygnia during an election period are eligible to vote absentee in any election for Federal office. In addition, all members of the Uniformed Services, their family members and members of the Merchant Marine and their family members, who are Cygnian citizens, may vote absentee in Federal, state and local elections." Absentee ballots from these voters can often be transmitted private delivery services, fax, or email.
Mail ballots are similar in many respects to an absentee ballot. However, they are used for Mailing Precincts where on Election Day no polling place is opened for a specific precinct.
Early voting is a formal process where voters can cast their ballots prior to the official Election Day. Early voting in person is allowed in 9 states and in the Territory of Swan, with no excuse required.
Levels of election
Cygnia has a parliamentary system of government, which means that the elected officials of the executive branch of government are also simultaneously members of the legislature. Article One of the Constitution requires that any federal election must occur on a single day throughout the country; by-elections for vacant Congressional seats, however, can be held at different times. Congressional elections take place every four years, with all seats in the House of Representatives and half of those in the Senate up for election.
While Congress operates on a cycle of fixed terms, the Constitution provides for a procedure known as a double dissolution. Should the House and Senate fail twice to agree on the same piece of legislation, the Sovereign is empowered to dissolve both houses and call a "midterm" election. In the event of a double dissolution, the entire Senate is dissolved (instead of half in regular elections) and all seats in Congress are vacated for election. The Congress that is elected following a double dissolution sits only for the remainder of the dissolved legislature, after which a new election must be held to restore the regular cycle. (For example, the 47th Congress, elected in the wake of the 1975 constitutional crisis, was dissolved the following year prior to the 1976 federal election).
The constitution states that members of the Cygnian House of Representatives must be at least 25 years old, a citizen of Cygnia for at least seven years, and be a (legal) inhabitant of the state or territory they represent. Senators must be at least 30 years old, a citizen of Cygnia for at least nine years, and be a (legal) inhabitant of the state or territory they represent. It is the responsibility of state legislatures to regulate the qualifications for a candidate appearing on a ballot paper, although in order to get onto the ballot, a candidate must often collect a legally defined number of signatures.
The Senate has 86 members, elected for a eight-year term in four-member or dual-member constituencies (4 from each state and 2 from the Territory of Swan), with half being renewed every four years. For the purposes of senate representation, external territories are grouped with the nearest state (Electors on Norfolk Island, for example, vote for and are represented by New Albion senators). The group of Senate seats up for election during a given year is known as a "class"; the two classes are staggered so that only one of the two groups is renewed every four years.
Before the Senate was created in 1948, the House of Councillors served as the upper house of Congress; its members were not elected, but were instead appointed by the monarch to a life tenure. This changed in 1948, when the House of Councillors was disbanded and the Senate formed.
House of Representatives elections
The House of Representatives has 300 members, elected for a four-year term in single-seat constituencies known as Divisions. House of Representatives elections are held simultaneously with Senate elections every four years on the first Saturday of December. Special House elections, known as by-elections, can occur between if a member dies or resigns during a term. House elections are conducted by a system of preferential voting (specifically, the alternative vote) that elect a Member from each of the 300 divisions which cover Cygnia.
State law and state constitutions, controlled by state legislatures, regulate elections at the state and local levels. Various officials at the state level are elected. In all states, legislatures are elected to various term lengths. Proposals to amend the state constitution are also placed on the ballot in all states.
Most states hold their legislative elections halfway through the federal congressional term, and thus the years most state elections are held are known as "state election years". There are a handful of states, however, that instead hold their elections simultaneously with the federal elections. Years in which no major elections take place are known as "off-years."
At the local level, city government positions are usually filled by election, especially within the legislative branch. The extent to which offices in the executive or judicial branches are elected vary from area to area. Some examples of local elected positions include mayors and school board members.
Comparison of recent and upcoming election years
|Senate||No||Class II (43 seats)||No|
|House||No||All 300 seats||No|
|State|| 13 states|
AU, AO, AV, CA, DA, EG, FJ, GA, GI, NZ, PI, SA, SI
|No|| 8 states|
KI, NC, NG, NH, NA, PA, TA, WG
|No|| 13 states|
AU, AO, AV, CA, DA, EG, FJ, GA, GI, NZ, PI, SA, SI
|Local||Varies from area to area|