POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy


A quorum is defined as; the percentage of votes that must be cast for an election or poll to be valid (turnout quorum); or as the percentage of votes that must be cast for a voting option or candidate to win (approval quorum). A quorum can represent an additional hurdle to a majority, since it usually refers to the total number of all eligible voters.

Quorums are always based on a reference value of 100 percent. This reference value can be, for example, the total number of eligible voters, the number of attendees, or the number of votes cast.
A hurdle is now set for this reference value, which has to be exceeded in order for the vote to be valid or for a body to be in a position to make a decision. The hurdle must be smaller than the total reference value.

The aim of a quorum

The purpose of the quorum is to prevent the formation of an unrepresentative majority. From a strictly formal point of view the non-achievement of a quorum is not a rejection of a bill or poll, but the consequences are the same .

Types of quorum

Turnout quorum

The turnout quorum is also known as the attendance quorum. It sets the minimum turnout required for a vote or election. The turnout can be an absolute number (e.g. 1000 voters) or a percentage (50% of voters).
In Germany, turnout quorums are used in the rules of procedure for all parliaments (German Bundestag and state parliaments) as well as in the statutes of many associations. 
If the specified quorum is not reached, the committee is deemed not to be in a position to make a decision.

Approval quorum
The approval quorum is also known as the consensus quorum. As the name suggests, it requires the approval of a certain percentage of the votes. Depending on the wording of the approval quorum, it may refer to all eligible voters or to those in attendance.
Note that an approval quorum can never replace the majority needed to approve a decision, but it does represent an additional hurdle.
In the German Bundestag, there is a quorum for approval of constitutional amendments, the two-thirds majority.

Rejection quorum
The rejection quorum is the opposite of the approval quorum. In principle it works in exactly the same way, except that a certain number of “no” votes are required to achieve a rejection quorum. As with the approval quorum, the rejection quorum does not replace the majority that can reject a decision. Here, too, the reference value can be either the total number of eligible voters or the total number of those in attendance.
Rejection quorums are not used in Germany. The reason for this is that we always have to explain a change to the status quo, but not why we maintain it.

Variable quorum
 With this form of quorum, there is no fixed quorum level. The level of the hurdle to be overcome is based on turnout in an election. What this means is: The higher the turnout in a vote, the lower the hurdle to be cleared.
The variable quorum model was developed by the political scientist Thomas Hüller. The aim of this form of quorum is to maintain the protective effect of quorums without including the disadvantages of current forms of quorum.
Due to their dependency on voter turnout, variable quorums can only be used for approval or rejection quorums. 

Criticism of the quorum

Critics of the quorum accuse its proponents of wanting to restrict democracy because quorums raise the bar for democratic decisions.
The proponents of the quorum, on the other hand, wish to prevent unrepresentative majorities that would result from low turnout. 

See also: Turnout, Majority

< Go back