The Case For Compulsory Voting …

There are a number of reasons that we in the U.S. find ourselves with a madman at the helm.  Certainly, the Russian connection played a role, though it remains to be seen just how much of a role.  James Comey, perhaps pressured by another, played a role.  Voter laws that disenfranchised members of certain groups had a role.  But perhaps the largest reason was voter apathy … many were simply too lazy or too disgusted with both candidates to take an hour out of their year to go vote.

Only about 25% of eligible voters voted for Donald Trump.  Let that one sink in for a moment.  About ¼ of citizens over the age of 18 voted for Trump, yet he now sits in the Oval Office.  Voter turnout in the 2016 election was only around 55%.* Barely half of all those who had the opportunity to make their voices heard chose to do so.  That, my friends, is pathetic. It should be criminal … and in some places it is.

In Australia, voting is compulsory for federal and state elections for citizens aged 18 and above. A postal vote is available for those for whom it is difficult to attend a polling station. Early, or pre-poll, voting at an early voting centre is also available for those who might find it difficult to get to a polling station on election day. Eligible citizens who fail to vote at a State election and do not provide a valid and sufficient reason for such failure, will be fined. The penalty for first time offenders is $20, and this increases to $50 if you have previously paid a penalty or been convicted of this offense.

While compulsory voting is not widespread around the globe, there are 22 countries with mandatory voting laws on the books, of which 11 actually enforce said laws.  In most cases, penalties for failure to vote are minimal, a slap on the wrist, but the law does compel most to vote.  Higher voter turnout leads to governments with more stability, legitimacy and a genuine mandate to govern. Let us look at some of the pros and cons of compulsory voting.

Pros

  • A higher degree of political legitimacy: the victorious candidate therefore represents a majority of the population.
  • High levels of participation decreases the risk of political instability created by crises or charismatic demagogues.
  • Removes obstacles for minorities and other marginalized groups who are typically disenfranchised by voter laws.
  • Makes it more difficult for extremist or special interest groups to get themselves into power or to influence mainstream candidates. If fewer people vote, then it is easier for lobby groups to motivate a small section of the people to the polls and influence the outcome of the political process.
  • Since campaign funds are not needed to goad voters to the polls, the role of money in politics decreases.

Cons

  • It is essentially a compelled speech act, which violates freedom of speech because the freedom to speak necessarily includes the freedom not to speak.
  • People do not wish to be compelled to vote for a candidate they have no interest in or knowledge of.
  • Certain religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, may be against political participation.

I believe the ‘pros’ far outweigh the ‘cons’, and the arguments against compulsory voting are easy enough to overcome.  A system for compulsory voting may include an exclusion based on religious beliefs.  I have no sympathy with the argument that people may not have knowledge of a candidate.  Perhaps 50, or even 20 years ago I might have, but today, with the touch of a button people can educate themselves about the candidates and their platforms.  To fail to do so is simply a matter of laziness.  When it comes to not liking either candidate, there may be an option on the ballot to select ‘none of the above’.  At least in this case, it is understood that the voter is making a statement, stating a preference.

As for the argument that it may infringe on a person’s right to free speech, I would claim that along with rights come responsibilities.  The right to vote is equally a responsibility to participate in the election of the people whose decisions will affect every person within the country.  Voter apathy is either not caring or being too lazy to spend one hour a year going to the polls to make your voice heard.  Voter fatigue, however, is something entirely different, and I believe that it was this, more than anything, that led to the low turnout in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The campaign began in earnest in July 2015, and from that time forward we were subjected to almost non-stop debates, media coverage, rallies, political advertisements, and divisive vitriol.  Campaigns and election seasons have become almost non-stop, as we have seen by the fact that Trump is already campaigning for re-election in 2020.  I would very much like to see a moratorium on all campaign advertisements and events until three months prior to the actual election.

One final argument in favour of compulsory voting is that it is likely to lead to more moderate, less extremist candidates winning office.  According to political scientist, Waleed Aly:

“In a compulsory election, it does not pay to energize your base to the exclusion of all other voters. Since elections cannot be determined by turnout, they are decided by swing voters and won in the center… That is one reason Australia’s version of the far right lacks anything like the power of its European or American counterparts. Australia has had some bad governments, but it hasn’t had any truly extreme ones and it isn’t nearly as vulnerable to demagogues.”

While I understand that, especially in today’s political climate, it is highly unlikely we will adopt a system of mandatory voting, I would be in full support of such a measure.  The current system under which only 25% of the population selected the leader whose chaotic leadership is wreaking havoc in our nation makes our system far less of a democracy than we believe. (I found an interesting breakdown by state of voter turnout in the 2016 election.)

Compulsory voting would solve only a part of the problem with U.S. elections.  The other two remaining issues that render our current system less than fully representative of the population are gerrymandering and the electoral college.  An overhaul of both these would certainly lead to more representative outcomes, but until every person who is eligible to vote chooses to do so, We The People will continue to be led by leaders who were not elected by the majority of the citizenry, but rather the most outspoken.

* Interestingly, the highest voter turnout in the past two decades was in 2008, when 62.2% of voters participated in the election of Barack Obama.

54 thoughts on “The Case For Compulsory Voting …

  1. I think compulsory voting is a great idea. The ballot could even have a box that says, “I decline to exercise my right to vote.” Oregon, where I live, has about 70% turnout. All our voting is by mail, which makes it extremely easy to do. I am thorough irked by people who choose not to vote and then complain. Arrgghhh!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like your idea of a box that says, “I decline to exercise my right to vote.” It would surely make some ashamed enough that they would actually participate in the democratic process! I learned something new from you! I did not realize that any state had ‘vote-by-mail’ as their standard. I like that idea, and would have thought it would lead to a much higher ‘turnout’ than 70%. It virtually eradicates almost every reason or excuse people have given for not voting. The only downside I see is it might make voting irregularities harder to track. Thanks for the info … I will delve further into this … and thanks for stopping by my blog … hope you will return!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think there are problems with it. You’d have to raid a whole lot of mail boxes to get enough ballots to make a big difference. The ballots come directly to our homes with our names on them. We have about a month to do our research. I would have thought turnout would be higher. We’re a blue state – it will be a lot higher in 2018.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I could well imagine the Huff ‘N Puff brigades of The Right, The Left and the Fashionably Cynical getting on their tri-cycles and peddling around raising all sort of noise that would drown out a proper and valid debate or the merits of for and against. (I’m for it)
    Maybe the best way is to agitate from the bottom up and get folk to register to vote and to use that vote. Also if they are deemed not eligible then to jam up the system with appeals or enquiries (nobody seems enthusiastic of jamming a system by volume).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Jill,
    I would love it if the USA had compulsory voting but you know, republicans would block this as they are trying to restrict access to the WH. And I strongly support bringing civics education back into the classroom.
    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am from the UK. I like the idea of lowering the minimum age for voting to 16 and compulsory voting with an “Abstain” option in all elections / referendums. If the “Abstain” option were to be placed on all ballots would this satisfy not voting on religious grounds? Here is a link to our current voting eligibility.
    http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/faq/voting-and-registration/who-is-eligible-to-vote-at-a-uk-general-election

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the link! I am always eager to learn how things work in other countries! And yes, I think an option to abstain solves the problem. It at least shows that the person wasn’t just too lazy, but has an actual reason for non-voting. I’m not sure I agree on the 16-year-old proposal … I see the logic, but would need to give that one some thought. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The Economist, which is by far not a liberal magazine, proposes lowering the voting age to 16 so kids go vote with their parents. So it becomes a learned habit, like so many other habits kids learn while still living at home. Sure, some adopt the habit, but the chance certainly goes up.

    The article talks about the very low turn out of young voters and the peril that risks to both society and democracy.

    An interesting read, and one that the more I’ve thought about, the more I agree with,

    http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21716030-young-voters-are-becoming-disillusioned-elections-catch-them-early-and-teach-them-value

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the link … I will definitely check it out! I must think about the 16-year-old thing … it seems to me that many, if not most, at age 16 lack the maturity to make sound decisions, and this is one that affects us all. But I do like the logic of them getting into the habit at a young age. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Spot on. With the proviso that the voters pass a basic civics test so we know (a) they can read and (b) they know such things as the numbers of Senators! But it is very sad that so many simply find something “better” to do than get out and vote when it is so important.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Pathetic. But, it is as you and I have both said many times over … we need to be teaching basic civics in the schools! But with DeVos at the helm there, don’t look for it anytime soon. Grrrrrrrr ….

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    • I actually disagree with this. If a person chooses to be uniformed with their vote, that’s a choice. Not one I agree with, but their vote, their choice.

      If we think citizens are failing to learn important things, I believe we need to follow the Six Sigma philosophy and get to the root cause. Fix that.

      More than that, though, it reminds me too much of Jim Crow laws designed specifically to disenfranchise. While good in theory, in practice, I believe it would be abused and only further lower voter turnout rates.

      Liked by 1 person

    • While I have said the same thing myself, I think back to the days of poll taxes and tests for minorities, primarily African-Americans, and know that it would be abused and used as a tool to disenfranchise based on race, religion, gender identification … especially under the current administration with its history of bigotry.

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  7. I agree. I’m not sure about this, but in the Philippines, voting is mandatory. A dangerous candidate was elected though….. it wasn’t due to mandatory voting…… there were 5 candidates. The winner got with just a little over 25 % of the votes. Not good. His election is the reason why it’s not good to have so many candidates running.

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  8. In Australia I think it is why we have such a moderate political system. We have our outliers but for the most part it’s not extreme.
    Looking at the two countries we tend to have less of an anti-government sentiment. That helps encourage people to vote.
    In the end if you don’t vote you invalidate your freedom of speech, what ever you say post you not voting is irrelevant because you can’t action it, in regards to an elected official.
    An interesting point is that the people advoctating to get rid of compulsory voting are usually conservative. The use the old chestnut “freedom”.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, I believe that the end result, a higher turnout, leads to less radicalism on either right or left. And I read in several places while I was doing research for this post that compulsory voting is typically opposed by conservatives. Interesting that … something to think about. 🙂

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