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Compulsory Voting

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Andrew Williams

on 3 October 2016

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Transcript of Compulsory Voting

Compulsory Voting
Compulsory voting is a system in which electors are obliged to vote in elections or attend a polling place on voting day. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he or she may be subject to punitive measures such as fines, community service, or perhaps imprisonment if fines are unpaid or community service not performed.
Arguments For:
Arguments Against:
Compulsory voting ensures a large voter turnout. This means a victorious candidate or party clearly represents a majority of the population, not only politically motivated individuals who would vote without compulsion. This helps ensure that governments do not neglect sections of society that are less active politically. Victorious political leaders of compulsory systems may claim a higher degree of political legitimacy than those of non-compulsory systems with lower voter turnout.
If voters do not want to support any given choice, they may cast spoilt votes or blank votes. According to compulsory voting supporters, this is preferred to not voting at all because it ensures there is no possibility that the person has been intimidated or prevented from voting should they wish. In certain jurisdictions, voters also have the option to vote none of the above if they do not support any of the candidates to indicate clear dissatisfaction with the candidate list rather than simple apathy at the whole process.
Compelling voters to the polls for an election mitigates the impact that external factors may have on an individual's capacity to vote such as the weather, transport, or restrictive employers. If everybody must vote, then restrictions on voting are easily identified and steps are taken to remove them. It is a measure to prevent disenfranchisement of the socially disadvantaged. Polls are generally held on a Saturday or Sunday as evidenced in nations such as Australia, to ensure that working people can fulfill their duty to cast their vote.
More difficult for extremist or special interest groups to vote themselves into power. Under a non-compulsory voting system, if fewer people vote then it is easier for smaller sectional interests and lobby groups to motivate a small section of the people to the polls and thereby control the outcome of the political process. The outcome of a election where voting is compulsory reflects more of the will of the people (Who do I want to lead the country?) rather than reflecting who was more able to convince people to take time out of their day to cast a vote (Do I even want to vote today?).
Compulsory voting can be seen as infringing a basic freedom of the citizen. Some consider the fining of recalcitrant voters to be more oppressive still
Some believe that voting is not a civic duty, but rather a civil right. While citizens may exercise their civil rights (free speech, marriage, etc.) they are not compelled to. Furthermore, compulsory voting may infringe other rights. For example, most Jehovah's Witnesses believe that they should not participate in political events. Forcing them to vote explicitly denies them their freedom of religious practice.
Some do not support the idea of compulsory voting, particularly if they have no interest in politics or no knowledge of the candidates. Others may be well-informed, but have no preference for any particular candidate, and have no wish to give support to the incumbent political system. Such people may vote at random simply to fulfill legal requirements: the so called donkey-vote may account for 1-2% of votes in these systems, which may affect the electoral process. Similarly, citizens may vote with a complete absence of knowledge of any of the candidates, or deliberately skew their ballot to slow the polling process or disrupt the election.
Another group opposed to compulsory voting are principled nonvoters. They believe that the political process is inherently corrupt and violent, and prefer to minimize their personal involvement with it. If one adheres to Murray Rothbard's view of the state as a "gang of thieves writ large" then compulsory voting is a form of conscription into the largest mob with the biggest guns.
Around the world:
Belgium has the oldest existing compulsory voting system, introduced in 1892 for men and 1949 for women. People aged 18 and over who do not vote face a moderate fine or, if they fail to vote in at least four elections, they can lose the right to vote for 10 years. Non-voters also face difficulties getting a job in the public sector
The Australians brought in a system of compulsory attendance at elections in 1924. Voters are obliged to attend the polling station but can leave without voting after ticking their names off. Non-attendees face fines of AU$20-$AU50 (about £9 - £21) and possible imprisonment if they refuse to pay their fines (as punishment for failing to pay rather than for not voting).
In 1952, Bolivia began to give voters a card to prove their participation at an election. If voters cannot show this proof-of-voting card during the three months after the election, they can be prevented from drawing their salary from the bank.
Both Venezuela and the Netherlands abandoned compulsory voting. The last election in which the Dutch were obliged to vote was in 1967. Turnout in the subsequent national poll decreased by around 20%. Venezuela saw a drop in attendance of 30% once compulsion removed, in effect, in 1993
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