Mandatory voting requires electors to vote in elections or attend a polling place on voting day. If an eligible voter does not go out to vote during the elections he/she will be punished. Voting in the United States of America has been voluntary for many years. Some say that it is because of this liberty that there has been a low voter turnout in the United States. The absence of any statute guiding this principle makes voting voluntary. The constitution of the United States of America does not talk about voting comparability.
In some long-standing democracies, voting has been made compulsory. In 1777 the State of Georgia practiced compulsory voting. Every person absenting himself from an election, and who neglects to give in his ballot at such election, was subject to a penalty not exceeding five pounds. Provided that a reasonable excuse shall be admitted (constitution of Georgia, 5 Feb 1777.The Avaton project at Yale Law School). This practice has since been abolished.
Austria introduced compulsory voting for presidential elections in 1929 and parliamentary in 1982 and 2004 respectively. The Netherlands also introduced compulsory voting in 1917 but was abolished in 1970.
Currently, mandatory voting is prevalent in 32 countries but enforced in 19 countries. Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, DR Congo, Greece, Lebanon, etc. These countries enforce compulsory voting. Those countries that have mandatory voting but do not enforce the provision are France (senate elections only) Luxembourg, Mexico, Paraguay, Philippines, Thailand, and Italy, etc. However, it should be noted that penalties for non-voting are always not strict. Personal excuses are allowed. Whichever the case, some support mandatory voting and those against it.
Need For Mandatory Voting
It is essential to find out the reasons or rationale behind compulsory or mandatory voting. Secondly to be effective ways should be found on how to affect the provision. Should it be provided in the statute or entrenched in the constitution or have it as a civic law as in the case of Italy? All those are the issues, which must be considered before this provision is affected.
In Rousseau’s words where there are free and open elections, there is the right of every individual to perform his obligation. (Richard Dagger Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism)
The main driving reason behind mandatory voting in the United States is the low voter turnout during the elections. This case is more prevalent in the United States because no law is available to compel a voter to go out and cast his/her vote. Mandatory voting will ensure that the government elected reflects the majority of the population as against that of a few individuals or citizens who came out and voted for such a government. This will ensure that the government does not neglect some particular members of the society who did not vote for it. In the 2000 elections, there was a lot of discontent about the legitimacy of the outcome of the elections. This point at hand demonstrates how mandatory voting could have been effective. Could there have been this provision voters could turn up in large numbers and the identity of the loser could have been known?
Mandatory voting will give parties enough time to make a campaign aimed at making issues rather than persuading the voters to turn up and vote for them.
True democracies will be achieved if a large number of voters turn out to cast their votes. This can be achieved if only the voting system is altered from being an individual option to being a societal obligation. In the U.S.A every citizen must pay taxes. He who refuses to pay tax is punishable. Elections are important than paying taxes. Therefore, they should also be an obligation on the individual.
Mandatory voting has the potential of increasing awareness among the common citizen, people would pay attention if their vote was required, as opposed to being able to skip the political process altogether. Mandatory voting would further ensure that citizens are politically active rather than ensure that a candidate is not chosen on his/her political party allegiance but rather individual ability.
Mandatory voting as against voluntary voting makes the exercise of voting cheaper. This is so in the sense that involuntary voting parties have to spend a lot of money crisscrossing all over the country persuading voters to turn up and vote for them on Election Day.
In a state or country with mandatory voting, there is a stiff competition of candidates vying for different positions which allows voters to pick a more suitable candidate. Due to low voter turn out some people who are interested to run for various seats are forced to hold back their political ambitions since they know they are not likely to win.
Why Voting Should Not Be Mandatory
A common argument against compulsory voting is not a civil duty, but rather a civil right. It should be noted that legal rights like free speech, voting, etc should not be compelled. Compulsory voting can be seen as infringing on the basic freedom of the citizen.
Further, compulsory voting infringes other basic rights of individuals. For instance, Jehovas witnesses believe that they should not participate in political processes. Forcing them to vote would deny them their freedom of religious practice.
Further compulsory voting represents a failure of democracy. One cannot force democracy to be in a place where it has never been. Compelling voters to cast their vote does not automatically result in democracy.
It should also be argued that making voting mandatory would expense the state because after elections the state has to use resources to crack down on those who did not vote.
Mandatory voting should not be encouraged also on the ground that some voters might not have their preferred candidates to vote for. Compelling them to vote will give an advantage to candidates who could not have otherwise been voted to be voted. For instance, recently it was argued that in Paraguay mandatory voting enabled Stroessner to claim that he was popularly elected legitimate leader.
The life of political parties is easier where there is mandatory voting. These Parties do not go out to spell their vision since they are aware that people will come out in large numbers and vote for them. They also don’t go out to spell out their policies. The best example here is The Netherlands which had to abolish compulsory voting because of the rise of splinter parties, which had the feeling that the voters of the splinter parties were disaffected, who would simply stay at home since voting was obligatory. Mandatory voting could also give room to idiots to vote because everybody will be required to vote as long as he is not a minor or barred by any law. Mandatory voting also results in Donkey-voting being an outcome of making people vote. Compulsory voting will also question the credibility of the candidate to be elected given the fact that voting is done at the grassroots; most candidates to be elected are those from the grassroots who are close to the electorate. Compulsory voting also rewards dishonest electors who turn up and vote informally to get their names marked off the roll. It also trivializes campaigns, making them more celebrity runoffs the policy campaigns.
Advocates of compulsory voting might argue that such ac higher degree of representation, some supporters of voluntary voting assert that low voter participation in voluntary elections is itself an expression of the citizenry’s political will which indicates satisfaction in an electorate.
The Position Forward
Having considered the pros and cons of both mandatory voting and voluntary voting I find these two issues more interesting. In the United States of America where there is voluntary voting, the advocates of this practice view it as a total letdown to democracy. They feel that voters in the U.S.A do not vote. It is estimated that 60 % of voters turn up to exercise their franchise. On the other hand in those countries where voting is mandatory, their advocates feel that this provision is against justice as it denies citizens the right to liberty. They feel that citizens should never be compelled to go not and vote since they may have no candidate of their choice. This will result in electing candidates who are not acceptable to the electorate. Considering all the issues, I feel that voting would rather be voluntary than mandatory. Before we legislate to bring the law into operation, we have to look at the individual’s reason for not voting. We can compel a voter to go to vote but once he is there he fails to cast his vote or cast X as in the case in Australia meaning no choice of candidates. Therefore the best way forward is to try and find out the reasons why voters are not turning out to vote. Their reasons then shall have to be addressed. Genuinely there must be a reason voters do not cast their vote.
In my view instead of bringing mandatory voting, which might not augur well with the electorate, the state can formulate some ways of making citizens come out and vote. Some of them can be introducing incentives to those who show up and vote during Election Day. However, this should be done in such a way that it does not commercialize the whole exercise nor lay the ground for corruption. For example, the youth constitute a large number of the electorate, they can be promised jobs whenever they arise owing to their record of voting.
Also, the Electoral authorities should consider reaching out to the aged and sick wherever they are by establishing mobile polling stations reaching out to the sick in hospitals and the aged in their homes. The United States should also allow citizens to vote via mail just like the case in Australia.
Further civic education is another way in which low voter turnout can be addressed. Citizens should be reached wherever they are and advised accordingly. The essence of voting must also be addressed. If all these are done I am confident that the attitude of people can change. Also voting patterns can be changed. This is by allowing voters to cast their vote by post. During elections, some voters are far from their polling stations. This makes them not cast their votes hence their vote becoming useless. Therefore, the remedy to this is by posting their vote. Except for Australia and a few countries, which have mandatory voting, the provision has not been enforced fully. It should be noted that mandatory voting limits the liberty of a citizen.
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