Voting is a major tenant of democracy in many nations across the globe and has been practised for a very long time. As part of the democratic system, voting is appraised for enabling people to choose their leaders and representatives, thus directly involving them in the political landscape of a certain locality. Due to such a vital function in leadership elections, it is normal to assume that every person ought to cast a vote, but the question which remains is that ‘Should voting be mandatory?’
Who Should Vote?
Under all the so-called democratic states, there are rules which make one eligible to participate in general elections. Such rules include a person being 18 years old, being a citizen of a particular locality for a certain number of years and being a registered voter with the Electoral Commission [Source]. Because elections affect all citizens, every eligible person should vote to exercise their democratic rights.
When it comes to the issue of making voting mandatory, it is still debated whether it is good or bad for people. But the popular system of governance gives communities the leeway to either participate or not participate in elections. Adults have the liberty to make acceptable choices and are trusted to do whatever is best for their livelihood; hence, mandatory voting is not common.
One might defend making voting mandatory to establish elections as an inclusive process so that no one is left behind in choosing leadership and just come around to blame the chosen leaders. Mandatory voting makes every citizen responsible for the chosen leaders. The voters will be conscious of how to develop the country by selecting the best leaders.
On the other hand, casting a vote is a subjective matter. A person must not be influenced or forced to go and vote because that will undermine the element of ‘democracy’. Mandatory voting has its pros and cons, which will be discussed below.
How does Mandatory Voting Work?
Mandatory voting means that eligible citizens must participate in voting during elections. Non-compliance to vote comes with a punishment that can be a monetary fine or community service.
Australia has imposed a $55 fine if you do not vote in a state or local government election and provide no acceptable excuse. The announcement of apparent failure to vote notifications is made within three months following the election. The implementation of mandatory voting has helped increase the number of youth who are now participating in politics. According to reports, about 92% of Australians voted in the 2019 general election.
In some countries like Brazil, an individual is automatically registered as a voter and will be required to explain if they do not vote. It is necessary to provide proof of voting compliance for many transactions, such as getting a passport, being accepted to a public institution of higher learning, obtaining government employment, and receiving government loans from a state-owned bank. Over 30 million Brazilians did not vote in the 2018 election despite the enforcement.
Better decision making
When more people are involved in the political process, it leads to better decision making. This is because when more people vote, a broader range of opinions is represented.
Increases political participation
One major reason for mandatory voting is that it increases political participation. When voting is compulsory, every eligible citizen will be forced to go out and vote. This will, in turn, increase the number of people who are politically active and aware in the country. People who are not interested in politics or do not know anything about the various political parties will be forced to take an interest in these things.
Eliminates the problem of voter apathy
Voter apathy is a big problem in many countries around the world. People do not vote because they do not think that their vote will make any difference. When voting is mandatory, it eliminates this problem because everyone will have to vote.
Promotes Inclusion and Legitimacy
The most argued pro of mandatory voting is that “Voting is a necessary part of the duties of citizenship, just like jury duty or paying taxes” [Source], which means it should encompass every citizen in a nation, not just a few individuals. Also, if all citizens vote, the winning candidate will win with the most people’s votes.
Encourage Voters to Get More Knowledge about a Candidate’s Views
Compulsory voting is likely to increase the political education of the people since they will pay more attention to voting for the correct leader. Such a system still gives a person a choice as they can lodge a blank or spoiled ballot paper if they do not wish to participate in the elections. In theory, compulsory voting can influence leaders to fulfil promises made to the electorates.
Reduce the need for large sums of money in campaigns.
Political parties benefit financially from compulsory voting without spending a lot on getting the voters to polling booths.
Create a broader campaign.
Mandatory voting makes the campaigns broader as they will not just focus on the people who are more likely to vote. Candidates will try to get more votes from a larger pool of people. It should also imply greater accountability for politicians to represent the concerns of all citizens.
Encourage political stability
It ensures good governance, reduces the risk of revolution, and helps to ensure political stability. When there is division, there is instability. As a result, low voter turnout raises the danger of political upheaval sparked by leaders with hidden objectives.
Freedom of Choice Is Violated
The most visible downside of mandatory voting is that citizens will be forced to cast a vote, and the element of ‘forcing’ goes against the democratic ideology. Participation in politics ought to be a freewill where one can choose to participate or not. Also, the conditions of making voting mandatory might be against certain social values or religious beliefs. For instance, mandatory vaccination was demonized for threatening government employees to either get jabbed or get fired. Business owners had to present vaccination cards to their staff or lose the opportunity to open their business, and such mandatory rules tend to look like oppression in people’s eyes. It is noted that “Citizens have the right to choose whether they want to vote. Compulsion is part of a slippery slope to totalitarianism” [Source].
Influence Wrong Decisions
More so, not every citizen is aware of a country’s underlying political views or ideologies. Hence making voting mandatory might influence wrong decisions since ignorant and ill-formed people will vote on the wrong leaders. Voluntary voting is applauded for allowing only those with political knowledge to elect good leaders for the nations. This factor will be erased by mandatory voting.
In many countries, voting is usually a time-consuming exercise accompanied by boring procedures and might bore someone to stand in line for a long time trying to cast a vote. In developing countries, people are known to walk long distances to go and vote, so they have to wake up early in the morning. In such cases, mandatory voting becomes an exhaustive task.
Furthermore, mandatory voting does not fix the flaws of voluntary voting, such as electing the wrong leaders or having representatives who betray the promises made to the electorate. With compulsory voting, the electorate is forced to support the candidates on the ballots even if they do not prefer them.
High Law Enforcement Costs
It will require a significant amount of cash to enforce such legislation. If voting is made compulsory, the government will be required to punish those who break the law. When this happens, it will be costly to implement the legislation since you must first determine whether or not any individuals have violated the order.