Voting is a right and a responsibility. As a citizen of one’s country, it is important that you exercise your right to suffrage to help ensure that the government officials who are placed into office are the ones that the people actually voted. For many years in several countries, voting is non-compulsory. This means that the government does not force its citizens to show up at voting precincts to cast their votes. However, there are a number of nations that impose mandatory voting. These include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Greece, and Singapore, to name a few. Twelve of these nations aggressively enforce the compulsion of voting, giving penalties and charging fees who violate such law. One of these is Australia. It has been requiring its citizens to participate in federal elections since 1924. The country’s argument to this strict mandate is that it needs to address low voter turnout, which is currently below 60 percent.
Now, many people are wondering if compulsory voting is fair not. After all, the whole point of democracy is giving everyone the freedom to make their own choices, to voice out their opinions. Are you pro- or anti-compulsory voting? If you haven’t made a choice yet, knowing its pros and cons could help you make an informed decision.
List of Pros of Compulsory Voting
1. Increase Voter Turnout
It is not democracy if there is only 50 percent of voter turnout. If only half of the population turns out at voting precincts at an election, it can’t be called a democracy. With the number of voters declining year after year, political analysts and a few citizens fear that there might come a time when it would just be the candidates’ kin, friends, and colleagues who will bother to show up.
2. It Broadens Representation and Legitimacy
If voting is made mandatory, it will ensure that the government will be represented by a majority of the population, not just a few individuals. It will also guarantee that members of the society who are not as politically active will not be neglected. It will also prevent political leaders to claim greater legitimacy.
3. Lessen the Need for Large Sums of Money in Campaigns
Whether people admit it or not, money plays a significant role in politics. But if compulsory voting becomes law, there will be no need for politicians to be backed by billionaires to fund their political campaigns.
4. Make Campaigns Broader
Compulsory voting will assist in not targeting specific subgroups. If it is guaranteed that everyone will vote, then politicians would stop creating campaigns that are only targeted to certain people. This should also mean more pressure on politicians to represent the beliefs of all citizens. As a result, determining the best candidate would be easier.
5. Promote Political Stability
Where there is division there is instability. So when a nation has an alarmingly low voter turnout, it could increase the risk of political instability brought about by crises or leaders with hidden agendas.
6. Encourage Voters to Better Educate Themselves
If people are obliged to vote in every election, they will most likely want to make the most of their votes. So, they would want to research more on each candidate to ensure they’ll be able to make the right choice. As a result, candidates would be forced to be more transparent about their stance on controversial issues. Furthermore, better-informed voters will be able to determine unrealistic plans, ensuring fairer decisions in the future.
7. More Serious Elections
It will make people take elections as well as candidates more seriously. Compulsory voting would compel the people to be more proactive in building a government that will serve the majority, not only a few groups. This will lead to a better and more united nation.
List of Cons of Compulsory Voting
1. Violate Freedom of Choice
A democratic type of government means that it was built on the basis of respecting basic human freedoms and rights, particularly free choice. However, it can be violated if voting is made mandatory because people would not have the freedom to not express their opinion.
2. Decrease Interest
It could push individuals who have no interest in taking part in building a government for the people to vote. Although it could compel the citizens to educate themselves, there is also the possibility that those who are honestly not interested will be forced to vote. This could push people to choose candidates randomly, forfeiting the purpose of an election, which is to place deserving people in key positions. In other words, votes and consequently the budget spent on the polls will go to waste.
3. Minimize Right to Express Religion
It could take away people’s right to express their religion. There are religious sectors that discourage their members from participating in political events. Therefore, forcing them to vote explicitly violates their right to practice their religion.
4. Wrong to Punish Those Who Refuse to Vote
It would be unacceptable and unlawful to punish those who would choose not to vote. It would be a violation of fundamental rights to punish people who refuse to practice their right to suffrage. Again, voting is a right, which means that people should have the freedom to choose whether to vote or not. Besides, imposing penalties and/or punishment to citizens who have no interest in politics would be unlawful because 1) they did not harm anybody, 2) they did not violate anyone’s right, and 3) they did not break any law.
5. Encourage Informal Votes
This means that ballot papers with no appropriate markings of voting rules could be used to cater to a large number of voters every election.
6. Increase Law Enforcement Costs
It will require a considerable amount of money to enforce such a law. If voting becomes compulsory, the government will be compelled to punish those who violate it. When this happens, it will require a large sum for the law to be enforced, which would involve finding out who may or may not have broken the mandate. Although there would be fines as a result of a violation, these could not be enough to compensate what the government has to spend to impose the law.
In the end, it’s all about making it fair for all parties involved. If enforcing mandatory voting would violate people’s basic right to not vote, then it would not be a practical law.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.