Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Over at the election blog Vicki Smith brings up the perennial idea of mandatory voting. While I was somewhat dismayed to see this idea being brought up again, I was even more surprised to see it being supported by most people in the comments. The argument in favour is, of course, that forced voting will raise awarness about elections and democracy, will raise flagging voter turnout, and will not really be an imposition because people can always spoil their ballot.

This idea is inherently undemocratic but it also has no utilitarian value. The right to vote and the right to free speech are the two most fundamental rights to maintaining a democracy. These rights give the citizenry the ability to discuss the ways in which they would be governed and then the ability to enact their collective decision. I believe that that participation in the public sphere through debate and voting are obligations of citizenship. However, all rights, in order to be fully realized must be exercised by the individual will. All rights to do something must necessarily include the right not to do something, whether it is speaking, moving, living or voting.

As it is inherently undemocratic, enforced voting will serve no utilitarian benefit to our democracy. People who want to vote will do so. People who do not want to vote will spoil their ballot. What is the difference between 50 per cent of the population not showing up and 50 per cent spoiling their ballot? Both are a sad reflection on the state of our democracy except that in the latter situation people have been coerced, which is even sadder. Further, I don't want people who have no interest in casting an informed, meaningful vote to be in the polling booth. As I have said,full citizenship requires involvement in democracy beyond mere voting. I don't want huge numbers of uninformed half-citizens being forced to vote every four years simply to make some people feel better about getting pre-liberation Iraq levels of voter turnout. Voting is the very last step in the democratic process. If people aren't going to be involved from the beggining it is beneficial to no one, least of all our democracy, to force them to be involved at the very end.

Voter turnout is a reflection of the state of our democracy. Forced voting only covers up the serious problems in our political culture it wont solve them. Democracy cannot be imposed. You gotta want it.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:35 a.m.