Compulsory Voting 1 Topic of the paper Democracy is built on freedom to vote and have your political say, but the majority of people in the world’s ‘greatest’ democracies never vote at all. Is compulsory participation in the political system the answer? Investigate countries which make voting compulsory – weigh the advantages and disadvantages – then argue for or against this policy. Abstract
Compulsory voting solves the problem of low political participation during elections; therefore, winning politicians and political parties cannot be considered non-legitimate in mandatory voting. On the other hand, mandatory voting has more disadvantages than advantages. Firstly, it is against the freedom of individuals, because people already do not have a right to vote, but it is their duty. It is also against freedom of speech, because part of freedom of speech is freedom not to speak, which is denied by mandatory voting.
Also, there are many people who are not interested in politics, or in certain elections, especially elections to European Parliament. Such a people do not need to express their opinion in elections, or they do not feel directly influenced by politics. This paper was written after research of several academic sources and small personal survey in streets of New York. 2 Outline I. Introduction to controversy II. Countries using compulsory voting A. Belgium B. Cyprus C. Italy III. Advantages of compulsory voting A. High political participation B. Political legitimacy C.
Higher political interest among people D. Increasing efficiency of politicians IV. Disadvantages of compulsory voting A. Individual freedom B. Freedom of speech C. Conflict with religious groups D. Lack of knowledge and interest E. Small percentage of punishments V. Personal survey VI. Conclusion A. Summary of advantages and disadvantages B. Last word on the controversy 3 Introduction In the modern world, democracy is the most used political system, which is based on participation of people. However, democracy is currently facing problem with low participation of people in many countries.
In order to solve this problem and stop all the controversies about lack of legitimacy in some countries, politicians started to discuss the topic of compulsory voting. It is proven that compulsory voting solves the problem of low voting turnout and lack of political legitimacy, but it is against the freedom of individuals. Many people do not want to vote, to express their opinion. Mandatory voting is against the freedom of speech, because it includes also freedom not to speak, which is in conflict with compulsory voting. There is also a problem with religious people, because politics in general is in dispute with their belief.
Some people have no interest, or knowledge about politics, so it would be counter-productive to force such people to vote. Countries using compulsory voting Compulsory voting is being already used in many countries. According Dr. Costas Panagopulos, the director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University, there were 27 countries in the World in 2008 using compulsory system, but they differ by sanctions and enforcements to defectors. Some countries like Australia or Belgium punish breaking the compulsory voting very strictly with high sanctions, but countries like Italy or Mexico do not use any punishments (458).
A first country, which I would like to introduce, is Belgium. Belgium is very strict about compliance the compulsory voting. They do not charge money to people not going to votes, but when they are absent at four elections during fifteen years, they lose their right to vote (Panagopoulos 457-58). 4 Second example of country using compulsory system of voting is Cyprus. Cyprus punishes not going to elections very strictly and fines are very high. When Cyprus inhabitant who meets criteria to be able to vote decides not to go to vote, a government fines him for 200 Pounds (Panagopoulos 457-58). A last country I would like to present is Italy.
Even though Italy is using compulsory system of voting, they do not control following this law. They do not use any sanctions or enforcements (Panagopoulos 458). Advantages of compulsory voting The biggest advantage of compulsory voting is high political participation. The majority of people go to elections. When we compare a political participation in counties using mandatory voting with those not using it, countries with compulsory system of voting have usually 30%-50% higher voting turnout. Dr. Engelen analyzed the data from 2004 in European Union and the result was very clearly readable.
In 2004, there were only two countries in EU using mandatory voting. These two countries had voting turnout of 90%, while the average of EU was 45. 6% in 2004. The difference was almost 45%, so compulsory voting definitely reaches very high political participation. Compulsory system of voting can solve the problem of political legitimacy. Political legitimacy is a very discussed issue currently, because voting turnouts are very small and some people claim that their political leaders are not legitimate. Dr. Arend Lijphart from University of California in San Diego uses as an example of non-legitimate leader presidency of Bill Clinton.
Clinton became a president even though he received only 43% of total votes. Turnout during these elections in 1992 was only 55%, it means he was actually voted by less than 25% of eligible 5 voters. Lijphart claims that the only way how to reach political legitimacy is to maximize the voting turnouts and it can only be reached by mandatory democracy. Mandatory democracy can raise political interest among people. When people who are not interested in politics are forced to vote, some of them start to feel responsible for results of elections.
They begin to watch political news, read journals and articles to have sufficient knowledge about politics in general and politicians, who they vote for or against. As Jake Keith and Guang-Zhen Sun describe in their article, when people are force to vote, it increases their interest about politics, so compulsory voting raises the value of individual votes (64). Compulsory voting can achieve higher efficiency in politics, especially on local level. As mandatory voting reaches higher voting turnout, more groups sensitive about specific topic are included in the voting.
This fact can compel local politicians to care about small, but very important issues for some people. Such issues are for example public transportation, water supply, sanitation etc. (“’Compulsory Voting Good for Democracy”). Disadvantages of compulsory voting The most common argument against mandatory voting is individual freedom. Countries using compulsory voting force people to vote, but it can definitely be considered as a step against freedom of individuals. Even Lijphart, who is known as a propagator of compulsory voting, argues that mandatory voting has a very strong disadvantage, which is individual freedom.
In case of compulsory voting, individual freedom represents freedom not to vote, which is denied by mandatory voting. Annabelle Lever, professor of University of Geneva in Switzerland, points out that people are not always the best judges of specific fields; therefore, they may decide not to go to vote. If these people are forced to go to vote, it is against their freedom, but it is also illogical (906). 6 Mandatory voting is in the conflict with freedom of speech. Freedom of speech, one of the most important principals of a modern democracy, includes also freedom not to speak.
It means that we do not have to express our opinion if we do not want to. However, mandatory voting is definitely against this principle, because it forces us to go to vote, to express our opinion. Therefore, compulsory voting could be, in my opinion, considered as non-democratic. If we look at the First Amendment of U. S. Constitution, freedom of speech takes an important role in the text: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” (“U. S. Constitution”).
In my opinion, establishment of mandatory voting in U. S. would be unconstitutional. Compulsory voting is in a conflict with religious people. Some of religious people tend not to go to vote, because politics in general is in conflict with their belief. If these people are force to go to vote, it causes them self-dispute which of the rules should they follow; their belief or laws of a certain country. Elections can be influenced by people with lack of knowledge or interest about politics. Mandatory voting forces people to go to vote, but some people simply do not care about politics.
They do not feel influenced by politics or they do not have a need to vote, because one single vote is only small fraction of the whole count. But if these are forced to go to vote, they can influence the result very easily by using a recession method. Recession means that people, who do not care about the result that much, vote for a politician or a party, which usually differs from others. In Czech Republic, Vladimir Franz, the tattooed candidate for a president, and Czech Pirate Party, the party supporting illegal downloading, they take an advantage of recession even though the voting is not mandatory in Czech Republic.
If it was mandatory, these candidates would have much more votes. 7 Also, only a very small percentage of non-voters are punished in countries with compulsory voting. Lijphart uses an example of Australia, one of the strictest punishers of non-voters, to support this claim. In Australia, there approximately 10 million eligible voters and an average turnout is about 95%. Even though there is half a million of non-voters, only about 4% of them is punished with small fines. In Belgium, only about 0. 25% of non-voters are punished. Personal survey
I have made a little personal survey and its results support my thesis. I asked 37 people of different sex, age and social status on the streets in New York three questions related to my topic. The first question was if they usually go to vote. Twenty five out of the total people answered yes, which gives us almost 70%. The second question was if they would prefer compulsory democracy. Thirty one out of total people answered no, so it is more than 80% with negative attitude to mandatory voting. And the last question was why they do not want or why they want compulsory voting.
The most common answer was that they do not care about some elections, especially elections to European Parliament and Czech Senate, because they do not seem these elected positions to be important in their normal life. This is very logical, why should people be forced to vote in all the elections, when some of them are not important. In European Parliament, there are more than 700 of members and people simply do not feel any need to express their opinion, because there many other votes, many other members of parliament and EU does not influences directly their life.
Conclusion To summarize the main points, compulsory voting would definitely solve the problem of political legitimacy, because it would create very high political participation. Since it would be compulsory, people would have to vote and they would start to have politics as an interest. This means that intellectual level of people might have increased as they would start to care about politics. Also, elementary schools could start new subjects like Introduction to Political Science, which could be an improvement of education.
On the other hand, people who are not interested in politics at all are unlikely to start caring even after the introduction of a compulsory voting system and such a people can influence the result of elections, because they might vote based on the recession. There is another problem, which are the religious groups. They generally do not want to vote, because it is partly against their religion. If we forced them to go to vote, it is against their freedom. Everyone has a freedom of speech in democratic countries, and part of freedom of speech is freedom not to speak.
Compulsory voting is definitely against this freedom, because it forces us to express our opinion. I think that due to these all disadvantages, compulsory voting is not the solution to a problem, but the other way around, because it causes more problems than it solves. 9 Works cited “Compulsory Voting Good for Democracy. ” The Pioneer 23 Dec 2009. ProQuest. Web. 27 Mar. 2013 . Engelen, Bart. “Why Compulsory Voting can Enhance Democracy. ” Acta Politica 42. 1 (2007). ProQuest. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. Keith, Jake, and Guang-Zhen Sun. “Is Compulsory Voting More Democratic?