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Compulsory voting requires electors to vote in elections or attend a polling place on voting day. With a secret ballot, voters remain free to spoil their ballot papers or remove them from the polling booth, depending on the voting system. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he/she may be subject to punitive measures such as fines, community service, or perhaps imprisonment if fines are unpaid or community service not performed.

Contents

History

Athenian democracy held that it was every citizen's duty to participate in decision making. Attendance at the assembly was voluntary. But Aristophanes's comedy Acharnians 17-22, in the 5th century BC, shows public slaves herding citizens from the agora into the assembly meeting place (pnyx) with a red-stained rope. Those with red on their clothes were fined.[1]

Arguments in favour

A common argument for compulsory voting is that such a system guarantees that the government represents a majority of the population, not only individuals who vote. This helps ensure that governments do not neglect sections of society that are less active politically, and victorious political leaders of compulsory systems may potentially claim greater political legitimacy than those of non-compulsory systems with lower voter turnout.

A key argument for compulsory voting is that it prevents interference with access to the vote, in a similar way that the secret ballot is designed to prevent interference with the votes actually cast. Compelling voters to the polls for an election mitigates the impact that external factors may have on an individual's capacity to vote such as the weather, transport, or restrictive employers. It is a measure to prevent disenfranchisement of the socially disadvantaged. Polls are generally held on a Saturday or Sunday as evidenced in nations such as Australia, to ensure that working people can fulfill their duty to cast their vote. Similarly, mobile voting booths may also be taken to old age homes and hospitals to cater for immobilized citizens, and postal voting may be provided for people who are away from their electorate on election day.

If voters do not want to support any given choice, they may cast spoilt votes or blank votes. According to compulsory voting supporters, this is preferred to not voting at all because it ensures there is no possibility that the person has been initimidated or prevented from voting should they wish. In certain jurisdictions, voters also have the option to vote none of the above if they do not support any of the candidates to indicate clear dissatisfaction with the candidate list rather than simple apathy at the whole process.

Another potential argument is that it will make people think about the tough issues more. This in turn might make governments less squeamish to bring up tough and possibly unpopular issues that need to be addressed.

Political scientist Arend Lijphart writes that compulsory voting has been found to increase voting by 7-16% in national elections, and by even more in secondary (such as local and provincial elections and elections to the European Parliament). The large increases in turnout are found even where the penalties for not voting are extremely low. He argues that other civic duties also exist, like paying taxes, attending school and, in some democracies, military conscription and jury duty. All of these obligatory actives require far more time and effort than voting does, thus compulsory voting can be seen as constituting a much smaller intrusion of freedom than any of the other activities.

Apart from the increased turnout as a value in itself, Lijphart lists other advantages to compulsory voting: firstly, the increase in voting participation may stimulate stronger participation and interest in other political activities; secondly, as no large campaign funds are needed to goad votes to the polls, the role of money in politics will decrease; thirdly, compulsory voting acts as a sort of civil education and political stimulation, which creates a better informed population; fourthly, high levels of participation decreases the risk of political instability created by crises or dangerous, charismatic leaders (eg. Adolf Hitler).[2]

Arguments against

A common argument against compulsory voting holds that voting is not a civic duty, but rather a civil right. While citizens may exercise their civil rights (free speech, marriage, etc.) they are not compelled to. Compulsory voting can be seen as infringing a basic freedom of the citizen. Some consider the fining of recalcitrant voters to be more oppressive still.

Further, compulsory voting may infringe other rights. For example, most Jehovah's Witnesses believe that they should not participate in political events. Forcing them to vote explicitly denies them their freedom of religious practice. In some countries with universal voting, Jehovah's Witnesses and others may be excused on these grounds. If however they are obliged to show up to vote, they can still use a blank or invalid vote.

Some individuals resent the idea of compulsory voting, particularly if they have no interest in politics or no knowledge of the candidates. Others may be well-informed, but have no preference for any particular candidate, and have no wish to give support to the incumbent political system. Such people may vote at random simply to fulfill legal requirements: the so called donkey-vote may account for 1-2% of votes in these systems, which may affect the electoral process. Similarly, citizens may vote with a complete absence of knowledge of any of the candidates, or deliberately skew their ballot to slow the polling process or disrupt the election.

Supporters of voluntary voting assert that low voter participation in a voluntary election is not necessarily an expression of voter dissatisfaction or general political apathy. It may be simply an expression of the citizenry's political will, indicating satisfaction with the political establishment in an electorate.

By countries

Historical

Every person absenting himself from an election, and shall neglect to give in his or their ballot at such election, shall be subject to a penalty not exceeding five pounds; the mode of recovery and also the appropriation thereof, to be pointed out and directed by act of the legislature: Provided, nevertheless, That a reasonable excuse shall be admitted. [3]
  • Austria (introduced 1929 for presidential elections and 1949 in some states for parliamentary elections, abolished step by step between 1982 and 2004)
  • Netherlands (introduced 1917 along with universal suffrage, abolished 1970)
  • Soviet Union: while voting was not de-jure obligatory, voting was de-facto enforced[citation needed].
  • Spain (1907-1923, but not enforced)
  • Venezuela

Contemporary

There are currently 32 countries with compulsory voting. Of these, 19 enforce it. Of the 30 member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 10 have forms of compulsory voting.[4]

Enforced

Countries that enforce compulsory voting:

  • Argentina (compulsory for citizens between 18 and 70 years old, non-compulsory for those older than 70. However in primaries, also citizens under 70 may not vote, if they formally express their decision to the electoral authorities, at least 48 hours before the election. This is valid only for the subsequent primary, and needs to be repeated every time the voter wishes not to participate.)
  • Australia (compulsory enrollment and voting for state* and national (federal) elections for all adults over 18).
  • Brazil[5] (non-compulsory for citizens between 16 and 18 years old and those older than 70)
  • Chile (enrollment voluntary)
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Ecuador (compulsory for citizens between 18 and 65 years old; non-compulsory for persons aged 16–18, illiterate people, and those older than 65)
  • Fiji
  • Liechtenstein
  • Nauru
  • Peru (compulsory for citizens between 18 and 70 years old, non-compulsory for those older than 70)
  • Singapore
  • Switzerland (compulsory in the Canton of Schaffhausen only)
  • Turkey
  • Uruguay

*In South Australia it is not compulsory to enroll for state elections.[6][7][8] Nevertheless, as the enrollment form is a combined Federal/State one, with no provision to not enroll for the State,[6] it is in effect compulsory.

Not enforced

Countries that do not enforce compulsory voting:

Measures to encourage voting

Although voting in a country may be compulsory, penalties for failing to vote are not always strictly enforced. In Australia and Brazil, providing a legitimate reason for not voting (e.g. being sick or outside the country) is accepted. In Argentina, those who were ill on voting day, or over 500 kilometers away from their voting place are also excused, by requesting a doctor to prove their condition, in the first case; or asking for a certificate at a police station near where they are, in the second case.

States that sanction non-voters with fines generally impose small or nominal penalties. However, penalties for failing to vote are not limited to fines and legal sanctions. Belgian voters who repeatedly fail to vote in elections may be subject to disenfranchisement. Goods and services provided by public offices may be denied to those failing to vote in Peru and Greece. If a Bolivian voter fails to participate in an election, the citizen may be denied withdrawal of his or her salary from the bank for three months.[10]

In Turkey, according to a law passed by the parliament in 1986, if an eligible elector does not cast a vote in the elections, he or she has to pay a fee of about 5 YTL (3 US dollars).

Notes

  1. ^ Malkopoulou, Anthoula, Compulsory Voting in Greece: a history of concepts in motion, p.4 http://www.essex.ac.uk/ecpr/events/jointsessions/paperarchive/helsinki/ws7/Malkopoulou.pdf
  2. ^ Lijphart, Arend (1997) “Unequal Particiaption: Democracy’s Unresolved Dilemma”, The American Political Science Review 91(1): 8-11
  3. ^ "Constitution of Georgia, 5 February 1777". The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/states/ga02.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-07. 
  4. ^ Evans, Tim. Compulsory Voting in Australia, Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved on 2007-01-01.
  5. ^ Timothy J. Power: Compulsory for Whom? Mandatory Voting and Electoral Participation in Brazil, 1986-2006, in: Journal of Politics in Latin America. S. 97-122
  6. ^ a b http://www.abc.net.au/elections/sa/2006/guide/ticketprefs.htm Unique Features of South Australian Elections, Antony Green, ABC
  7. ^ http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_act/ea1985103/s28.html Provision for unenrolled SA electors, SA ELECTORAL ACT 1985 - SECT 28
  8. ^ http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_act/ea1985103/s29.html 'Entitled' not 'required' SA ELECTORAL ACT 1985 - SECT 29
  9. ^ http://www.demorgen.be/dm/nl/3625/De-Stemming/article/detail/878939/2009/06/06/Niet-stemmers-riskeren-geen-straf.dhtml De Morgen 06/06/2009
  10. ^ The Guardian Compulsory voting around the world

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