Currently on this planet, there are any number of governments that are designed and run in a myriad of ways. One broad category of government is that of a democracy, where the ruling body is more or less chosen by the individual citizens. Ministers or Presidents are voted into office by individual citizens for a certain amount of time before a vote occurs again.
These elections are seen as the cornerstone to a free and fair society. With individuals casting their vote for who they want to lead, a democracy is represented by those chosen and elevated into the position. The problem with this system however is that not everyone votes. In fact, for almost all elections (save for presidential elections) in the United States, turnout is very low.
Several times in the past, free thinkers and politicians have played around with the idea of compulsory voting. Compulsory voting would mean that every person of voting age who has a right to vote must vote. While this may be the simplest way to fix this problem it creates a number of interesting problems that should be addressed when applied to our democracy.
The Pros of Compulsory Voting
1. A Matter of Civic Duty
From a strictly philosophical point of view, voting can be seen as a civic duty. This means that any person earning the benefits of a democracy owes it to the greater whole to participate as much as possible. With this line of thinking, a democracy would become better when every person realizes that they not only have a stake in the democracy, but an ability to change it as well.
2. A More Engaged Population
With compulsory voting, it is argued that more people will become engaged in the process. As moderate views tend to get silenced by a more vocal minority on either extreme of a situation, compulsory voting is seen as a way to help create legislation that more effectively covers the needs of the population at large, instead of reflecting a small, vocal group.
3. Equal Participation From All
Reflecting the ideals of democracy, equal participation in the system is helping to be ensured by compulsory voting. As individual voices are expressed independently, there is an argument that special interests will be sidelined in the process ultimately leading to a fair process.
4. Revenue Through Fines
Depending on how the compulsory voting law is established, the government might be able to earn money through fining those who do not go out and vote. Though small, these fines would help to pay for the added costs of ensuring that everyone votes.
5. Can Cast Black Votes
Just because you are compelled by your government to vote does not mean you have to vote for someone on the ballet. In some places that require everyone votes, black votes are cast by individuals who do not want to vote for a particular person.
The Cons of Compulsory Voting
1. A Right, Not a Duty
In many countries, voting is seen as a right. To make voting compulsory is to turn it from a right into a duty. While this is a minor argument for some, others see it as an affront to the basic tenets of a democracy. If the government does allow for individuals to have freedom, then not expressing their political viewpoint should be covered in that freedom.
2. Low Turn Out Representative of Political Will
In democracies, there is the idea of political will. Political will is the amount of energy the standing population has to engage in elections and how the government runs. The low turnouts experienced in the United States for example can be seen as a reflection of a political will that exists within the populace to stay relatively hands off when it comes to how their government is run. If something were to come up to change this political will, then more people would vote naturally. As a result, making voting compulsory would ruin an otherwise natural process.
3. Not Enough Time
Simply put, some people are so busy that they do not have time to compulsory vote. Requiring every eligible person to cast a vote would then cause undo hardship on certain people.
4. An Excuse For Corrupt Governments
Some governments run rigged elections and use compulsory voting as a veneer for what would otherwise be considered a dictatorship. By forcing individual citizens to cast votes, the elections can be rigged and the voice of the populace can be completely ignored. As a result, compulsory elections become a means to the reverse ends of denying a greater level of freedom and participation to those involved in the process.