Table of Contents

Arguments for Mandatory Voting

Arguments against Mandatory Voting

Mandatory voting has its consequences

Australia: Experience the Difference

Canada: Compulsory voting: Some considerations

The most fundamental principle of democracy is voting. Participating as a citizen in elections is, without doubt, the most fundamental right in democracy. Despite the importance of voting, many countries are seeing a drop in their turnout. Canada has seen a decline in voter turnout for federal general elections since 1993. It is expected that this trend will continue. There are many reasons people don’t vote. There are many reasons why people don’t vote. These include cynicism or apathy.

There are many ideas to increase voter turnout. Many believe that minor changes such as scheduling elections for weekends and not weekdays, or a large publicity campaign, could increase voter turnout. Some suggest that technology can be used to assist citizens in fulfilling their voting obligations. Australia and Belgium, for example, have implemented laws that require citizens to vote to combat low voter turnout. While countries with compulsory voting tend to have higher voter turnout than those without them, critics quickly point out that there are some countries that don’t have mandatory voting laws like New Zealand. This paper examines compulsory voting. It discusses both the pro and con arguments of compulsory voting. The paper also examines the experience of countries with mandatory voting, with particular attention to Australia.

Arguments for Mandatory Voting

For some, compulsory voting seems simple. Voting is just like paying taxes. Only participation is enough to ensure legitimacy of the chosen government. Arend Lijphart, a political scientist, states:

A political system that allows everyone to vote but has only a few citizens exercising that right should be considered democracy. Practically speaking, a government elected in a formalistically democratic fashion cannot be considered democratic.

For most supporters of mandatory voter registration, the main argument in favor is the high and relative equality of the voter turnout. Advocates argue that democratically elected governments have greater legitimacy when more people participated in their election.

Mandatory voting has other significant arguments. Some argue that mandatory voting could increase voter participation, which in turn may encourage greater participation and interest in other activities. It makes it compulsory for citizens to learn and encourages minimal political interest. It is believed that compulsory voting reduces the influence of money on politics. Compulsory voting is a way to ensure that everyone has the right to vote. Political parties don’t have to spend campaign money to get people to vote. The emphasis may shift from “getting people to vote” to the issues facing voters. Attack advertising is discouraged by mandatory voting. This type is thought to work by depressing turnout among people less likely than others to vote for the attacker. Attack tactics lose their most effective lure when nearly everyone votes. Eliminating attack advertisements may help reduce some of the distrust or cynicism that they incite.

It is understood that compulsory voting has another benefit for both individuals and society. It protects against the effects of marginalization. Because voting is more likely when you are older, educated, and have income, it is possible that actual voters don’t form a representative sample. However, this biased sample may favor the privileged.

Lisa Hill, a political scientist from Australia, says mandatory voting can achieve equality in political opportunity. Her argument is that Australia makes every effort to remove any barriers faced by voters who don’t vote. This makes voting much simpler for all and equal opportunity is possible to everyone. She explained that secret ballots make it impossible for electoral officials to force people to sign their ballot papers. Voting is not compulsory by itself, but registration and attendance at the polling station is.

“It’s not the participation but the opportunity that’s being sought actively, it is the opportunity for participation.”

Arguments against Mandatory Voting Voting is a fundamental democratic principle that is held dearly by all. However, opponents of compulsory voting agree that it is inconsistent with the freedoms associated with democracy. High vote totals do not give legitimacy to claims of legitimacy. In a sense, the votes were forced. Some also wonder how “ignorant or uninterested” participation can increase electoral outcomes.

Another argument is that voting requires citizens to participate in politics. According to some Australian politicians, members of parliament and political parties become lazy. It is alleged that party organization loses its responsiveness, leading to party disaffection. Critics claim compulsory voting in Australia has helped people get to the polls but has not resolved the feeling of alienation people feel from their political parties.

It is also possible to argue against the continuation of a compulsory voting system due to the high costs involved in maintaining it. It is not clear how much it will cost to mobilize Australian voters and enforce electoral law in federal election. One report estimated that $5 (Australian) per voter was the average cost. It is important to note that the evidence supporting this claim is both incomplete and largely inexact.

Mandatory voting has its consequences

Most significant result of compulsory voting was the increase in spoiled ballots. Australia has the highest number of invalid votes of all liberal democracies. Belgians also have a problem with spoiled ballots. In 1995, almost 16% of the electorate chose not to vote. But invalid ballots may still be useful. If you cast an invalid or disputed ballot in a compulsory system of voting, it may be possible to elect another option. Non-voters may be dismissed by some as lazy or complacent, but a spoiled ballot in a compulsory election system could be “served as an indicator that politicians are not listening to the concerns of a growing section of the public.” There may also have a greater number of “donkey” or random votes. This is when voters choose to vote for a random candidate (often the highest on the ballot paper).

Obligatory voter participation is linked to party advantage. Party advantage is also tied to mandatory voting.

Mandatory voting has one final effect: high party stability. Australia has the highest level of party identification worldwide. That is, voters have not voted against the major parties or changed their party during elections. While the United States, Great Britain, and other countries have seen their association with political parties drop, Australia has generally remained immune to this phenomenon. “Compulsory voting” ensures that all voters cast a vote and forces them to think about the major party candidates.

Australia’s voting system requires experience Queensland adopted compulsory voting in 1915. It was first introduced federally in 1924 by a Private Members’ Act. Voter turnout was at its highest point in 1917, when it peaked at 78.1%. The voter turnout fell to 57% at the 1922 federal election. Australia has had almost constant turnout above 90% since 1945.

There are many steps that have been taken in Australia to make voting easier. The Saturday is the polling day. Absent votes can be cast by electors who live outside their respective divisions but are still in their home territory or state. Outsiders can vote by mail or at a prepoll center.

The Australian Electoral Commission organises mobile voting in hospitals and nursing homes as well as prisons and remote areas. Australia has a high level of voter participation because it is easy to vote. It is far easier to simply drop by at one of the many convenient polling points on the way from the shops than it to make excuses for failing to vote.

The Australian Electoral Commission will write a letter asking the person not to vote to explain their reasons and offer the option to pay a $20 fine (Australian). No penalty applies if the recipient writes a letter, and their reasons are found to “valid and adequate.” Indifference to candidates cannot be grounds to abstain. This decision has been defended vigorously by Australian courts.

A person may be fined $50 by the court if they are not able to provide sufficient reasons for their vote. A court may fine a person $50 if they do not pay the fine. The court may take additional actions to address the fine or vote infraction. A fine or attendance at court is only one percent of all Australian voters.

Although compulsory voting is controversial, Australians generally support it. A 1996 survey revealed that 74% favored compulsory voting. Note that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters endorsed mandatory voting in 1997. “Voting without compulsion is virtually impossible in any other democracy around the world, so the Committee discredited the argument that voting voluntary would affect the legitimacy of Australian election outcomes.”

Despite an increase of abstention, less that 25% of non-voters get prosecuted. This could partly be because “the judicial systems is already overburdened and gives little priority to non-voters being prosecuted.” Non-voters are unlikely to be required to appear in court, and fines are very small.

Canada: Compulsory voting: Some considerations There are several options for doing this. A separate legislation could be introduced that clarifies the voting requirement. It would include the details and the complete system. Alternately, amends to Canada Elections Act might be made. This would be the best way to create a mandatory voting law. One could also amend the Criminal Code so that the proposed sanction is applied to those who vote absently.

This requirement could be included in the constitution, just as it is in Belgium. This is not the best solution for Canada due to two reasons. The constitution is not the right place if this law does not apply to both provincial and federal elections. A second problem is that constitutional amendments can be difficult to implement. There are other ways you could introduce such legislation.

Although enacting a compulsory vote system might not guarantee high voter turnout it is possible to make sure that the law is followed. Australia is one of the countries that have compulsory voting. They impose penalties on people who don’t vote. Others deny benefits or services to non-voters and other countries prohibit them from receiving government services. Peru’s voter, for instance, must show proof of voting and have a stamped ballot card for several months. This stamp is required to be able to receive services from certain public agencies. It is recommended that you impose some kind of penalty in order to enforce the law. However, this penalty should not cause undue hardship to those with socio-economic disadvantages, such as excessive fines and refusals of government services.

To ensure compliance at a high level, it is reasonable to expect that the state will make voting relatively easy. It is important to provide accommodation.

Elections Canada would need to adapt this system to accommodate the needs of people living in remote areas, people with disabilities, and those who are illiterate. Alternative election dates such as weekends, remote areas, people with disabilities, people living in rural areas, people with low literacy skills, mobile polling, absentee voting and educational education should all be considered.

It might be worth considering introducing a variety of political responses to prevent high numbers of invalid or random ballots. Many people who are subject to compulsory voting complain about the choices they have. Offering essentially “none” could help to address the problem of compulsion limiting democratic choice.

Compulsory voting can be argued to be contrary to freedom of speech and expression. It might be beneficial to seek a legal opinion and/or to design any new legislation to ensure compliance to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


  • benjaminchambers

    Benjamin Chambers is an educator and blogger who focuses on using technology in the classroom. He has written for sites like The Huffington Post and The EdTech Digest, and has been featured in outlets like Forbes and The New York Times. Chambers' work has helped him to develop a following of educators and students who appreciate his down-to-earth approach to learning technology.