Should voting be compulsory in the UK
Is mandatory UK voting a weapon in the fight against voter apathy or the eroding of citizen choice and a case of Simon Says?
Could mandatory voting in the UK prove to be a useful weapon in the fight against voter apathy? The Guardian website indicates that when compulsory voting was abolished in the Netherlands in 1967, in the following election the turnout decreased by around 20%. A similar scenario occurred in Venezuela, which saw a drop in attendance of 30% after compulsory voting was eradicated there in 1993. So – ye. It could be one way to ensure a high turnout on polling day. It could also be argued that with our current system, the main political parties only concentrate on those who are sure to vote and give up all others as a lost cause.
If voting is compulsory, then the government represents the views of the majority of the population, not just the opinions of those who are already interested in politics. It is also a good way to garner more awareness of politics and the election.
If someone does not wish to vote for a particular political party, they can just spoil their ballot paper. This is (currently) a perfectly legitimate thing to do, and many see spoiling their ballot papers as proactively exercising their right not to vote and passion against the prevailing politics parties of the day. What someone does once they are in the polling booth is up to them.
Then again, because there’s always a ‘then again’, it could also be claimed that it is every citizen’s duty to vote; a responsibility. Just as the government works for the people, the people have a responsibility to make sure that the country is run properly. It could be seen to legitimise the government and legitimise the decisions Parliament makes. Furthermore, compulsory voting appears to have worked in countries such as Australia, where it has been in place since 1924. It is now seen as part of the Australian culture and Australian citizens are used to it.
Isn’t voting really all about choice? Shouldn’t the main political parties be doing something in order to entice voters into voting for them? If the electorate aren’t motivated to get out there and vote, then there seems to be no point in forcing them. Not voting could be actually be a sign of political expression. Former Australian Labour Leader, Mark Latham, urged Australians to hand in blank ballot papers for the 2010 election as a protest against compulsory voting. What’s more, if someone is pushed into the ballot box, they may end up voting for a random candidate, or even just the top one on the sheet. This is referred to as “donkey voting” by Debra Saunders on the Real Clear Politics website. In worst-case scenarios, compulsory voting will actually benefit extremist parties as they will receive the protest vote.
Another argument against compulsory voting is the question of what methods will be used to enforce voting. What will happen to those who do not vote? Would enforcement methods constitute bullying? Wouldn’t this negate a fair election and undermine the democratic process? As it stands, over 50 Australians have been sentenced to prison for not voting. Is this the kind of society we wish to live in? It’s likely that the more vulnerable members of society will be the ones penalised.
One of the arguments for compulsory voting in the UK is to – again – hold up the example of Australia and point out that compulsory voting is now a part of the Australian way of life. This conservative argument doesn’t carry much weight with me. Just because something has been around for ninety years doesn’t automatically make it right. There is also no evidence that Australians are more politically informed than citizens of any other country. I personally feel that compulsory voting would only be dealing with a symptom of the issues surrounding voting in the UK, not the cause. And it is the task of the political parties – left, right, everything in between and round the sides – to work out a solution.
Compulsory Voting… What Our Readers Say
“I am not in support. Voter apathy disgusts me, but the right to exercise your voting rights should and does come with the right to refuse them.”
“Voting is compulsory in Australia and given the choice, I think it’s the better way to go. It seems that much of the time, jokers like George Bush (for example) get elected because too many people assume no one would vote for him and so don’t actually go and vote for anyone else.”
“I think that if you vote you should get a card that says you actually bothered. If you can’t produce a current Voters’ Card then anything you say in a discussion of the state of things carries less weight because you obviously didn’t care enough to get off your arse and do something about it ;)”
“I am in support of a ‘didn’t vote? Stop Whining!’ law.”
“I live in australia where it is compulsory. But to have an informed political opinion is not. Therefore too many idiots vote. At least when voting is not forced the people that do are generally “well” informed. I’d hope!”
“I am in favour of compulsory decent politicians.”
With huge thanks from Mookychick. We love a healthy mix of considered opinions.