Sometimes I catch hell from friends or colleagues for my occasional but deliberate choice to abstain from voting. Their admonitions take the form of a variation on the theme of it being my civic duty to vote: as a political theorist I should know better; men and women fought and died so that I could; those who don’t vote shouldn’t complain, and I complain a lot, so I should show up or clam up. These arguments are easily enough dismissed. When I choose not to vote I have reasons. Often the candidates are weak, but there’s no option to decline my ballot. Sometimes the parties are senseless and none deserves my vote. Other times the outcome of the race has been pre-determined by demographic facts well beyond my control. Always the atrocious and severely-dated first-past-the-post system does a poor job of translating votes into seats. Every few years the idea of compulsory voting — a system in which electors are required by law to cast their ballot and in which those who do not are, strictly speaking, subject to fines or criminal charges or even jail time — creeps into our political discourse. Nearly two-dozen countries have mandatory voting laws on the books, although not all of them enforce the law.
Today, elections are on the mind of many Canadians as the 2015 federal contest comes into view and as the Conservative party works to bludgeon democracy with its myopic and unjust Fair Elections Act. Again, there has been talk of adopting compulsory voting in Canada. Concerns about electoral fairness and legitimacy, and worry over dwindling voter turnout and widespread disinterest and cynicism, have made the move seem reasonable to some, even necessary.
Compulsory voting is the heavy hand of the lazy parent. To the question “Why?” it replaces the cogency of a rigorous answer with the impotence and thoughtlessness of “Because I said so.” It’s as indolent as it is illiberal: forcing citizens to speak, through votes, without good reason to do so and without the option to remain silent. But its most notable flaw is that it’s a miserable failure at accomplishing what it is, presumably, meant to accomplish: engaging the electorate and reducing representative inequality.
Full Article: Compulsory voting is counter-productive.