A growing number of Luxembourg nationals are choosing to cast their votes by post. If at the previous elections, nearly 30.000 individuals decided to elect their representatives by post, authorities expect postal voting to gain even more ground at the upcoming national elections on 14 October. Based on current predictions, nearly 50.000 individuals are set to send their votes by mail. If the estimate turns out to be true, the figure would mark a new record for Luxembourg. Voting is compulsory in the Grand Duchy and one’s failure to exercise this right may be subject to a fine.
Australia: Senate blocks government attempt to restore compulsory plebiscite for marriage equality | The Guardian
The government’s attempt to restore the compulsory plebiscite bill has been blocked by the Senate, paving the way for a voluntary postal vote. The plebiscite was to be held on November 25 with the government offering to remove the $15m of public funds for the yes and no cases. On Wednesday morning the government attempted to restore the plebiscite bill to the Senate notice paper. Labor, the Greens and Nick Xenophon Team used their numbers in the Senate to block the attempt to revisit it, with Derryn Hinch voting to allow debate but committing to block the plebiscite. With the compulsory plebiscite rejected again, the government will now attempt to fall back on its Plan B of a voluntary postal ballot to be conducted between 12 September and 15 November.
The Liberal government says it will not pursue mandatory or online voting for federal elections. The Liberals had raised the ideas for consideration in their 2015 election platform and tasked the special committee on electoral reform with studying the possibilities. But MPs on the special committee were divided on the merits of mandatory voting and concerned about the security of online voting, and recommended against pursuing either. In a formal response to the committee’s report, submitted on Monday, Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould said the government agrees with the committee. “While Canadians feel that online voting in federal elections would have a positive effect on voter turnout, their support is contingent on assurances that online voting would not result in increased security risks,” Gould wrote. “We agree.”
Declining to exercise your right to vote would cost you money if a long-shot bill at the state Capitol is approved. Eligible voters who don’t cast a ballot would be hit with a $10 fine under the bill, which was sponsored earlier this month by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan. The idea behind the proposal is to make voting compulsory: All eligible voters would be required to turn in a ballot, even if they don’t actually vote for anyone.The purpose of the bill, according to a memo by the sponsor, would be to boost voter-participation rates. READ THE BILL: Compulsory voting
A rise in the number of people deliberately voting informally is likely being driven by the young, many of whom feel disaffected with the mainstream political process, new research suggests. A paper by University of Adelaide researchers, soon to be published in the Australian Journal of Political Science, charted the rise of informal voting at recent elections and cross-referenced those trends with other data. Lead author, politics professor Lisa Hill, said the focus was on the proportion of voters who deliberately handed in blank or defaced ballots, as opposed to those that had made mistakes filling the papers out.
Bulgarian lawmakers passed so many changes to its election laws in the last couple of weeks that protesters sounded a bit unsure which new rule to slam first. In a rush to go on holiday, they gave the thumbs up on compulsory voting, introduced restrictions to voting abroad (but dropped some of them later), rejected the creation of a “foreign” constituency representing hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian nationals living outside the country, delayed the introduction of online voting, and set a higher preference threshold for the election of mayors and “local parliament” members. They also tried to shorten the election campaign to 21, down from 30 days and to ban the announcement of any opinion poll results within the time, two moves where they backtracked. As these lines are being typed, it is not yet clear whether the version adopted after long political bargaining is final in any way, with the President possibly vetoing some texts or the Constitutional court overturning others, or both.
Australia: Compulsory preferential voting returns to Queensland as Parliament passes bill for more MPs | ABC
Major voting changes have been passed in Queensland, with Parliament approving four more MPs and a return to compulsory preferential voting. It will now be compulsory to number every square on the ballot box, a move which would have given Labor an extra eight seats and a majority government in last year’s election. In what was a see-saw battle for control of the legislative agenda, Labor managed to force through an amendment to a Liberal National Party (LNP) bill. The LNP’s Electoral (Improving Representation) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill to increase the number of seats from 89 to 93 was set to pass with crossbench support. But in a surprise move, Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath proposed an amendment to also include the reintroduction of compulsory preferential voting. Katter’s Australian Party and independent MPs supported the bill to number all boxes.
After sitting for more than fourteen hours on Tuesday, members of Bulgaria’s parliamentary legal affairs committee adopted at second reading a set of amendments to the Electoral Code. The amendments, which were discussed at three extraordinary sittings of the committee that lasted for over 28 hours in total, will be subject to final vote in the plenary chamber on Thursday, daily Dnevnik informs. Among the main amendments adopted by MPs is the classification of voting as a civil duty and the introduction of compulsory voting. Voters might be entitled to rewards, which will be determined by the Council of Ministers, while those not casting their ballot will be subject to penalty by being deregistered from the electoral rolls for participation in the next elections. Those deregistered will be able to be signed back on the electoral register by submitting a request to the competent authorities.
Bulgaria’s parliament paved the way for the introduction of compulsory voting in elections on Thursday, passing a draft bill to amend the electoral code at its first reading. The centre-right government believes making it mandatory for Bulgarians to vote will curb electoral fraud and boost the legitimacy of the Balkan country’s political institutions. European Union member Bulgaria has had five governments in less than three years. The last national election in 2014 saw the lowest turnout in 25 years, of about 51 percent, and produced a particularly fractured parliament.
Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal says 6.5 million people are registered to vote in February’s national referendum. The data shows that there has been a 3 percent increase in the number of new voters since the last referendum in September 2015. It’s compulsory to vote in Bolivian elections. The referendum on Feb. 21 will ask voters whether they want to amend the constitution and abolish the two-term limit for the head of state. If it’s approved, President Evo Morales will be able to seek re-election in the next elections scheduled for 2019.
Not enough people vote. It’s a perennial source of concern in American politics. There’s no shortage of reforms designed to address the problem, but one idea that seems particularly promising, at least in theory, is compulsory voting. It would produce much higher turnout for the obvious reason that it requires people to vote. It’s long been dismissed, though, as an impossible pipe dream, unlikely to ever happen in the United States. But if reformers were to start at the municipal level, they could set into motion forces that might lead to its nationwide adoption. Start with some statistics: In years with presidential elections, voter turnout peaks at just above 60 percent. In off-year elections, turnout dips to 40 percent or less. In November 2014, only 36 percent of eligible voters went to the polls—the lowest share in more than 70 years. Participation this paltry calls into question the political system’s legitimacy. It also hints that election outcomes might be quite different if more people bothered to show up.
When we receive a summons for jury duty, we are required to present ourselves at the court. Should we treat showing up at the polls in elections the same way? Although the idea seems vaguely un-American, it is neither unusual, nor undemocratic, nor unconstitutional. And it would ease the intense partisan polarization that weakens both our capacity for self-government and public trust in our governing institutions. It is easy to dismiss this idea as rooted in a form of coercion that is incompatible with our individualistic and often libertarian political culture. But consider Australia, whose political culture may be as similar to that of the United States as the culture of any other democracy in the world. Alarmed by a decline in voter turnout to less than 60 percent in the early 1920s, Australia adopted a law in 1924 requiring all citizens to present themselves at the polling place on Election Day. (This is often referred to as mandatory voting, although Australian voters are not required to cast marked ballots.)
There is no more powerful tool to increase citizens’ confidence than a referendum, Bulgarian head of state President Rossen Plevneliev told the National Assembly on July 28, making the case for a referendum on three questions on electoral reform proposed for October 25. The proposal is to hold the referendum on the three questions along with scheduled mayoral and municipal elections, the first round of which will be held on the last Sunday in October. Plevneliev has long been campaigning for a referendum on electoral reform, but his proposals were blocked by the previous parliament, at the time of the now-departed ruling axis of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Movement for Rights and Freedoms in 2013 and 2014.
The United States is notorious for having one of the lowest voter participation rates in the industrialized democratic world, and there is no shortage of proposals for increasing it. President Obama recently floated the idea of compulsory voting. Hillary Clinton, running to succeed him, has a plan for national automatic voter registration and expanded early voting. To the extent that Democrats are targeting actual discrimination against African Americans and other minorities, more power to them, and shame on those Republicans who would raise obstacles to turnout in a purported fight against phantom fraud. As for substantially increasing overall participation rates, however, there’s only so much that can be achieved through measures like those Obama and Clinton recommend. If we really wanted people to vote more, we would have to ask them to vote less. One of political science’s better-established findings is that “the frequency of elections has a strongly negative influence on turnout,” as Arend Lijphart of the University of California at San Diego put it in a 1997 article.
Bulgaria’s president on Wednesday proposed a referendum on voting rules to try to restore public trust in the Balkan country’s politicians after years of instability and scandals. The referendum, which if approved would be held alongside local elections in late October, would ask voters to choose whether they want to elect some lawmakers directly rather than from party lists, whether to make voting compulsory and whether to allow electronic voting. Voter frustration, especially with rampant corruption and organised crime, erupted in months of street protests in 2013. The country has had five governments in two years, and the last election, held in October, drew the lowest turnout in 25 years and a particularly fractured parliament. A recent poll by Gallup International showed a small improvement in trust in public institutions since the centre-right GERB government took office. Nevertheless, more than two-thirds of respondents said they do not trust parliament.
They say the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. President Barack Obama wants to add one more: voting. Obama floated the idea of mandatory voting in the U.S. while speaking to a civic group in Cleveland on Wednesday. Asked about the corrosive influence of money in U.S. elections, Obama digressed into the related topic of voting rights and said the U.S. should be making it easier — not harder— for people to vote. Just ask Australia, where citizens have no choice but to vote, the president said. “If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” Obama said, calling it potentially transformative. Not only that, Obama said, but universal voting would “counteract money more than anything.”
Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev is to send Parliament a request for the holding of a referendum on the country’s electoral system – formally resuming a campaign that was defeated in the previous parliament. Plevneliev tabled a request in the now-departed 42nd National Assembly for a referendum on issues including compulsory voting, electronic voting and a majoritarian element to the electoral system, but this was blocked by the then-ruling axis of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Movement for Rights and Freedoms. In an interview published by mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa, Plevneliev was reported to have confirmed that his proposal was similar to the one he had made previously, to hold the referendum simultaneously with scheduled elections – in the case of 2015, the municipal elections to be held in the autumn.
It could be time to consider forcing people to vote because more than 20 million do not take part in elections, a Welsh MP has said. Labour Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane is a member of a Commons committee whose members were split on the question of forcing people to vote. A report published on Thursday calls for a consultation on the issue after May’s general election. The UK government said it had no plans to introduce compulsory voting. The report, by the Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, was published to coincide with national voter registration day.
Editorials: Compulsory voting, much like democracy, beats the alternatives | Lisa Hill/The Conversation
Queenslanders will soon head to the voting booths to either oust or re-elect the Newman government and no doubt some will be wondering why. “Why must I vote or be fined? Why must I be forced to choose who leads my society when I’d rather save myself the trip and stay home?” Victorian Liberal MP Bernie Finn criticised Australia’s compulsory voting laws after the Victorian state election in November. He said: To force people to vote who don’t want to be there, who don’t know what they are doing, is frankly quite ludicrous. While, at first glance, Finn’s claims might ring true, many experts consider Australia’s electoral system to be one of the finest in the world. The majority of Australians apparently share this view: 70% approve of compulsory voting. For decades, compulsory voting has done what it was supposed to do: maintain high and socially even turnout levels that are the envy of the industrialised voluntary-voting world. Prior to its introduction at the federal level in 1924, turnout was hovering in the 50–60% range (of registered voters). Since then, it has remained steady for many decades at around 93%.
Editorials: Mandatory Voting, Killing Electoral College Would Diversify Electorate | Stephen Wolf/The New Republic
The demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, over white police officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, brought attention to a curious disparity. While two-thirds of the St. Louis suburb was black, its local government was almost entirely white. One culprit was simple: voter turnout. In the preceding local election, 6 percent of black voters cast ballots, compared to 17 percent of white voters, narrowly yielding a white-majority electorate. The resulting racial disparities on the city council were as predictable as they were dire. Two generations after the 1965 Voting Rights Act and other Great Society reforms, America’s electoral system still suffers from the legacy of Jim Crow: Our political officials and public policies don’t represent the diversity and interests of the country’s large and growing share of non-white citizens. Improving voter turnout is the most obvious solution to this problem, but doing so will require uncharacteristic boldness from our politicians. One of the biggest structural factors keeping turnout low is that the majority of cities nationwide—Ferguson included—hold elections at times that don’t coincide with federal or state elections. Since non-white voters skip non-presidential elections in higher numbers than white voters, moving local and state elections to the quadrennial presidential cycle would painlessly, efficiently increase turnout and produce a more representative electorate across the ballot. As a bonus, holding fewer elections would save money.
Should Canada require citizens to vote or face a fine as Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and eight other countries do? Debate over the merits of compulsory voting seem to spring up every time there’s an election. Proponents see voting as an essential duty of citizenship, and no different in that respect from paying taxes. The Australian experience indicates that even a modest fine of $20 for non-compliance is enough to boost voter turnout to more than 90 per cent. By contrast, Canada’s voluntary voting system has produced an average turnout of 62 per cent over the past five Canadian federal elections. The compulsory voting debate cuts across ideological lines. Supporters include Justin Trudeau’s adviser Robert Asselin on the left and National Post columnist Andrew Coyne on the right. And, for once, good-government advocate Don Lenihan and the libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute are on the same page—both opposed mandatory voting.
On the last day that Victorians could enrol to vote, staff from the Victorian Electoral Commission were desperately trying to make voting seem fun to persuade holdouts to register. More than 200,000 citizens were not yet registered to vote in the final hours: numbers that could have been seriously influential. Free frisbees, stress balls and water bottles were used all day to lure passing potential voters into an inflatable marquee at City Square that had a passing resemblance to a bouncy castle. “The Victorian election is looking like it’s going to be a close one and the message of our campaign this year is that every vote does count and some elections are won on a very small number of votes,” said VEC representative Lawson Fletcher.
A thought experiment in the election’s aftermath: What if, instead of focusing on making it harder for people to vote, we made voting mandatory? Indulge me in a rant against the phantom menace of voter fraud. The efforts to suppress it are barely disguised Republican moves to hold down minority votes that would, presumably, go to Democrats. This year, the Supreme Court allowed a new Texas voter-ID law to proceed despite a lower court judge’s finding that it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax that could disenfranchise 600,000 registered voters, about 4.5 percent of the total. This in low-turnout Texas, with voting participation rates near the bottom of a country with overall anemic turnout. Pivot to Australia, one of 11 countries that have, and enforce, mandatory voting, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, and the nation most culturally similar to the United States.
In the 2012 presidential election, over 125 million votes were cast for one of two presidential candidates. President Obama was reelected with 51% of the popular vote (a little over 65 million votes). And yet in that election, only 57.5 percent of eligible citizens cast a ballot. We should take a second to note that there are countries with so called “compulsory voting” where citizens are required vote. According to the Center for Voting and Democracy, an advocacy group for electoral reform, countries with mandatory voting, such as Australia, have achieved close to 90% voter turnout in recent years. If only 57.5 percent of eligible voters vote in a presidential election year, you can imagine what happens at the midterms (like the one we will have in November). For context, turnout for the last five midterm elections has hovered between 39 and 42 percent. So despite how crucially important our right to vote is in this country, somewhere between 42 percent and 61 percent of the eligible population decides not to vote in a given election year. The problem with this low voter turnout is that it can have a major impact on the types of candidates that succeed. We have talked before about the polarization of American politics into two more extreme parties unable that are unwilling to compromise. While voter turnout isn’t entirely to blame for this, you can see how if only the most enthusiastic (and usually extreme) voters turn out to vote for candidates, its more likely that those extreme candidates win primaries and general elections.
Australia: Australian businesses get to vote: Sydney conservatives want it to be required by law. | Slate
In the United States, if the idea of letting corporations vote in elections gets talked about at all, it’s usually as the absurd logical end point of treating companies like people. Not so in Australia. In many cities across the country, business owners and landlords have long enjoyed the right to participate in local elections, even if they live out of town. (Imagine if a pizza parlor owner from New Jersey could vote in the New York City mayor’s race because he had a location in Manhattan, and you’ve got the picture.) This month, an intriguing political fight has been brewing over whether businesses in Sydney should be required to vote in municipal elections. At the moment, conservatives are pushing a controversial bill that would compel business owners and landlords to cast ballots in city council and mayoral races—a move widely viewed as an attempt to oust the current mayor, Clover Moore, a popular progressive. The controversy, to be clear, isn’t over whether businesses should still get the vote. It’s just about whether they should be forced to vote.
Editorials: Compulsory voting for Sydney businesses makes a mockery of democracy | Jason Wilson/The Guardian
The decision by the NSW state government to automatically enrol Sydney businesses and compel vote in city council elections might seem like a petty, parochial matter. At a basic level, it could look like a political game arranged to get rid of the current mayor. The full details of the arrangements are yet to emerge, but on the basis of yesterday’s news it seems that non-resident businesses owners will have to vote; residents with businesses will have to vote more than once; and presumably those with several rate paying businesses will get a vote for each one. Clover Moore’s decade-long administration will very probably come to an end as a result. While the political right once needed to invoke totalitarianism and spies to fiddle the political system, now, apparently, the world-historical danger that requires an effective gerrymander in favour of business is bike lanes and public art. No one really believes the justifications that have been trotted out by premier Mike Baird, and nor are they expected to. The players know that their explanations misdescribe the underlying political and social realities, they know we know, they mouth the words anyway, and we too-readily accept that this is just what politics is.
Increasing voter participation rates may be as simple as fining eligible voters for not showing up at the polls. It worked in Belgium, and it’s working in Australia. Peter Miller, a 2002 graduate of Billings Senior High School who’s now a John Templeton Foundation post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, told the League of Women Voters of Billings Thursday that compulsory voting is “a proven way to increase turnout,” but noted it has very little chance of becoming law in the U.S. According to its website, the Templeton Foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity and evolution to creativity, forgiveness, love and free well. The foundation encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers and theologians. Every Election Day, Australian voters are almost all in — and if they don’t vote, they pay a $50 fine, Miller said. During the last national election, 93 percent of eligible Australians voted. By comparison, 57 percent of Americans cast their ballot in 2012.
Data showing Americans’ increased political polarization breathes new life into an old cause: mandatory voting. If the connection between the two isn’t clear, then bear with me. A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that a growing share of Americans hold increasingly strident ideological views; those views are increasingly far apart; and the people who hold those polarized views are the most likely to vote. It seems self-evident that this is a problem. Increased polarization means voters elect lawmakers who are increasingly unwilling to compromise, which in turn means Congress can’t react to new problems or deal with old ones. It also means that whichever party wins the White House is all but guaranteed to infuriate the half of the country whose votes it didn’t get, as the demands of each party’s most strident supporters become increasingly irreconcilable.
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.
Young people should be welcomed into the democratic system. This is an opportunity we should not pass up. The next general election may be the last in which 16 and 17-year-olds cannot vote, after the announcement that Labour targets the Vote at 16. Extending the vote to 16 has institutional support at the European level. In the UK, however, the vote at 16 may not be an equal one. In January, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan confirmed Labour is considering compulsory voting for 16 and 17-year-olds, arguing that we must “get [young people] into the habit of voting” – a direct reference to the current crisis in electoral turnout. Increasingly, young people do not vote and continue not to vote as they get older. Now, we may be about to punish them with fines for failing to do so.