Voting should be compulsory in the UK
Last updated: March 2, 2017
With declining participation in elections, is it time to introduce compulsory voting in the UK to boost numbers in democracy's most fundamental aspect?
A true democratic mandate for the government
Compulsory voting would ensure the governing party has the majority of the country on its side, and better reflect the wishes of the people.
In my ever so humble opinion voting should be compulsory because I believe (perhaps somewhat niavely) that if an individual is forced to vote they would/should make an effort to become more informed on the issues that the various parties are campaigning about, and the issues that affect themselves and their local electorate.
In Australia (yes I am Australian but live in the UK) voting is compulsory. That being said, the only compulsory part of the process is showing up and getting your name ticked of the roll. What you do in the privacy of the booth is entirely up to you. If you dont agree with any of the politicians or parties you vote incorrectly which makes you vote invalid and therefore doesnt count. (stupid but legal)
Bullying tactics should never be used in free and fair elections because they undermine the democratic process, and compulsory voting works only when backed up with fiscal punishment for those who don't vote.
If forced to appear at the polls, even to register an abstention vote, the population of the UK would become more involved in the political process, ensuring that parties have to listen to what the people are saying.
Compulsory voting would merely be addressing a symptom of a wider problem, not the root cause.
It's a model that works
Further questions are raised about how people will vote when they remain apathetic to the process but are compelled to vote: it can hardly be said to 'work' when some people may vote for a candidate at random because they are still uninformed and ignorant of policies.
Civic duty to vote
Voting is arguably the most important civic function because it ensures our democracy continues; there would be enormous outcry if a government were elected by a small turn-out, which is the way the trend is heading.
We also cannot be seen to be exporting democratic values around the world (e.g. the Middle East) when not enforcing those values at home. It would be hypocritical to say that voting in your leaders is important abroad, while not caring domestically.
Paying taxes is a duty because everyone uses the services the government provides, such as roads, schools, hospitals and so on, regardless of whether they vote or not, and regardless of which party they voted for.
It is not hypocrisy because we still offer the democratic process, holding free and fair general elections no later than every 5 years. Hypocrisy would be to export democracy while eroding it at home, removing the right to vote and so on. This is simply not the case.
Cause more people to become interested in politics
Instead of trying to engage people by force, how about introducing political education in schools and encouraging political conversation. How about educating the public on how Westminster affects them? People vote with their feet. If they are not interested, they are not interested! The government should be trying to engage people by other means, not compulsory voting. It may improve low turnout but will not affect what people actually think about politics.
Weekend voting would be a more sensible solution
Better yet, introduce a public holiday on election days and provide free public transport to and from polling stations.
Compulsory voting addresses the fact that people simply don't turn up to vote, which weekend voting doesn't.
The right not to vote
A non-vote (i.e. staying at home) sends a more powerful signal of apathy than does a spoilt ballot or abstention vote; a non-vote says that the citizen is dissatisfied with the entire process, that politics do not address any concern she has. A spoilt ballot or abstention vote in a compulsory election, however, merely expresses dissatisfaction with the particular candidates in the constituency, and hides the deeper malaise that may be there.
Compulsory voting merely sweeps under the carpet the legitimate dissatisfaction many people feel with politics, and will not lead to the regeneration of politics that its proponents suggest. Many people will merely vote at random, because 'they have to', rather than expressing their apathy.
A person who conciously elects, in their own mind, that they do not wish to participate in an election process, for whatever reason(s) they may have, should not be legally obliged to vote or in any way participate if they choose not to do so.
Spoiling a ballot in order to show that one feels no candidate is suitable, or even that they are dissatisfied with the entire system, sends a message out much more clearly. If one simply did not attend the vote at all this could be for many reason - sickness, forgetfulness, pure laziness - and is not making any kind of political statement.
Persuasion is more effective than coercion
Rather than forcing people to vote, more should be done to engage the public in political life. Westminster is a distant body, detached from real life, and should be made more relevant and more deserving of the public's trust, for example by releasing full details of MPs' expenses.
Citizenship classes should teach the importance of the electoral process, and the history of the suffragette movement, the reform bills of the 19th century and the responsibilities of living in a democracy.
Because the number of voters would increase, politicians would have to be active in engaging with the public and therefore become "more deserving of the public's trust" as you suggest.
Citizenship classes are irrelevant here; having them doesn't negate the need for compulsory voting.
Compulsory Voting Does not enhance democracy
Furthermore, an abstention vote means 'do not count me', not 'don't elect anyone'. The number of votes in this category therefore do not matter, so long as the real candidate with the most wins the seat. (It would be different if the option were to Re-Open Nominations, but that has not been proposed.)
People forced to vote are unlikely to vote intelligently.
If you force everyone to vote you make it a criminal offence to be incredibly apathetic, so the incredibly apathetic people will merely vote insensibly, counting against the people who are actually voting on the basis of informed opinion. In an extreme case, idiots could sway the result of an election.
If your not even bothered enough about the future of your country's government to even turn up at the polling booth at each general election, then you don't get a say, and I think thats actually good. Forcing uninterested people to vote is not really democratic its just random.
You might want to decide who's in power by throwing the dice instead.
Furthermore, an option to 'abstain' on the ballot paper would accommodate anyone who truly does not wish to have a say in the running of their country.
What's the point of voting as politicians don't listen to the public anyways
Actually promises are more likely to be broken, because it will dilute interested, informed voters with uninterested, uninformed voters.
Voting does not make sense as a rewardable/punishable action.
On the corollary, when a person votes, they are making use of their right. They are reaping a reward – it is like one free voucher to slightly more political power than they would otherwise have. While I am not saying it is an unvirtuous thing to vote – I admire anyone who votes for a genuinely ethical party against the advice of a strong majority – I do not think rewarding a reward makes a lot of sense.