Letters to the Editor

Should voting be compulsory in a democracy?

Monday, October 15, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

The freedom to vote is so taken for granted that one is prompted to ask: Should voting be a civic duty instead of being merely a civic right? It is frequently argued with a great deal of validity that since the right to vote is a fundamental human right, any attempt to force people to vote is definitely an infringement of a citizen's freedom of choice.

It has further been argued that compulsory voting laws will increase the volume of blank or invalid ballots. And there has been strong evidence to support this claim. In many countries such as Australia and Argentina which have instituted mandatory voting laws, although electors are required to go to the polling stations, they are at liberty to turn in spoilt or blank ballots if they are not in favour of any of the candidates.

In countries where the laws are enforced, failure to show up at the polling station can result in penalties ranging from community services to fines and imprisonment, if the fines are not paid.

In spite of the infringement on a person's right and freedom to choose, there are advantages to the institution of compulsory voting laws. If we accept the fact that democracy denotes government by the people, it follows that in order for democracy to function properly all eligible electors should actively participate in the political process.

It should also be understood that countries with compulsory voting laws generally see to it that the likelihood of voter suppression is kept to a minimum or is totally non-existent. These countries make sure that all eligible voters are registered and every effort is made to ensure that they are allowed to vote without encumbrances.

In Australia, for example, to facilitate working people, voting is carried out on a Saturday or Sunday. In addition, in the case of incapacitated people or those who are unable to travel to polling stations, the government provides prepaid mail in ballots. Mobile polling stations are also taken to hospitals or nursing homes.

All in all, the advantages of mandatory voting seem to outweigh the disadvantages in that in situations in which the voter turnout is very high, the elected government is more in tune with the will of the people. Thus, the government is not influenced solely by special interest groups that are inclined to hijack the democratic process.

Rupert Johnson

Ontario, Canada

r.b.johnson@sympatico.ca

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