The world faces a long history of government oppression and systematic discrimination

The world faces a long history of government oppression and systematic discrimination. Modern democracies attempt to mend past wrongdoings by promoting peace and diplomacy through freedom and individual independence. But while some civil liberties such as free speech have existed undisputed since the birth of modern democracy itself, others have been steadily debated through the centuries. One of these such liberties, the right to vote, has been the driving force of countless political movements. It wasn’t until 1920 in the 15th amendment to the US Constitution that all citizens of modern republics, regardless of race or sex, secured this right (Pinsker). Now, some nations are taking it a step further by questioning whether voting should be even more than a right. They propose that voting should be a civic duty with mandatory attendance and punishments for those who do not participate.
Compulsory voting, also known as compulsory turnout, is a system in which every citizen is required by law to appear at a polling booth during elections. Importantly, compulsory voting systems only require one’s presence at a voting booth. Citizens are not required to cast a formal ballot. They can still submit incomplete or spoiled ballots. Voters who do not attend or provide a legitimate excuse are given a small fine. In Austria, this fine can reach up to 3000 Austrian Shillings (around 270 USD)(Gratshrew).
Supporters of compulsory voting argue that by increasing voter turnout, the system could result in a more involved public body. It could also expand political parties and prevent extremists from gaining power. However, opponents of the policy argue that compulsory voting could delegitimize the voting process and that it would be extremely costly to implement.
The most common argument against mandatory voting is that it may result in the rise of the uninformed voter. In a 2008 Pew Research study of American ‘nonvoters’, people who are eligible to vote but have never voted, 68% stated that they ‘know little’ about the candidates, and 43% said they were ‘bored’ by politics (Heimlich). The forced presence of uninformed and uninterested voters could ‘waterdown’ the quality of the vote (Solari). The more people that participate in elections, the lower the potential impact of each vote. Informed votes can get lost in the sea of uninformed votes, and the democracy itself is threatened by under-qualified representatives and ‘donkey votes’ (Gratshew). These are ballots in which the voter simply chooses the name at the top of the ballot out of convenience. Unfortunately, they are completely indistinguishable from ballots of citizens who genuinely wish to elect the first candidate. As a result, there is no way to estimate or study the number of illegitimate votes or their impacts on elections. These ‘donkey ballots’ cannot be tracked and pose a threat to democracy (Gratshew). This source is an excerpt from a novel by Maria Gratschew. She has also co-written two other books on voting. She is a program director for the International Institute for Democracy and a highly qualified source for this topic. This argument presented is quite strong despite the lack of evidence. The idea of mandatory voting infringing upon rights is purely theoretical and doesn’t require the use of statistics. Similarly, it would be impossible to find evidence to back the claim that mandatory voting creates an increase in random votes, because they are, as the name suggests, random.
Additionally, a mandatory voting system can be very difficult and costly to implement. On a global scale, it would require the widespread production of roads and voting stations in order to allow everyone to cast a ballot. Australia, the world’s most successful and longest-lasting mandatory democracy, also happens to have a centralized, coastal population, with only 2% of citizens residing in the center of the continent (Geographic). By contrast, more dispersed nations are likely to experience a harder time implementing a mandatory voting system. The aforementioned 2008 Pew Research Study found that 15% of US voters found it ‘difficult’ to reach the polls on voting day (Heimlich). Though this survey occurred in only the US, it is representative of the issues voters around the world can face when attempting to vote.
This low voter accessibility rate poses a dilemma for some nations with compulsory voting such as Brazil, which received just under an 80% turnout rate in their 2014 presidential election (Federative). The government was forced to choose between spending millions of dollars to make voting more accessible, or massive resource allocation to collect fines from election day no-shows, many of which resided in rural, hard to reach areas. Some argue that voting day difficulties are a part of rural living and that these citizens should simply move closer to the city if it is that big of a deal to them. However, this solution neglects that fact that much of the rural demographic is composed of poor agricultural workers, who cannot move for financial and work-related reasons. These people may struggle to move even if they wanted to. Another proposed solution to this dilemma is online voting, which would be far more cost-efficient and convenient, even allowing some citizens to vote from work or home. Yet, opposers argue that online votes could be much easier to hack or tamper with, and that it still poses the same problems to the isolated, rural population without access to the internet. The author of this source is a California resident, and he argues against mandatory voting, particularly regarding how it would affect the US. However, the source as a whole contains information that could be relevant to any country around the world. Moreover, even though Solari, the author, is a musician and may lack credibility in this specific subject, he is able to strengthen his argument by relying on other, more qualified individuals than himself. One of these sources is Arend Lijphart, an author and professor of political science, who is very reliable, and has won numerous awards for his work.
However, mandatory voting systems continue to be implemented in 22 democracies worldwide (Santhanam). One of the most common reasons for this is the idea that mandatory voting systems alter not only the voters, but the candidates running in elections. According to this New York Times, this system can help prevent the rise of political extremists by preventing elections from being determined simply by turnout. In a traditional election, more moderate voters are less likely to participate because they may not have strong opinions, or may be more impartial to the results. However, when forced to turnout at polls, they represent the largest proportion of voters. This turns the middle of the spectrum into a key ‘swing’ voter population (Aly). Thus, candidates with less extreme platforms have the advantage. While some may argue that this could result in slow, inefficient governments that are quick to compromise, this scenario is still infinitely better than the alternate – a politically divided legislative body in which neither party can gain a majority, and no bills are ever passed (Gratschew). While too much like-mindedness and compromise could certainly pose an issue to governments with mandatory voting, this is not a valid reason to ban the process all together. The author of this source is a politics lecturer at Monash University. He writes for the New York Times and specialises in Australian politics. Moreover, he is from Australia, the world’s oldest democracy with mandatory voting. While this may produce a bias in favor of mandatory voting, it also grants him first-hand experience with its relevance. Overall, he is a fairly reliable source.
Furthermore, a mandatory voting system not only encourages citizens to vote, it encourages citizens to prepare to vote and to fully appreciate the privilege of having the right to vote. According to Pew Research, 3% of American non-voters stated that they did not vote because they thought their vote had ‘no point’ or ‘doesn’t change things’ (Heimlich). Especially on the global and national scale, it can be easy for individual citizens to feel disconnected from their governments. However, mandatory voting teaches citizens that their vote does matter, and makes them feel as if their government cares for them. They could increase the public’s ‘political efficacy and confidence’ in their government, leading to a more informed and active public body (Keaney). This source, from Gale pages, is adapted from a 30-page official document. It is a very reliable source from relevant professionals in the field. Both authors are professors at a British research facility. The source argues in favor of mandatory voting in Britain, but is able to maintain an objective tone and global scope.
Similarly, mandatory voting can be used to gauge voter discomfort. Some voters, as mentioned above, may abstain from voting simply due to apathy, but others may abstain as a form of protest. Traditional democracies have no way of keeping track of satisfaction, and may confuse discontent for apathy. Voters that don’t wish to pick between multiple bad candidates may not show up to the polls at all, resulting in more voter discontent and political separation. Mandatory voting mends this, because voters who do not wish to pick a candidate still have to fill out a ballot. This was demonstrated in the massive ‘protest vote’ of the 1990 Brazilian Presidential Election, in which over 40% of voters submitted spoiled, tarnished, or otherwise unreadable ballots (Federative). But unreadable does not mean useless. Feedback of any kind from the citizens can notify the government of the general opinion of the public, and influence political policies and reform. Similarly, the results of the vote are more representative of the entire nation, not just a select few the show up at the polls. For example, in June 2014, Calderon was elected president of Columbia after receiving just over half of the votes cast, 50.9%. However, only 47% of eligible citizens participated (Election). This means approximately one-quarter of the population cast the ballots that chose the leader of the entire nation. Mandatory voting helps to prevent situations like these, by ensuring that every vote is heard. Similarly, it can help to prevent government corruption and overly-powerful lobbyists. The wealthy cannot control the government, because the lower and middle classes make up the majority of the population. This increases general voter satisfaction, and more accurately reflects the ideals of democracy.
To conclude, many convincing arguments can be made both in favor of and against mandatory voting. However, I believe the pros far outweigh the cons. Mandatory voting, though costly, works to expand the ideals of democracy. A nation cannot claim to represent the people if the people are not given a fair opportunity to participate in elections. Many democracies have grown corrupt since their initial establishments, and mandatory voting policies can help to reverse this. They demonstrate the evolution of democracy, and symbolize not only our political advancements, but our social changes over the years. Society has evolved from an elitist group of white, land-owning males, into a place where all races, sexes, and social classes can feel accepted and important. Our voting systems should mirror this change.
One aspect of this paper that I would like to perform further research on is the idea of online voting. I can see how it could make the overall process easier and more convenient, and would be interested in why more developed nations haven’t implemented such a policy. I would also be interested in researching other voting systems and how they can influence elections, including the first pass the post and proportional voting systems, and comparing these to the traditional majority rules (1924 words).