Mandatory Voting: A menace?

  • Thousands of people are elected every year around the globe by a large chunk of population through a specific process i.e. the democratic voting system. There exist various procedures of these elections whereas on the other hand, some states in a monarchy are ruled by a sovereign head of state known as the monarch and thus there no voting system exists. In a democracy, we ought to find a pool of classic debates if we look deeply into the matter of either voting must be made compulsory for all citizens or not. Although, a vast majority of people believe that mandatory voting leads to a higher voter turnout in the elections, however they seem to have spectacle about the human engineering and its innate potential to strive for the freedom of speech and choice; this can justified by various reasons, for example the misinterpretation of the democratic rights, the absence of absolute rational voters and people’s lack of interest in parliamentary politics because otherwise mandatory voting can lead to a poor choice of leadership and might prove to be a menace for the citizens of a country. Democracy is indeed a system in which all the citizens participate equally but to use it to justify the claim that all citizens should be required by law to vote is absolutely nonsense and unjust. It is a mere representation of a majority of people but not all the people living in a society. There are certain aspects of looking up to a parliamentary voting system; firstly compulsory voting system may break religious rights in some societies “Jehovah’s Witness and most Christadelphians believe they should not participate in political events. Forcing them to vote, supposedly excludes their freedom of religious practice” ( As narrated above, it can be extended to some extent that in some Muslim societies, women from an orthodox Muslim background are not allowed to step out of their house on the polling day and exercise their power to vote. This is a mere representation of those who are deprived of voting on the Election Day and this number counts to infinity! We know that democracy was put into place so that all the people have equal rights in the society but not the equal input. The beauty of democracy is that no one is forced legally to act on other’s commands but they have a freewill which gives them an advantage to opt for themselves based on their own choice. As Lord Hailsham, a British politician said, “I regard freedom of expression as the primary right without which one cannot have a proper functioning democracy”. Secondly, the democratic process in real terms stresses upon various other notions other than mandatory voting i.e. the right to protest, right to information and most importantly free and fair electoral process. The latter can never be assured in case of the mandatory voting system due to a higher voter turnout leading to higher discrepancies in the elections. Moreover, there is another major aspect that there might be a drastic fall in the number of absolute rational voters which has some gruesome repercussions in the long term on the functioning of a democratic system.“It may increase the number of "donkey votes"(votes for a random candidate by people who feel that they are required to vote by law)”. This shows that due to mandatory voting in the elections; a common citizen who was not ready to vote and did not make up his mind might vote for a random candidate against their freewill (most probably the top candidate on the ballot paper). The voter is least bothered to whom they vote since as long as their civic needs are fulfilled by the authority in power. This is justified by a question that, “What effect does this immeasurable category of random votes have on the legitimacy of the democratically elected government?” Secondly, another problem associated with the random votes casted is as the voter votes against his freewill, the contesting parties in the elections will not have any motive and agenda to attract the voter to support their party’s manifesto. Considering if the law of mandatory voting is implemented, it might lead to a failure of democracy especially in the rural areas of countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh where there is a ‘Zamindari’ (Landlord) system. The landlords who have a strong hold in the villages might force the peasants to vote for them by using various pitiless methods e.g. forcing them to toil laboriously in the fields and starving them to death just to ensure their clear victory in the elections. Furthermore, there is another loophole that is a natural phenomenon which has no open headed solution to it: there is a large mass of population which takes no interest in the parliamentary politics and abstains to vote in the elections. The question that arises here is that why should someone who takes no interest in the political issues have a say in who runs a country. A research shows that “In the 2008 Census Bureau voting survey(link is external), topping the list of reasons for not voting is a lack of interest (13%) or a dislike of the candidates or issues (13%). More than a quarter of registered nonvoters in 2008 didn't vote because they weren't interested or didn't like their choices. As we know from the book of history that democracy is not the voice of the masses every time. There is an anti-democracy mindset which always exists in a society which has an alternate to democracy, be it the technocrat system of government or the military rule. A famous writer quotes in his book “Democracy (n.): Government of the sheep, by the shepherds, for the wolves.”(Rollins 241). This quote basically sums up the argument that people make against democracy to overrule the claims of some pseudo intellectuals in the society. The different choices people make is subject to a scientific theory known as the ‘Theory of mind’ which states that, “Theory of mind refers to the notion that many autistic individuals do not understand that other people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view. Furthermore, it appears that they have difficulty understanding other people's beliefs, attitudes, and emotions.”This theory is the further elaboration of my point aforementioned in the paragraph above and gives a concrete base to it. However, one of the leading arguments made in favor of the mandatory voting is that it leads to a higher voter turnout in the elections. Compulsory voting laws have been adapted in almost more than 20 countries around the globe and Australia being one of them has been practicing them since 1924. According to some recent surveys on the comparison of voter turnout before and after the implementation of compulsory voting laws, the results are as follows: “Voter turnout of those registered to vote in Australia was as low as 47% prior to the 1924 compulsory voting law. In the decades since 1924, voter turnout has hovered around 94% to 96%.” These results are basically the depiction of the fact that since every citizen is bound to vote so there is an inevitable increment in the voter turnout. On the other hand, to ensure that these laws are enforced properly on every citizen, the government places various sanctions on the violation of these laws. The type of sanctions vary among different countries e.g. “Fine. The non-voter faces a fine sanction. The amount varies between the countries, for example 3 Swiss Francs in Switzerland, between 300 and 3 000 ATS in Austria, 200 Cyprus Pounds in Cyprus, 10-20 Argentinean Pesos in Argentina, 20 Soles in Peru etc.” Although many countries offer loopholes, the voter can go with impunity in various cases and thus it is an arduous task for the government to justify the expenditures to ensure an execution of these mandatory voting laws. In the light of the above discussion, however it can be concluded that as there is an immense variation in the political dynamics of every state so establishing certain laws such as mandatory voting laws without analyzing its historic political framework can have devastating outcomes on a country’s forthcoming generations. The point is simply that hypothetically even if we agree that compulsory voting might prove to be a remedy for proper functioning of a democracy. However, that might be different in the case of well established and stable democracies. The question whether these laws go align with a democratic system in a country is in grey and it cannot be warranted without a consensus or memorandum of all the citizens of a country.