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Compulsory voting is only for show

Should everyone have to vote? This past September the polling group Research Co. asked 1,000 Canadians if voting should be made mandatory in all federal elections. 62% thought it should be.

Why would so many want to make voting compulsory?

Advocates argue that higher voter turnouts give a government a higher degree of political legitimacy. In Australia, where voting is required, the 2013 election saw roughly 80% of the voting age population cast a ballot.1 To put that number in context, over Canada’s last three federal elections we’ve averaged about 65% of the electorate casting a ballot. Compulsory voting could increase those totals.

How? By forcing the apathetic to get up off the couch: folks who were too lazy to get educated about their choices, or those who know and hate their choices but who are too sluggish to step up and offer voters an alternative.

Now here’s a question: do we even want them voting? We can force them out to the ballot box, but nothing we do can force them to get informed. Why would we want to make them eenie, meenie, miney, mo their way through the slate of candidates? Are we really making democracy better when one voter’s thoughtful choice can be countered by a guy making selections based on his favorite number? “I’m going with lucky number 4!”

Making voting mandatory will inflate the voter turnout, but that’s really only a sham: requiring someone to vote doesn’t mean they will be any more involved. Compulsory voting won’t motivate the I-won’t–vote-unless-you make-me sort to also spend time studying the issues and researching the various candidate’s positions.

That’s why, the very last thing we need to do is force people who don’t care, who haven’t done their research, and who otherwise wouldn’t vote, to now go down and mark their utterly random “x” on a ballot.

Endnote

1 The official figure was 93% but that doesn’t factor in that, despite the law, 10% of Australians aren’t registered to vote. When we consider all the people of voting age, and then see how many actually voted, we get 80%.


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