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peter lindsay

Physics Teacher,

TEDCRED 50+

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In a democracy should voting be compulsory

I am really undecided on this one. I see examples of both having effects I don't like. In Australia voting is compulsory so elections are often decided by a small group of swinging voters. This has resulted in the homogenisation of the two major political parties as they both fight over the middle ground. In the US I see elections swung by appealing to the extremes as an election where only half the population vote can be decided by encouraging a small extremist group to take part. The middle majority don't vote as they can't make up their minds. How do we get an election result that is truly indicative of the wishes of the whole population without homogenising the debate to the point where the parties are indestinguishable?

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    May 10 2012: It doesn't matter. I have both voted and not voted in elections. Regardless of the rules, the entire electorate contribute. A thoughtful citizen who does not vote does so in full knowledge of what effect that inactivity has on the election. The electorate will over time get the government they deserve. In the end the only certain safeguard that democracy gives us is the ability to get rid of malicious dictators. Whether it's compulsory or not, politicians tailor their campaigns to suit the rules in order to improve their chances of power, making democracy quite a poor method to elect good government- it's just a way to elect the most electable people.
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    May 12 2012: I guess one of the largest voting turnouts happens in my country, Bangladesh. In the last national parliament election in 2008 the turnout was 85%. 69,172,649 voted out of a total 81,130,973 voters. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladeshi_general_election,_2008 )
    What I see here is the parliamentary election turns out to be a national festival among people. They love the excitement, noise, neighborhood events before the election. And they find it fun to go for voting. They feel good, they feel important, they meet neighbors and many other people and they have fun.

    So you may rather think of turning the voting into a social phenomenon, a festival. Making it compulsory would rather threaten the core intention of voting.
    • May 12 2012: Great post Mohammad, Obey describes the situation quite accurately in Australia, hardly festive, the best we can hope for is sausage sizzle run by the local P&C to raise money if you're voting at a school.
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        May 13 2012: Maybe in Australia we should have elections on a Friday and make election day a public holiday!!
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      May 13 2012: Americans don't really have a huge festival when voting comes around. It feels more like a child's duty to care for their parents, and if the child is tired of caring for their elderly parents they leave them in elderly home for someone else to watch after their parents. Then the elderly population just punish their child for leaving them in the elderly homes by voting against the younger population. Ha! Seriously though, celebration is much needed.
    • May 14 2012: Brilliant idea and system, turn the voting process into a massive festival and celebration of democratic process. It might well make the question of compelling people to vote obsolete and people would find it a pleasure not a chore as it seems to be in some countries at the moment.
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    May 20 2012: In America the voters are asking the candidates, "What can you do for me?" The sense of national policy and for the good of the nation is no longer a valid question. A promise of instant citizenship, free medical, free education all sound great to those looking for a free ride. We cannot afford these "free" items. I work closely with the Senate Chair for Education in our state and find that our education in state and federal government is lacking. You want a challenge take the citizenship test and find out what you know about the US government. It may hurt your ego.

    There was a close race in Navada last year and the Senator sent buses into the latino housing districts and delivered them to the polls making promises that would be hard to keep. He stayed in office by the skin of his teeth. Was it ethical. Probally not. Was it illegal probally not. To the winner goes the spoils.

    No I don't agree that voting should b compulsory. It is a right that we should exercise. All the best. Bob
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    May 10 2012: We should vote on this issue...
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      May 10 2012: Do I have to?
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        May 11 2012: Yes, I compell you.
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          May 11 2012: Fine. I vote NO! Stop the tyranny! Protect your constitutional right to not vote! (Paid for by The Non-Voters Consortium).
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    May 15 2012: By the way: someone should check whether there's a correlation between compulsory voting in countries and the inequality indices for these countries.

    My hypothesis is that there is indeed such a relation. Countries in which voting is compulsory are more equal than those where it is not.

    Perhaps Richard Wilkinson has analysed this?

    EDIT: oops, a quick check shows it would actually be the contray. But the number of countries with compulsory voting is too small to be sure.
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    May 15 2012: Of course voting should be compulsory (and luckily it is in my country, Belgium). If not, the weak, who are to gain most from democracy, drop out and the strong win - thus destroying the very essence of democracy. EDIT: as has been said by almost everybody here.

    There's a huge difference between "the right to vote", and "the duty to vote".

    Those who are in favor of a mere right to vote have a weak, passive view on citizenship (a citizen is someone who simply undergoes what the powerful decide). In a sense, it is an empty concept of citizenship that undermines democracy.

    Those who are in favor of "the duty to vote" have an active notion of citizenship (a citizen is someone who educates himself and desires to be educated into the values of democracy).
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    May 14 2012: Here's a concept to consider. In stead of having compulsory voting and fining people $20 for not voting, how about we have voluntary voting but you get paid $20 when you vote. This would encourage participation of people with limited income so they might achieve representation as a group without being forced to vote.
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      May 15 2012: Yes, that's an interesting idea. But the negative is that they may just go out to cash in on the money, and vote for the first dot or idiot on the ballot.

      I maintain: we need compulsory voting, in combination with efforts to create active citizenship for all.
  • May 12 2012: Is voting compulsory, or is it merely attending a polling booth on the day to get your name marked off which is compulsory? Big difference when you think about it. I take it fairly seriously so don't have a problem with trying to get the most representative result possible.
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    May 12 2012: Either completely abolishing political parties, or creating a political party like this tedx: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/rick_falkvinge_i_am_a_pirate.html

    OR

    I am not sure if this idea already exists, but I was thinking of there being a party that stands for anything. Then there would be large discussions that are timed or mandated to have a limit for each speaker, so there is no fillibusterers. Each person would pose new issues, if they had any, and a discussion would ensue. During major presidential or other positions in the government, then there would be an inner debate about issues with labeling it as either liberal or conservative. Eventually the party would vote for a candidate with the best issue with solution or something that is important. Any issues that are prejudiced will be removed. The importance, in my view, of this system is the fact that they don't represent any specific view, and they also represent every issue.

    I call this party the Individualists. This will cause people to be more interested in the candidates running, and voting would be optional, but more individuals' would vote if the candidates were more realistic. They wouldn't be childish, and they wouldn't pit themselves against any specific party, like democrats vs republicans. They will be revolutionary and they are like liquid forming any shape it is contained in, but this liquid will have its own will and can move where it pleases!

    Thanks for reading my thoughts. Hope to read yours. =)
  • May 12 2012: People who have no strong opinion on politics, or little knowledge of politics, should not vote.

    Giving a vote is not a religious in-group ritual, it is the expression of policy preference. If I have no clue what policy to prefer, or not enough motivation to go to the voting booth for it, I should let those co-citizens decide who do have both an opinion and sufficient motivation.

    Voting without knowledge is not altruistic. Making people vote against their will is one of the most absurd ideas I've ever heard.
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      • May 12 2012: There are three different questions:

        1) Who should have the right to vote?
        2) For whom does it make sense to vote?
        3) Who should be forced to vote?

        My answers are:

        1) All citizens, including minors and felons.
        2) Only people who have at least some knowledge and motivation to affect policy.
        3) No one.

        There is no slippery slope unless one is confusing the questions.
  • May 11 2012: Voting should not be compulsory.

    The main pillars of democracy lie in egalitarianism and in complete freedom of choice and expression. Therefore, giving the citizens an opportunity to freely choose among political parties, but at the same time take their opportunity to decide whether they want to vote, (and have the slightest interest in election), foremost, does not seem like an appropriate solution.

    If voting is voluntary, the results of the election, (no matter how fatal they turn out), are a true reflection of the state and of its inhabitants. The outcome is a valuable piece of knowledge, which can, in the end, struck people's lazy or undecided minds much more than just a simple command.
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    May 11 2012: Seems to me the results are about the same either way.

    Democracy is about choice.
  • May 11 2012: I too live in Australia and agree with Scott Armstrong. Ive always agreed with the Aussie rule that voting is compulsory until recently/ Now I believe our rights include a righ not to.
    Our view of democracy is stilted though. What we have is NOT democracy but now is Corporateocracy but we need to think outside the square. I believe the problem is Party Politics. Who says we need a government AND an opposition.
    We dont get to vote on who runs the country. All we get to vote on is our own region/electorate member and he/she may end up as an opposition member. Thats not what I want and not what anyone wants. If we elect our local member why cant all elected local members form a party free government and debate issues without formally nominated oppositions like grown men. Most of the formal opposition members are told now the position thay must take on issues involving debate and voting. Who we vote for is irrelevant under this system. Lets ban political parties and let every elected member run the no party government, deciding among themselves after the elections as to who does which job.
    Maybe the people would vote if they thought they could elect the leader directly (which doesnt even happen in the USA) and if they knew that their elected representative would be actually IN the government not in the opposition.
  • May 11 2012: But what if an individual feels (knows for certain) that the parties would be incapable of leading the nation or fulfilling its promises??? What if an individual doesnt have confidence in any of the parties??? In that case mandatory voting doesnt do any good to nation. Such an individual may want to wait for the right party to stand up and then he excercises his right of voting. If a party is not good(let's say a bunch of crooks form it and run the party and economy and the nation according to their own whimses without caring what is to be done and what is not to be done) then it is better not to vote. Supporting a theif in my opinion is an equal offence like stealing something by yourself. Voting should therefore be personal choice so that no one's patriotism/integrity gets disturbed.
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    May 11 2012: While my personal beliefis that every person eligibile to vote should vote, i do not believe it should be compulsory. Abstention is also, in a way, a vote, because it can express either that the choices are so rancid that the person can not support them, or that the person is completely put off (either by suspicion that the entire process is broken or simply their own laziness).

    Compulsory voting in my opinion would not create a more informed electorate, but rather an electorate that sees it as a processto be auffered through, much like how Americans see jury duty as suffering rather than taking pride in being part of the government they so claim they want to change.

    I think all peoples of all societies should take a look at Egypt, who are having television debates from two candidates for president. Half the population is expected to watch. This is e first time in decades - decades! - that this countey of 80 million or so people will have the opportunity to spress their opinion as to who they want to be their leader.

    It is the shame of the people in democracies who do not exercise their roght to vote. However, i will grant them their right to not vote, but in my opinion they lose their right to complain about the outcome.

    Don't vote? Then don't whine!

    That's my motto.
  • May 11 2012: I believe it should be. Everyone should have 'skin' in the game. The very definition of democracy includes participation. Either vote or stay out of the conversation.
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    May 11 2012: Voting must compulsory for everyone.
  • May 11 2012: voters should be informed. How does forcing people to vote so that? Of course, with anchors
    like I am a conservative influencing voters are those who choose to vote informed?
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    May 11 2012: Democracy needs a major overhaul.

    I've always thought that opposing political parties vying to run the same country is the height of idiocracy. Most of the time a political party lies it's way into office.

    Then there's the inane "if you didn't vote, you can't complain" - possibly one of the stupidest statements I've ever heard uttered.

    It's time that the best and brightest applies for the jobs in central government, applying just as you would to any other job.

    The public then vote on the issues. The "politicans" then simply put those decisions into action.

    Maybe then, democracy wouldn't just be a catchy facade..
  • May 11 2012: In Canada, I've heard, ( and believe it ) only about one in 15 people really vote.
    I suppose the "real statistics" could be manipulated into reinforcing whatever point of view you want to adhere to.
    But here, the 'majority of voters' are a minority of the population, but also a majority of the money, too.
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    May 11 2012: This is a specific example of the paradox of "forcing you to be free" arising from the tension between conceptions of negative liberty (freedom from) and positive liberty (freedom to). On balance, I think this is a matter of positive liberty (for reasons happy to discuss elsewhere) and would prefer freedom to abstain from voting. However, I, too, live in Australia.
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    May 10 2012: I'm writing from Greece, the country that gave democracy to the people.
    Before expressing my thought, let me just tell you that according to our Constitution, voting is mandatory in Greece.

    All European country leaders are concerned about the elections we had last Sunday.
    I have relatives and friends who voted and others who didn't.
    We have been having this same conversation that you are asking every time we have election in Greece.
    I'm always one of those persons who wake up early in the morning every time we have elections and exercise my right to do so.
    Others say that since we have democracy not voting is a choice.
    Last Sunday the abstention rate was 35%. This means that a lot of people didn’t vote, although these were (and still are since we still have no government) very crucial elections. This resulted in 65% of the Greeks to choose for the rest
    Also, due to some recent amendments in our election laws, whichever party gets the most votes is given 50 more seats in our Parliament as a bonus and parties that do not get a least 3% of the votes (this is a new limit that never existed) are not represented in the Parliament.
    This resulted in 20% of those who voted not being represented in the Parliament, since small parties got less than 3%!!!!
    The thing is that the politicians are given the power to manipulate the masses and the voting results in their favor every time.
    If there was a mechanism ever to be invented that could protect the citizens from the above, then it does not matter if voting is mandatory or compulsory.
    Until then, politicians shall do as they please, no matter if you and I vote or not.
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    May 10 2012: I struggled with your question too. In the end, I decided no, voting should not be compulsory. True freedom means individual liberty. This outweighs, in my opinion, democratic responsibility. The election of leaders is 'management' to me. If a citizen feels unqualified, unwilling, or ineffective in participating, it is their right to abstain.
  • May 10 2012: I do not think so. In a true democracy, voting should be a natural behavior. In Portugal, voting is not compulsory but we still end up with the same political scenario that you describe in Australia.
    The reason why I mention "true democracy" is because, in my opinion, being a citizen in a democratic nation should imply more that voting every 4 or 5 years. It should imply being well informed by the public servers, being called upon to make big decisions about the country (such as asking for a barbaric loan payed with barbaric interest rates, aka bale-out), and to search for solutions for our problems. As it is now, the only citizenship my country expects (and I think tolerates) from me is a cross on one of a limited choice of parties, every 4 or 5 years.
    Given the chance to participate, to make myself heard, to contribute with real solutions and measures to the Portuguese' problems, I would also, gladly vote, without anyone or any law having to make it compulsory.
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    May 10 2012: It depends on the majority of voters. Since they already value the right to vote they will probably support mandatory voting. Those who do not value, or exercise, their right to vote might make an exception for this issue and cast their votes against mandatory voting. The larger group will have their way. In the US that group is the non-voters. So, no. Compulsory voting will get voted-down by the folks who usually don't vote. Should voting be compulsory?. . . Yes. Will it be?. . . No. PS: Have you thought about the penalty for not voting?
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      May 11 2012: In Australia we receive fines of between 20 and 50 dollars for not voting depending on the level of government. Strangely the lesser fine is for the federal elections??
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        May 11 2012: That sounds like a tax break for voters. I like it. As for the fine structure I think it is reversed because you are South of the equator ;-).
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        May 11 2012: I often don't vote in our elections because of the situation best described by the SouthPark episode. At the moment our PM is the sandwich. I think it is anyway, its hard to tell the two sides apart.
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        May 11 2012: I always vote and sometimes I get stuck with the government the non-voters deserve. So, if the non-voter ranks were reduced to near-zero then we would get better government? I think I see your point Chris Kelly.
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    May 10 2012: i think voting should be mandatory in order to choose right government that will work for the mankind for a certain period of time!!
    In order to choose/select the right government we need equal participation from youth and elders and equal participation is encouraged by voting rights that is provided to the people who are above the age 18.

    So, all we can do is to awake people to vote and choose the right government that should play an active role in alleviating the pain faced by common people!!
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      May 11 2012: "Awaken people to vote." How do free countries motivate citizens to do something Mr. Somani? 1) Give them a way to avoid punishment. 2) Reward obedience. 3) Demonstrate benefits of obedience. 4) Demonstrate results of disobedience. 5) Education. 6) ???, etc.