Mandatory Voting in Canada
Mandatory Voting in Canada
Mandatory voting is a system where people are required by law to cast their vote during an election day. Anyone who fails to vote during the process is punished by paying a fine. Mandatory voting is not something new to the world. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), 26 countries have laws that require eligible voters to register and participate in an election (idea.int). Australia is one of the countries where any citizen above 18 years of age is legally required to register and vote, and failure to do so attracts a fine of about A$20. As a result, Australia boasts a voter turnout of above 90% in almost every election. The debate, as to whether to introduce mandatory voting into the system or not, is widespread in Canada. So much so that a bill, Bill S-22, has been sponsored in Parliament to push for the idea. The main reason behind this is the decline in voter turnout experienced over the last century, with a record low of 58.8% during the federal elections and referendum in 2008. This paper will assess the effects of compulsory voting, using Australia as a case study, and evaluate if these results are feasible in Canada.
Countries with mandatory voting experience high voter turnout. One reason to explain this is that many people turn out because they fear being punished for not voting. This is not surprising behavior since it has been shown that human beings will make a decision if its benefits outweigh the costs. In this case, the fine makes the cost of voting much lower than not voting. In the end, mandatory voting boosts participation in an electoral process. In Australia, where voting is mandatory, voter turnout has been high and has remained relatively stable in recent years. In the last federal election, 94% of registered voters turn out to cast the ballot compared to Canada’s 68.5%. There are those who argue that the high voter turnout in Australia is a myth. They indicate that 10% of Australians are not registered voters. They add that percentage only reflects the number of registered voters who turn out to vote. Noteworthy is that the number, of Australians who register as voters, has been on the decline in recent years. Younger Australians are not registering to vote as they should. The Australian Election Commission indicates that about 30% of eligible voters not registered aged between 18 and 24 years. Mandatory voting in Canada will reverse the dramatic drop in the number of citizens who engage in the country’s politics. 25% percent of Canadians aged below 25 years are not registered and have never bothered to vote in any election. Researchers show that the younger generation is staying away from elections compared to the older generation. They add that the generational shift created could adversely affect the foundation of the democratic institutions in the country. Another reason given is that high voter turnout will ensure that marginalized groups are well represented. In the last election in Canada, there was a huge disparity in turn out between voters with a higher average income and those with lower average income. 69% of voters were had a higher average income compared to 53.3% from lower average income. Prisoners, on the other hand, found it rational not to participate in the elections because they felt that their plight was ignored. The fact that marginalized groups are not voting is worrying because they are the group that needs to be represented the most. Mandatory voting will ensure that they exercise their right to vote, and their issues dealt with accordingly.
Supporters of mandatory voting consider it as a civil right and duty with more benefits than not voting at all. It helps to appoint a legitimate and stable government whose governing mandate is genuine. A high voter turnout would mean that the winning political party represents the majority of the population, which would justify their legitimacy as truly reflecting the will of the electorate. In countries with mandatory voting, the electorates have practically equal numbers of voters, and therefore, each representative wins by the majority decision similar to other representatives. In October 2004, the voter turnout in 148 out of 150 Australian electorates was over 90%. The representatives, therefore, represented the majority decision in almost all the electorates. The picture in Canada is a complete contrast to the Australia. In the 2014 Canadian federal elections, the highest turnout in the electoral district was from Cardigan with 77% while the lowest turnout was from Fort McMurray-Athabasca with 40.3%. A representative elected by less than half of the registered voters does not reflect a true democracy and the will of the people. A country that practices mandatory voting will not spend a lot of money and resources in campaigns trying to convince the public to turn up in large numbers to vote. The savings made can then be directed towards other government projects. The main focus of the election would be on the leaders as they try to win over the citizens with feasible ideas. William Galston argues that in countries where voting is voluntary, a lot of time and resources are spent the mobilization of voters. This would not be the case in mandatory voting and leaders would have to propose policies that represent the majority of the electorate. In a democratic government, it is the right of the citizens to vote. However, the low voter turnout experienced in Canada shows that many people do not exercise this right. This scenario is similar to the situation in Australia before mandatory voting was introduced. The turnout in the Australian elections in 1922 was slight below 60%. In response, Herbert Payne proposed a bill in 1924 to make voting a civil duty. During the next election, the voter turnout rose dramatically to above 90%. Since then Australia has maintained a voter turnout of about 95%. What Canada can learn from this case is that mandatory voting will increase the number of people with a say in their democracy. It will also reduce the chances of interest groups to get to power (Rettig). It is much easier for candidates to influence the outcome of an election if the voter turnout is low. They can do this by simply motivating a small group of people to cast their vote at the ballot. This is not normally the case in countries with mandatory voting because the outcome of the election is a true reflection of the choice of the people. In a country, where everybody has to vote, the government will put measures to remove any restrictions during the voting period. In Australia, the voting day is on Saturday to allow the majority of people to vote. Those unable to vote on the election day can vote in early voting centers or by post (Australian Electoral Commission). The last federal election in Canada was held on Monday 19, October 2015. This may explain the low voter turnout because it was on a weekday when people are normally engaged in various activities. The voting on advance voting days previously present was no longer available. Voting by mail was not also possible (elections.ca).
The opponents of mandatory voting argue that violates the same right it claims to protect. It forces people to engage in a right that should be voluntary. They compare compulsory voting to a situation where a voter is held at gun point by a politician to exercise his political right. Former Australian Liberal Party member and Senator, Nick Minchin has been on the forefront of the move to abolish mandatory voting. He argued that a true democracy was one where citizens could choose whether to vote or not. Choosing not to vote in a voluntary election does not portray political apathy or dissatisfaction. It may indicate that a citizen is satisfied with the establishment of an electorate. Mandatory voting does not necessarily improve the legitimacy of a government. The high voter turnout does not translate into a legitimate government. There are those who vote for the fun of it while others vote because they have been forced to do so and want to avoid fines. In the Australian election in 2010, Mark Latham persuaded the public to cast blank votes as a protest against mandatory voting. In Canada, the younger generation is seemingly not interested in politics compared with, the older generation. In the Canadian elections in 2011, only 38.8% of the voters were aged between 18 and 24 years compared to 75.5% aged between 65 and 72 years. Leaders of political parties are partly to blame because young people feel ignored by the system. Some argue that the leaders have not made the youth part of their agenda and are doing very little to reach out to them (Bastedo 653). Such issues are overlooked in countries with mandatory voting because dissatisfaction among marginalized groups is masked by compulsory voting and high voter turnout. Not all people who vote are well informed or interested in politics. In other cases, well-informed people may lack a favorite candidate. When such groups are forced to vote by the law, they do it at random, making the donkey vote. Others cast a blank or invalid vote. The percentage of spoilt votes in Australia was at 6% during the 2010 elections, which represents an increase from 3.4% during the previous election. The belief that mandatory voting will make people interested in politics is therefore misplaced.
The mandatory vote is a civil right as well as a duty. The introduction of this law in Canada will increase the voter turnout by a big margin. This will ensure that a high number of Canadians exercise their political right to vote. A government chosen by the majority of the population enhances its legitimacy because it represents the true will of the people. Mandatory voting will also make it difficult for interest groups to get to power. The benefits of mandatory voting outweigh the costs, and it should, therefore, be adopted in Canada.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Australian Electoral Commission. Make sure you count: a guide to enrolling and voting. 2015. 19 November 2015 <http://www.aec.gov.au/voting/your_vote.htm>.
Bastedo, Heather. “Not ‘one of us’: understanding how non-engaged youth feel about politics and political leadership.” Journal of Youth Studies (2015): 649-665.
elections.ca. Ways to vote. 2015. 19 November 2015 <http://www.elections.ca/content2.aspx?section=vote&lang=e>.
idea.int. Compulsory Voting. 2015. 19 November 2015 <http://www.idea.int/vt/compulsory_voting.cfm>.
Rettig, Jessica. Galston: Mandatory Voting Would Loosen Partisan Gridlock. 8 July 2010. 19 November 2015 <http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2010/07/08/galston-mandatory-voting-would-loosen-partisan-gridlock?page=2>.
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