Why Compulsory Voting Can Enhance Democracy
- 275 Downloads
Even though more than half of all citizens in the world are currently able to exercise the right to elect their leaders, many of them choose not to vote. This article considers the role of compulsory voting in order to enhance the democratic values of political participation and equality. Raising turnout considerably, it is an effective instrument to motivate citizens to express their voice in public life, thereby ensuring that their concerns will be heeded. Opponents of compulsory voting, however, argue that it is undesirable because it violates the value of personal liberty and drags uninterested citizens to the polls. This article tries to rebut these arguments and challenge their underlying concept of democracy. As compulsory voting sends the message that every vote matters, it is able to restore rather than harm democracy and its values.
Keywordscompulsory turnout compulsory voting political participation turnout political equality
The author acknowledges financial support for this research by the Fund for Scientific Research – Flanders (Belgium). Further, the author thanks Yvonne Denier, Sylvie Loriaux, Thomas Nys, Joris Van Damme, Professor Antoon Vandevelde and an anonymous referee of this journal for their comments on an earlier version. Of course, any remaining flaws or errors are my own.
- BBC News (2002) Saddam ‘Wins 100% of Vote’, October 16, 2002, available online at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2331951.stm.
- Blais, A. and Dobrzynska, A. (1998) ‘Turnout in Electoral Democracies’, European Journal of Political Research 33 (2): 239–261.Google Scholar
- Burnham, W.D. (1987) ‘The Turnout Problem’, in J.A. Reichly (ed.) Elections American Style, Washington DC: Brookings Institution, pp. 97–133.Google Scholar
- Dahl, R.A. (1998) On Democracy, New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- EP (European Parliament) (2004) Turnout Trends at European Elections, available online at: http://www.elections2004.eu.int/ep-election/sites/en/.
- Freedomhouse (2006) ‘Freedom in the World 2006’, available online at: http://www.freedomhouse.org/uploads/pdf/Charts2006.pdf.
- Hicks, B.M. (2002) ‘‘The Voters’ Tax Credit’, Policy Options of the Institute for Research on Public Policy 23 (4): 63–68.Google Scholar
- Hill, L. (2002a) ‘Democratic Assistance: A Compulsory Voting Template. Refereed paper presented to the jubilee conference of the Australasian Political Studies Association’, available online at: http://arts.anu.edu.au/sss/apsa/Papers/hill.pdf.
- IDEA (2002) ‘Voter Turnout Since 1945: A Global Report’, available online at: http://www.idea.int/publications/vt/upload/VT_screenopt_2002.pdf.
- IDEA (2004) ‘Voter Turnout in Western Europe Since 1945’, available online at: http://www.idea.int/publications/voter_turnout_weurope/upload/Full_Reprot.pdf.
- IPU (2004) ‘Parline Database’, available online at: http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/parlinesearch.asp.
- Keaney, E. and Rogers, B. (2006) A Citizen's Duty: Voter Inequality and the Case for Compulsory Turnout, Institute for Public Policy Research, available online at: http://www.ippr.org.uk/ecomm/files/a_citizens_duty.pdf.Google Scholar
- Lijphart, A. (1998) ‘The Problem of Low and Unequal Voter Turnout – and What We Can Do About It’, Political Science Series 54: 1–13.Google Scholar
- Mill, J.S. (2003) ‘On Liberty’, in M. Warnock (ed.) Utilitarianism and on Liberty: Including Essay on Bentham and Selections from the Writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Austin, Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
- Pettit, P. (1997) Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government, Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
- Sear, C. and Strickland, P. (2003) Compulsory Voting: Standard Note, July 3, 2003, available online at: http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/notes/snpc-00954.pdf.
- Skinner, Q. (1990) ‘The Republican Ideal of Political Liberty’, in G. Bock, Q. Skinner and M. Viroli (eds.) Machiavelli and Republicanism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 293–309.Google Scholar
- Teixeira, R. (1992) The Disappearing American Voter, Washington DC: Brookings.Google Scholar
- USCB (2006) ‘Countries Ranked by Population: 2006’, available online at: http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/ipc/idbrank.pl.
- Vanmaercke, L. (1993) ‘De stemplicht in vraag gesteld’, Nieuw Tijdschrift voor Politiek 9 (2): 63–78.Google Scholar
- Verba, S. and Nie, N.H. (1972) Participation in America: Political Democracy and Social Equality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Verba, S., Nie, N.H. and Kim, J.-O. (1978) Participation and Political Equality: A Seven-Nation Comparison, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Watson, T. and Tami, M. (2001) ‘Make Voting Compulsory’, available online at: http://www.fabian-society.org.uk/documents/ViewADocument.asp?
- Wattenberg, M. (1998) ‘Should Election Day Be A Holiday?’ The Atlantic Monthly 282 (4): 42–46.Google Scholar
- Wattenberg, M. (2002) Where Have All the Voters Gone?, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar