The right to vote is the principal right an individual living in a democratic country is entitled to. In fact, voting is a fundamental right that every citizen must exercise, as a part of the larger duty of decision making for the government. There are one hundred and seventeen recognized electoral democracies. Of these twenty two have laws making it compulsory for citizens to exercise their voting rights impending which they may face punitive action (Frankal). Also out of these twenty two democratic countries, eleven countries implement these laws. Australia is one such democratic nation with compulsory voting for all citizens (Mackerras & McAllister). Citizens who do not turn up at voting centers face punitive actions like fines or social services. Through this practice Australia has gathered an above ninety percent turn-out for votes in the past years. However, the compulsory voting system is under controversy as many speculate it to be a violation of the people’s freedom of choice and speech. The following paper is a discussion of points in favor of and against the system of compulsory voting and a personal position on it.
Compulsory voting is an age old concept in democracy. The democracy in Athens employed this system to increase the turnout of people for policy and decision making. Although it was not absolutely necessary for citizens to congregate but if the turnout fell short of the decisive number of citizens required, they would be forced to congregate and take part in the decision making procedures (Frankal). The Australian Democracy is a cross between the Westminster System of the United Kingdom and the Federal Government of the United States in the sense that representatives and senators get elected from their constituencies similar to the ones elected in the United States (Bennett & Lundie). However, the house is presided over by the prime minister as in the Westminster System, who assumes office through maximum support of senators and representatives (Bennett & Lundie). Compulsory voting in Australia was first suggested in the year 1911 but was put on hold (Bennett & Lundie). The actual impetus came after the elections of 1922 where polling booths saw only half the population turning out for voting (Frankal). The current Australian Voting system dictates voting as a compulsory civic duty, ignoring which may lead to punitive actions like fines and public service (Mackerras & McAllister). However, recent elections in Australia have turned this system into controversial affair for politicians in the Australian government as well as politicians all over the world (Frankal).
Compulsory voting has always been surrounded by controversy with people for and against the system pitching into debates for the fairness and validity of such a system. It has been more so in the recent years as the high voting turnout in Australian elections have still lacked decisive results (Fowler). People who speak in favor of compulsory voting argue that compulsory voting is like any other civic duty that a citizen has towards the state. It is similar to paying taxes to the state and the federation, or compulsory education till a stipulated age. People against the compulsory voting system argue that voting is a form of right entitled to the citizens of a democracy and forcing them to vote is the violation of this right and other fundamental rights like the freedom of speech and expression. They argue that forcing people to vote takes away their right to keep silent, diminishing the chances of getting decisive results from a vote altogether.
The argument that follows for the compulsory voting is that if voting is made compulsory, external prohibiting factors like restrictive employers etc. can be identified and minimized. However, it is evident that cause for absence from voting appearing from unforeseen reasons, like in the face of bad weather or a medical emergency, a citizen should not be forced to vote. Compulsory voting only forces the citizens to enroll for the voting and not to express their opinion through their vote. This means that since the voting is anonymous, people are allowed to cast blank votes, upholding the right to expression of the citizen. This according to supporters of compulsory voting is verification that the voter has not been persuaded or intimidated into voting for a particular contestant or not voting at all (Mackerras & McAllister). However, this also means the sheer wastage of ballot with people casting out non-decisive votes. Also there is no proof that a person appearing to vote has not been influenced or intimidated into putting forth a favored or blank vote. It takes resources to convene elections and the exercise of compulsory voting only increases the amount of time and funding wasted in the elections.
However, compulsory voting has one perceived benefit. Extremists and closed interest groups to influence may people into voting. With a larger turnout such groups may be intimidated from influencing small groups for their advantage (Australian Electoral Commission). This, people argue is a way to uphold the main purpose of voting which is to express ones own preference of the representation. Also compulsory voting makes people aware of the political scenario and increases social and political education of the people, as result teaching them of their own rights and duties. However, compulsory voting systems may force people to caste blank votes which may constitute a decisive one or two percent of the total votes. According to the Australian Electoral Commission, the recent votes in Australia in the year 2010 saw a ninety two percent turnout. But out of these casted votes nearly six percent of the votes were either informal or blank votes. Individuals against the compulsory voting system argue that bringing out a large number of voters with only a few voters having intentions to vote is worse than smaller turnouts at voting centers (Fowler).
In a personal sense of democracy, it must be understood that democracy stands for freedom of decision. A person living in a democratic country has several rights and voting is one of them. Forcing people to vote may increase the turnout at the voting centers and may increase the political awareness of the people but it becomes futile in case the individual has no interests what so ever in voting will only waste their vote and not help in the democratic decision making that elections stand for. Forcing citizens to vote is only drifting away from the spirit of democracy, which is freedom. People must have the freedom to choose their representative and the freedom to choose when to support their preferred representative. In a personal opinion compulsory voting should not be considered as a valid way to vote in an election. However, people must be made aware of the responsibility and privileges they have as citizens of a democracy. A democratic citizen must have the right to vote and exercise the right to vote towards a decision that in their perspective turns out to be beneficial for them as well as their country. The reason self is added before the country because in a democracy the self is building block of the nation and self motivated citizens participate in elections responsibly and cast decisive votes.
Some democratic countries in other parts of the world are of the opinion that they require compulsory voting laws to increase the people turning out to vote in elections. They quote the advantage of better decision making and better representation of the people. However, this is only an incomplete part of the perspective. Some countries may benefit from the compulsory voting scheme, especially countries where voting rights are violated by closed groups and extremists or the votes are influenced through immoral means. Countries must understand their own need of the hour before implementing laws that make voting rights compulsory and absence from voting liable for punishment. One must not ignore the fact that both the scenarios have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, compulsory voting may turn out cumbersome and time consuming in countries where the population is comparatively very high as keeping track of all the eligible voters would be at length a complex affair. However, for countries with developed citizenship and higher levels of awareness people must have the right to vote their preferred representative as well as the right to choose when to vote.
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Bennett, S. & Lundie, R. ‘Australian Electoral Systems’, Research Paper no. 5, 2007–08, Department of the Parliamentary Library, Canberra. 2008. Web. Available at
Fowler, A. Electoral and policy consequences of voter turnout: Evidence from compulsory voting in Australia. A Quarterly Journal for Political Science. 2013. Web. Available at < http://projects. iq. harvard. edu/files/westminster_model_democracy/files/fowler_compulsoryvoting. pdf >
Frankal, I. ” Compulsory voting around the world | Politics | guardian. co. uk”. London: Politics. guardian. co. uk. 2005. Web. Available at < http://politics. guardian. co. uk/apathy/story/0,, 1521096, 00. html >
Mackerras, M & McAllister, I. Compulsory voting, party stability and electoral advantage in Australia. Electoral Studies. Elsevier. 1999. Web. Available at < http://www. sciencedirect. com/science/article/pii/S026137949800047X >
Turnout by State. Australian Electoral Commission. n. d. Web. Available at