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For compulsory voting


by Sunny on 2nd May, 2006 at 5:10 pm    

The Labour-friendly think tank IPPR is of the opinion that voting should be made compulsory. It says:

ippr’s analysis shows that other reforms – proportional representation, postal voting, weekend voting - only have a limited impact on increasing turnout and often the effects do not last during subsequent elections. ippr found that reforms like these often make it easier for people who already vote, rather than encouraging non voters to get the voting habit.

Chris and Garry are not too enthusiastic about the prospect. The former says “compulsory voting will raise the Labour vote disproportionately, while the latter laments the party “will go to any lengths to avoid having to confront their own failings”.

I agree with both of them to a point. Labour is probably hoping it will ensure that their demoralised and fed-up supporters still keep it in power. Given that people will generally prefer Labour to Conservative, it will help them. But I’d still want voting to be made compulsory.

1) It may force people to take politics more seriously, read up on party policies and vote accordingly.
2) It would more accurately reflect the support of smaller parties. The BNP for example deliberately spread lies during their campaign to get people angry and make a protest vote.
3) It could make parties more unwilling to take hugely unpopular decisions if they know they will be punished at the polls. Thus, Labour could no longer rely on apathy to stay in power.
4) The signs from other countries (Australia) are good.

But I am in the minority on this it seems. Chris from Qwghlm, Kel, Longrider and One Perfect Rose are also against it. Damn.



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16 Comments   |  


  1. Ismaeel — on 2nd May, 2006 at 5:22 pm  

    Sunny,
    did u watch Muslim Reformation last night, i would have thought it would be right up your street.

  2. Longrider — on 2nd May, 2006 at 5:34 pm  

    Thanks for the link.

    Taking your points, I would suggest that:

    1 - unlikely. People will turn out, but the likely outcome will be either more spoiled papers or more voting from a position of ignorance. A greater interest in the issues and reading up is, I suspect, an optimistic outlook. One I don’t share.

    2 - Dunno about that. If the system was changed from FPTP, possibly. Otherwise, I suspect - apart from the spoiled papers - the big two and a half will still get the lion’s share of the vote.

    3 - only if it looks like they will be severely punished at the polls. I doubt there is much that will overcome the narcissistic arrogance of the political elite - opprobrium by the electorate hasn’t put them off bad policy yet. Although as I mentioned in my piece, the party that brings in compulsory voting could well be punished for doing so, which paradoxically, is a disincentive.

    4 - are they?

    My opposition is driven by the principle of freedom of expression - that includes the freedom not to express - or, to express dissatisfaction through abstention.

    I agree with others discussing this same point - punishing the electorate for failings by politicians is the wrong approach. It is they who have created this situation, it is they who mus fix their behaviour first.

  3. Rohin — on 2nd May, 2006 at 5:43 pm  

    I saw some of it Ismaeel. Quite interesting, but plenty of unanswered questions. I’d rather not get in a debate about it with you though, if it’s ok Ismaeel, as I value my sanity.

    I’m with you Longrider on point 1.
    Point 2 has promise - the BNP votes tend to come from a motivated group of supporters, 100% of whom will vote. So their share can only really go down.
    Point 3: Unsure at the mo.

  4. Katy Newton — on 2nd May, 2006 at 5:59 pm  

    I have a problem with people being forced to vote, partly because there will always be people (like me) who feel that none of the parties on offer represent their views or interests, and partly because, like Longrider, I think that people should be entitled to withhold their vote as a protest or mark of displeasure.

    (Last election I went to the polling station and wrote “ARSE” across my ballot paper. I believe this is what is referred to as “spoiling” the ballot paper, but given the choices set out on it I considered that I had improved it immeasurably.)

  5. Don — on 2nd May, 2006 at 6:08 pm  

    As I recently lost a District Council by-election due ( I maintain) to a very low turnout and the fact that the Tory vote tended to be retired and was ferried in from the outlying areas throughout the day while our lot were more concerned with getting Jocasta to her cello lesson, I’m tempted to support this move.

    There needs to be some mechanism to allow people to opt out. Something along the lines of Waugh’s comment; ‘I would not presume to tell my monarch how to choose her ministers of state’ (paraphrase from memory).

    Or ‘I do not recognise the system’.

    Or ‘I’m thick as a brick, don’t ask me’.

    I tend to agree with Longrider that it would be more effective in a PR system, and the objections raised on Qwghlm are strong, but it is an idea that needs to be debated in detail.

    As regards what happens if a majority vote for ‘None of the above’, I would have thought that requiring a winning candidate to have a minimum proportion of the total votes cast would be sensible. In Thailand (which has compulsory voting) even unopposed candidates must gain a minimum number of votes - I think it is 20% - for the election to be valid. I appreciate that at the moment the Thai electoral system may not be the best exemplar, since it seems to depend on the King (whom god preserve) calling the major players to his study for a damn good ticking off.

  6. Zak — on 2nd May, 2006 at 6:58 pm  

    I think it’s an idea worth merit..people don’t take bye elections and local elections as seriously as they should because of their timing..and it may force the parties to break away from their core voters and avoid ideological traps.

  7. Sunny — on 3rd May, 2006 at 12:10 am  

    Ok, so the Australia example was pulling at straws. One Perfect Rose makes some good points about that.

    Katy and Longrider I see your points about individual freedom not to vote.

    However, I suspect that being annoyed at the existing parties is only part of the reason why people don’t vote. I’d be interested to know how much of it is also down to voter apathy or making assumptions about who is going to win and then saying “there’s no point in me voting”

    So maybe compulsory voting would deal with them too.

    I think my main problem is that people take democracy and political parties for granted. What may happen, if introduced, is that it leads to more one-issue political parties sprouting up (since apathy is also their biggest enemy) and lead to the main parties taking others seriously.

    Longrider:
    Dunno about that. If the system was changed from FPTP, possibly.
    For a national govt, yes. but in local elections the BNP does well by trotting out the One Big Lie (more on this in a few days) that will get their own base and potential voters riled up in the hope that they’ll come out and vote more than Labour supporters.

    This leads to the annual “Stop the BNP and use your vote” campaigns, which may have admirable intentions but I think don’t really go into dealing with the BNP adequately.

    Heh, Katy that is naughty. I doubt I will ever spoil my vote… I would always revert to voting Green if the Lib Dems were not good enough.

    My feeling is that people oppose this with the view that it will help Labour. I think the end result mayb the opposite (in the short term). as Zak says, it may force everyone to appeal to everyone and not just hoping their own base turns up on the day.

  8. Rohin — on 3rd May, 2006 at 1:04 am  

    Are you really going to vote Lib Dem Sunny? General elections I mean. Even after all that has happened? I don’t think I could bring myself to if a general election was held at this point in time.

    Local elections I’m voting Tory - they’re best for where I live. Lib Dems have been a disaster.

  9. Sunny — on 3rd May, 2006 at 2:39 am  

    Well the GE is about 3-4 years away so there is time. I’m hoping the Lib Dems will have sorted out their policies better by that time. After all, it is an eternity in politics. Besides, I’m more in agreement with their policies than the other two.

  10. Longrider — on 3rd May, 2006 at 8:22 am  

    However, I suspect that being annoyed at the existing parties is only part of the reason why people don’t vote. I’d be interested to know how much of it is also down to voter apathy or making assumptions about who is going to win and then saying “there’s no point in me voting”

    A significant proportion, I suspect. However, compulsory voting will at best only get them to the polling station. It will not overcome their apathy or antipathy towards the political system - so, I would expect a higher proportion of spoiled papers as a protest at being forced to participate rather than active engagement in the process.

    For a national govt, yes. but in local elections the BNP does well by trotting out the One Big Lie (more on this in a few days) that will get their own base and potential voters riled up in the hope that they’ll come out and vote more than Labour supporters.

    This is a fair point. However, Labour have been overplaying this one somewhat. Under the current arrangements there may be some local electoral wins for the BNP - I’m not convinced that forcing voters to vote will change this much - if at all. Go back to my previous point. Also bear in mind that a BNP win has a shock effect that concentrates peoples’ minds - Bolton the other year made people sit up and take notice (albeit briefly). Similarly recall what happened in France when there was a real possibility of Jean Marie Le Penn winning the presidency.

    I would really start to worry if the BNP gained parliamentary seats or any significant support on a national scale, rather than being a subject of derision. Yes, we do need to keep them in the public eye and watch carefully just in case, but for the moment the BNP bogieman is a fringe party with limited support, so I wouldn’t use them as a reason for voting/not voting for any particular party or changing the electoral system.

    I vote - indeed, I have only ever missed once in the past twenty odd years (a local election and I was out of the country). If I was forced to vote, I would seriously consider not voting in protest. I would not be alone (this discussion suggests that I am far from alone in my resistance to this). That being so, how will the government go about fining 40% of the electorate?

  11. SajiniW — on 3rd May, 2006 at 8:41 am  

    Proportional representation is, in theory, an excellent idea. It’s a bit of a pain to form a government with though - parties have to make coalitions in order to win so fringe interest groups, like the BNP and UKIP would get into power as part of a coalition. See Austria and Jorg Haider for example.

    I’m against compulsory voting - it’ll lead to more apathy, coalitions (to get those votes in), confused policy and people voting/getting into politics for the wrong reasons. See Sri Lanka.

  12. mirax — on 3rd May, 2006 at 5:18 pm  

    In Thailand (which has compulsory voting) even unopposed candidates must gain a minimum number of votes - I think it is 20% - for the election to be valid. I appreciate that at the moment the Thai electoral system may not be the best exemplar, since it seems to depend on the King (whom god preserve) calling the major players to his study for a damn good ticking off.

    Not really Don, about the King, I mean. It is the Constitutional Court who sort out the validity of elections. The King steps in when the squabbling gets so bad that people are camping out in the streets in protest.

  13. Don — on 3rd May, 2006 at 5:28 pm  

    That’s kinda what I meant. Mustn’t have made myself clear.

  14. mirax — on 3rd May, 2006 at 5:43 pm  

    I get to vote this Saturday in the singapore elections. FWIW, I value my right to vote and would vote even if voting was not compulsory here since it is something of a novelty to get chance to vote due to the shher numbers of walkovers. Btw, you get taken off the electoral register if you don’t vote and have to show cause why if you want to be reinstated.

    My enthusiasm is really something when you consider the REAL lack of choice Singapore voters have (you Brits are spoiled in comparison!).It is really a dilemma; the temptation to spoil my vote has been overwhelming but so far, I haven’t. The final moment at the polling booth always manages to force me to make a choice - a highly imperfect one- but a choice nonetheless. My experience suggests that you may be underestimating the (apathetic) target group who are forced to vote - don’t assume that they will deliberately spoil their votes. It is likely to be the more politicised voter who will send in a protest spoiled vote.

  15. Roger — on 3rd May, 2006 at 7:03 pm  

    Jose Saramago’s new novel Seeing deals with just this withdrawal from politics.

  16. leon — on 4th May, 2006 at 7:15 pm  

    Firstly I believe that compulsory voting deals with symptoms rather than causes of political disengagement. The POWER Inquiry found that many people choose not to vote because they have had bad experiences with the current culture in party politics and not because they are apathetic or disinterested. You can probably drag these people (many of whom are active in other areas of society) into the polling station under the threat of a fine, but will this do anything to change the culture of politics and other fundamental issues?

    Link

    Involve nicely sums up my opposition to compulsory turnout. People don’t vote due to the lack of impact it has on policy and decision making. Place [more] power in the hands of people and democratic engagment goes up.

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