Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm not going to force you

Following the lowest turnout in German history for the European parliament elections (a paltry 42.6% of the electorate), the suggestion has been raised that voting should be made compulsory in Germany with a €50 fine to be levelled on those who fail to exercise their democratic right.

In conjuction with this measure, it's been proposed to introduce a system whereby one can cast their vote over the internet, thus making the process a damn sight easier.

Which drags up the old arguement on whether or not voting should be compulsory.

Granted, in countries where it does or has existed, it's created a culture of voting. Turnouts in Belgium are regularly high, with around 90% of voters making sure their voices were heard during the recent European elections. Mind you, this is a country where they don't suffer a slap on the wrist if they fail to tick the box (or number the boxes according to preference, if you want to be pedantic).

Non-punitive compulsory voting has its benefits. It creates a culture of democratic participation and high turnouts eliminate any accusations that election results are not representative of the majority of the population. Can one argue that the results of most European elections in Eastern Europe, where, in some states, less than a third of the population bothered voting, are democratic?

Of course you can. The fundamental principle behind voting is that it is a civic right, not a civic duty. The beauty of it is that people have a choice. If that choice entails not going to vote at all, so be it.

If enforced compulsory voting is introduced in a country without a history of same, it's only going to anger the electorate, and an angry electorate makes reckless decisions. Mind you, an angry electorate can make reckless decisions in states without compulsory voting, too. Two British National Party (think the Nazis, only wearing suits) candidates elected as MEPs over the weekend, anyone?

Forcing people to do something they're used to having a choice over doesn't work, fact. People aren't going to make an informed political decision just because it'll cost them €50 if they fail to do so. Non-enforced compulsory voting, however, sends out the message that voting is encouraged, or "we want you to do it, and even though we don't like it when you don't, all we'll do is scowl. Promise."

Offer your opinions on the topic, if you want.

I'm not going to fine you if you don't.

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