My Government Would Compel You to Vote

Whether or not you were pleased with the outcome of the recent vote on Scottish independence – and the odds suggest that you probably were – one thing we should all be happy about is the level of engagement and the voter turnout.

84% of the eligible population turned out to vote in the Scottish referendum. That’s a higher proportion than for any election in the United Kingdom since universal suffrage in 1918. It’s well above the 65% for the 2010 General Election or paltry 15% for the elections of regional Police Commissioners.

It makes sense that as engagement increases, so too will turnout. But might it not also follow that a higher turnout will bring higher levels of engagement?

If I were in charge, I would make voting compulsory.

This has been standard practice for a long time in many countries such as Australia and Belgium.

Before you cry foul, however, please note that you would still be free to submit a blank or spoiled ballot. In other words, no one is forcing you to vote. Just forcing you to make a decision.

Under the current system, if you want to register your protest against the system and every party that’s running then you probably do so by not voting. But how does the political class distinguish that message from those who were just too lazy to get to the ballot box? You all show up as ‘Did Not Vote’.

Of course, you could argue that politicians should be doing a better job of engaging the public and offering real alternatives for which people want to vote. And they should. But don’t you think that if you knew you were obliged to attend a polling booth then you might pay the tiniest bit more attention? Perhaps at least do a cursory scan of the pamphlets that come through your door or give just a moment’s thought to who you want running your country?

I think such a system would give a stronger mandate for any governing party and be a truer representation of what the country actually wants.

On the practical issues, you would first want to ensure that it was very easy for everyone to vote with measures such as advanced voting, easier postal votes and perhaps even online voting. In terms of enforcement – the sticky part – you’d probably want to ease it in with a “strongly worded letter” or warning the first time around followed, perhaps, by fines for repeat offenders.

In short, if I were in charge then I would introduce compulsory voting.


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