Study Notes

Compulsory Voting

Level:
AS, A-Level
Board:
AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 27 Aug 2017

Should eligible voters be compelled to vote? Or is it a basic right of a voter not to take part in an election?

Where is Voting Compulsory?

According to the CIA WorldFactBook there are currently 22 countries where a system of compulsory voting is in place:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • Greece
  • Honduras
  • Lebanon (only for males)
  • Luxembourg
  • Mexico
  • Nauru
  • Paraguay (until age 75)
  • Peru (until age 70)
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Uruguay

The Australian Experience

Australia is one of the 22 countries to have compulsory voting and one of 11 such countries that actively enforce it. 

Registering to vote and going to the polls have been legal duties in Australia for citizens aged 18 and over since 1924.

Failing to vote can result in a fine of 20 Australian dollars - around £11 - and court action if fines are not paid.

Supporters say Australia boasts one of the highest levels of civic participation in the world. Over 95% of eligible Australians are enrolled to vote and turnout is typically around 94-95%.

Critics say a high turnout based on a mandatory system does not translate into a politically engaged electorate.

There have been several failed attempts to abolish the system in Australia.

Arguments for Compulsory Voting:

  • Gives greater democratic legitimacy to the elected government
  • Enforces greater participation in the democratic process amongst groups with a relatively low participation rate
  • Voting can be considered a civic duty - so it should be followed
  • Encourages voters to become better informed about political issues

Arguments against Compulsory Voting:

  • It is a violation of civil liberties - we should be free not to vote
  • Whilst the participation rate might increase (e.g. turnout) that doesn't mean that voters have been more or better engaged in the democratic process
  • Significant extra administrative costs
BBC Radio 4 Today Programme - Discussion on Compulsory Voting (2015)

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