Part one of a series “Route to a Better Democracy” where the DWP examines the case for Compulsory Voting.
Voting is compulsory, with various degrees of enforcement, in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cyprus, Ecuador, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Nauru, Peru, Singapore, and Uruguay. These countries consider voting a civic duty, akin to jury service.
In federal election 94% of registered Australians turned up to vote. The penalty for not voting is minimal, a fine of $10 or roughly £10. Just 65% of people voted in the 2010 UK general election.
Why voter turnout is a problem
A more detailed breakdown of voter turnout reveals more worrisome trends. Just 44% of 18-24 year olds voted. 76% of over 65s voted.
18-24 year olds, those with arguably the biggest stake in the future of the country, overwhelmingly intend to cast their votes on the left; traditionally with the Labour Party but more recently with the Green Party. Over 65s are polar opposites, voting in huge numbers for right wing parties; be they the Conservatives or UKIP. 10 Million People in this country are now over 65.
This disparity in voting leaves the coalition government pandering to over 65s at the cost of the young. The Tories court the grey vote on one hand; by promising to keep paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest pensioners (A move which could cost 100 million pounds), and paying market smashing interest rates on pensioner bonds.
With the other hand they plan to abolish jobseekers allowance for 18-21 year olds and stop housing benefits for those under 25.
These policies will bring deprivation and stagnation to our young population. Yet the fed up, lied to, and alienated Generation Y stubbornly refuses to vote in large numbers.
A potential solution
“Don’t let the Liberals make our democracy the plaything of cashed up interest groups.” Julia Gillard on a Liberal plot to repeal compulsory voting.
Compulsory voting protects the rights of marginalised groups, the disenfranchised, and the poor.
In the UK home owners are 19% more likely to vote than those on Housing Benefit, is it any wonder that interest rates remain low while housing benefit is inadequate at best?
Compulsory voting protects the right of the vulnerable. It forces politicians to appeal to broader constituencies, while curtailing the power of small but politically potent groups.
Extremist parties will find it harder to gain a foothold under a compulsory vote system; their views will need to appeal to the majority, not the plurality.
Political power will be thrust into the hands of voters, “None of the above” will appear on ballots. Enabling voters to force a second vote if they aren’t satisfied with the candidates on offer.
Those who genuinely don’t wish to participate could choose none of the above or simply spoil their ballot. The right to show dissatisfaction with political system will still exist.
What I have proposed is an extreme solution, but the problems and injustices that face the marginalised are also extreme. Protecting the rights of those alienated by the system is paramount to a free and fair democracy, protecting the vulnerable is paramount to the future of any country.