Posted by / Tuesday 25 September 2018 / No comments

The advantages and disadvantages of compulsory voting

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Compulsory voting refers to situations where every citizen is required by law to cast a vote on an election day or risk being prosecuted and fined or imprisoned for failing to do so. In Belgium, compulsory voting was imposed on the men in 1893 and on the women in 1948. In Australia, compulsory voting at the federal level was introduced in 1912 and for national elections in 1924. As at August 2013, a total of 22 countries practice compulsory voting. However, Bulgaria introduced compulsory voting in 2016. There are several advantages and disadvantages concerning compulsory voting.

High increase in number of voters
One of the advantages of compulsory voting is that there is a vast increase in voter turn-out. This is obvious because everyone on the voters’ register is expected to vote. This is unlike the situation where people decide whether they want to vote or not to.

Legitimizes government
Another advantage of compulsory voting is that it confers a high level of legitimacy on the government that is eventually elected. If in an election there is a 50% voter turn-out and a party wins, this simply means half of the population did not approve of the party. In the case of compulsory voting where more people vote, the voter turn-out could reach 90% or even more. This higher number confers more legitimacy on the government than where there is a lower voter turn-out.

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More people are represented
Compulsory voting generates higher voter turn-out. As the people vote to make their choice of leaders, they are making their voices heard. After every valid vote is counted and a final winner declared, one can be sure that it is a reflection of the will of the people voting. Compulsory voting therefore ensures that the majority of the people are represented in the government of the day.

Reduces the cost of political campaigns
In order to win elections one must have a huge financial war chest. This is because a lot of money is expended in political campaigns to explain policies to the people and to convince them to go and vote on Election Day. If voting is made compulsory, the politicians do not have to engage in huge political campaigning. Not engaging in such campaigns means less money would be spent, at least, on campaign activities. Compulsory voting would therefore decrease the cost of political campaigns.

Outcome of results easily accepted
Also, one of the advantages of compulsory voting is that people are able to easily accept the outcome of the results. This may be because the entire population sees the results as a definite expression of the collective will of the nation, in the absence of any proven voter irregularity.

High commitment to the political process
If voting is made compulsory it would definitely reduce the apathy people exhibit towards elections. People who are indifferent on political issues and voting would change their attitude, if for nothing at all, for fear of being punished. As apathy and indifference is eliminated, the people become more committed to the process.

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It is a violation of the freedom of choose
In every democracy, citizens are given the opportunity to enjoy rights under the constitution including the right to make choices. By extension, a citizen must decide whether he or she wants to partake in an election to choose a leader or not to. To make it compulsory for a citizen to vote is therefore an infringement on his or her freedom to make a choice.

Puts undeserving people in government
One of the purposes of organizing an election is to put the best candidates out of the lot into government to steer the affairs of the state for a period of time. This requires careful understanding of the policies of the various political parties and the individual candidates. If voting is made compulsory and voters are compelled to go to the polls, they can decide to vote for just anybody regardless of whether the candidate deserves to be elected or not. If this happens, people who do not deserve to be in power may find themselves in government to the detriment of the country.

Waste of man-hours
In many West African countries, the police to citizen ratio is very low. The police men are needed to perform many other equally important duties for the state. Criminals do not go on holidays because election is taking place. The police would be needed to take care of other forms of crime when they do occur. To deploy them on an election day to arrest people who refuse to vote would be a waste of precious man-hours.

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Huge cost of enforcement
Linking to the previous point, when the police do make any arrests of people who refused or failed to vote, they need to be processed for court. The court would have to sit and try these offenders and when found guilty, to sentence them.  If the sentences include custodial ones, then the offenders have to be taken care of while they are in prison. It would be too expensive to enforce this law on compulsory voting.

Violation of freedom of religion
One of the basic rights of the people is to adhere to any religion of their choice, a right called the freedom of religion. Some of these religious groups do not like to participate in the political affairs of their country because they think it is tantamount to worshipping other gods. If voting is made compulsory and these religious people are forced to vote against the tenets of their religion, then their right to freedom of religion has been violated.

Increased invalid votes
In Ghana, for example, the Electoral Commission has made it clear that where there is more than one thumb print on a ballot paper, that ballot is paper is deemed invalid. If voting is made compulsory in such a country and people are compelled to vote on the voting day, people might just go into the polling booth and vote for more than one candidate on the ballot paper. The Electoral Officials would count those as invalid votes and they would not count. As a sign of protest, some citizens would intentionally invalidate the ballot papers. Compulsory voting would therefore increase invalid votes.


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