By David Radestock
The arguments for compulsory voting are both comprehensive and justifiable. Providing a strong mandate for government strengthens the democratic system and means elected representatives are accountable to more people, rather than just the few that vote for them. It also guards against the complacency of the privileged, reminding those who can vote that it is not a right afforded to all, as it should be, but to those whose forefathers had the tenacity to fight for it and the intelligence to implement it.
However these arguments are imagined in a world where the electorate is educated, engaged and opinionated. In this world, compulsory voting serves to guarantee turnout. However, if voters were like this, compulsory voting would barely be required. In reality, in post-political Britain at least, the electorate is largely apathetic and either uninterested, uneducated, or both. Compulsory voting in these circumstances would only heighten the trend of choices being made on inconsequential factors such the impression of a party leader.
What is needed is an educated, engaged electorate, making decisions based on rational and knowledgeable arguments. This can only be achieved by inspiring voters, by giving representation to their beliefs, rather than their fears, and by educating them so that they can cast their vote based on ideas rather than on a negative representation of a system collapsing under the weight of partisanship.
Education is paramount to this argument. A candidate can inspire but voters must understand the meaning of their rhetoric, and be able to interpret it in a way that is relevant to them, their family and their life experiences. Too many of the electorate merely view politicians as power hungry, corrupt and uncaring. Canvassing during the election campaign, I often heard the line ‘I don’t care who wins; it won’t make any difference to me’. Would forcing the people with this level of misunderstanding and apathy really allow democracy to flourish? Or would educating them, convincing them that politicians not only understand their problems but have a deep desire and passion to do something about them, improve their democratic experience to a much greater degree? The answer seems obvious.
Voting needn’t be compulsory. An inspiring candidate who seeks to do what it best not for their party but for the people will breed interest which will lead to education and a desire to vote. And desire is what is needed. Desire built on a notion that voting can truly change something for the better. Obligation will not break the grip of apathy upon politics. Inspiration will.