Political Promise

Should Voting in the General Election Be Compulsory?

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2010 at 4:11 pm

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.

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  1. Do we know that those who don’t vote are “largely apathetic and either uninterested, uneducated or both”?

    People don’t have a duty to know about politics or how politics works for them. That’s one element of democracy. For example, if someone is just satisfied with everything in their life, they may not be bothered about voting. That’s why turnouts go up when there are economic or social problems.

    The problem is that the people who knock the doors aren’t empowered enough by those at the top. They get given the questions to ask, the answer codes to fill in, and they feel that they’re done. Of course some activists take it upon themselves to do a bit more, but there is no empowerment to expand on this sort of personal initiative.

    We, as “regular people” (as opposed to politicians) can still speak to people in their language and, most importantly of all, connect their problems to policy. People know what pisses them off and they know what they like and what makes them optimistic. But politicians talk in their own language that doesn’t resonate with everyone.

    The change needs to be targeted at the grassroots activists, not the voters. If we’re empowered to do our own thing and trusted by our parties, then we can pass that empowerment onto the voters who may then feel their vote can count. For example, for every person who said they don’t care about politics, I asked them to take a note for the following week or two of the things they saw around them that annoyed them and the things that made them feel optimistic and asked them to make sure they had at least 5 things for each. Then you go back a week later and connect the issues to the policies. Now, activists like myself do this on their own accord. I kept my own database of voters with their concerns etc so I could build at least a small relationship (2, maybe 3 calls maximum) with them in order to help them feel empowered by their vote and their place in the community and society. But if we were to ask our CLP for permission or assistance to do this sort of thing, they’d probably say “just stick to the canvass sheets”. Think if these relationships were encouraged and aided so that you could have continuous contact with people. The change in awareness would be huge.

    So I think you’re slightly wrong to say that the voters’ interest and education levels are what need to be worked on. More specifically, it is the activists that need to be changed.

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