You Cant Force Voting

From: YouCantForceInvolvement

What about forcing people to vote? In Belgium, it is illegal to not vote, you get a ticket for not voting. See http://www.idea.int/vt/analysis/Compulsory_Voting.cfm for more info*. This is forcing involvement... -- JeanMarcHeneman, AnonymousDonor

I wonder how it's working there. Do people get around to learning enough about the issues to vote responsibly or do they vote randomly or based on the best haircut instead? -- SunirShah

(*) Disclaimer: because voting is a politically charged topic, you might want to explore this site a bit more and come to your own conclusions about their viewpoint.


Well, two questions I have: [Inserted by JeanMarcHeneman: I have to verify this. I lived two years in Belgium a while ago. I'll be back... If somebody has the answer before me, edit this page: it is Wiki after all!]

If (in Belgium) one couldn't cast an essentially blank vote, I'd be a little creeped out. I'd start thinking all sorts of NineteenEightyFour thoughts. We gotta show up and vote, fine. What about write-in votes? If the PowersThatBe know whom I vote for ... then how could I vote for someone that would overthrow the current system? Yikes!

In the UnitedStates, voter turnout is low, but voter knowledge is very low even amongst those that do vote. I'm not convinced that the results would change very much if people were forced to vote. I suspect a lot of people in the US vote on best haircut anyway .... -- EricHerman

Don't forget America is the most democratic nation in the world. I mean that half sarcastically. People have devolved so much power away from government, it doesn't really matter what government does there anyway. In more socialist countries, I suspect voter turnout and knowledge is higher because there is a direct correlation between the government's actions and people's lives. Of course, I don't have any facts to back this up. -- ss

Americans have a LoveHateRelationship with their government and by extension their country. But they are not alone! I have lived in four countries already (France, Belgium, Canada, and the USA). And that's the same thing at different levels (even in Canada: at the Province and Federal level). I guess if we had only one government for the entire world, I am sure that some people would have that relationship anyway. -- JeanMarcHeneman

"Seemingly from the dawn of man all nations have had governments; and all nations have been ashamed of them." -- GkChesterton, What's Wrong With the World


In Belgium, is it legal to go to the voting booth but cast a ballot that is essentially blank? (like a vote for MickeyMouse)

I doubt most people do this. Throwing a vote away feels like an act of sedition. Most people will feel guilty. Besides, it also requires thinking about the election and making a decision to throw away your vote; if you spend that much time thinking about the election, you'll likely make a decision more likely to benefit you. Instead, I bet they vote for the best haircut. I suppose the candidates' barbers have the most power in the country. -- ss

Anyone up for some VotingPatterns?


Australia also has mandatory voting. When I lived there, the theory (among the admittedly narrow sampling of my friends and colleagues) was that increased the likelihood of the incumbent party keeping power. Why? Because people who don't know, or don't care, tend to vote for either what they know (the incumbent) or the name they've heard the most (the incumbent).

The comments above about the U.S. (low voter turnout, voter ignorance) are true, but countries with voluntary voting do have the effect that people who are dissatisfied with the incumbent can mobilize, go to the polls, and not have their votes swamped by the apathetic.

(Which situation is better is, of course, yet another debate.)

Although off the topic of this page, I can't help mention one other fact about Australian elections. They have another feature that, combined with mandatory voting, makes it extremely difficult to oust the incumbents. They have ranked voting (or preference voting) where voters actually rank the candidates in order of preference. Most of the major races have more than two candidates. So what often happens is that even those voters wanting change will rank the incumbent candidate second ("the devil you know is better than the devil you don't") and then, when no one candidate gets a clear majority of first-place votes, the incumbent will retain office by getting most of the second-place votes.

I just can't convince myself that the Australians have a good voting system. -- GlennVanderburg

Doesn't this have some advantages though? For instance, it seems that you can vote for your favorite outside-chance candidate without "wasting" your vote on someone who'll probably never win. Without preferences, you might be better off voting for the lesser of the evils that actually have a good chance of winning.

The problem with this kind of `tactical voting' is that you can very easily get yourself into situations that neither you nor anybody else really wanted. I seriously doubt Bloc Quebequois is making any serious attempt at representing all of Quebec, for example, but it is a very dominant force there partly because of the "anybody but the Tories" election [see below]. -- GrahamHughes

The essence of any democratic system is that you only have to convince 50% + 1 of the people that you're the best choice for them. Many so-called democracies lower this bar by allowing the candidate with the majority of votes to win. Because of this, no major party seriously attempts to represent all the people. They focus on the particular centrist group that they feel represents that "50% + 1" group. The lack of preferences causes serious problems; just ask all those Ralph Nader voters who allowed Bush Jr. to win the presidency.

Contrary to making it "easier" for the incumbent to stay in place, politicians are feeling uncomfortable despite margins of over 10%. In the last five elections I can think of (as of 26 April, 2000), the incumbent lost all but one of them. -- RobertWatkins
Anybody but the Tories:

The setting is Canada, the year 1993. Brian Mulroney of the Progressive Conservative party has headed up a Majority Government (controls the majority of seats in Parliament, which means the Tories get to do pretty much whatever they want) for around the last decade or so. Mulroney steps down, and his replacement, Kim Campbell, has to call a general election relatively shortly. Campbell proceeds to bomb the election in the most dramatic manner conceivable, going from over half of Parliament to 2 seats. The Tories lose to the Grits (Liberal party) and two parties that basically did not exist on a national scale prior to that election.

On Australian Voting: not voting entails a fine. You can vote informally - deface your ballot paper or whatever so it doesn't count - but not turning up isn't legal.

The result is that people who are neither informed nor concerned come to dominate the election. These people are easily swayed by advertising, so the broadcast media have obtained a virtual stranglehold on the electoral outcome. Since media ownership in Australia is highly centralized, this means internal and external big money decides the outcome. The two main parties do nothing but chase and placate these money interests, and so have become identical.

Apathy is a huge problem in any democratic country. In my experience, because people have to vote, they at least make some effort to make their vote informed. If voting weren't enforced, they wouldn't make the effort to vote. This would reduce the efforts of the major parties to explain themselves, and reduce accountability. Certainly, the lack of enforced voting doesn't prevent this; the UnitedStates spends a lot more, per capita, on electoral advertising. -- rw

When some issue crops up that advertising can't dominate, the preferential system kicks in to sink it. Losing candidates are permitted to "direct their preferences" far away from where anyone might think, and chains of "directed preferences" often dominate the outcome. Every vote counts - it just doesn't count for what its voter intended.

Candidates don't control their preferences. All they do is issue "how-to-vote" cards. Voters are not obliged to follow the party ticket, though many choose to do so. In cases where a candidate directs preferences outside their end of the political spectrum, voters tend not to follow -- rw

The results are not pretty. The place isn't totalitarian, quite, but bureaucracy in and out of government is eating Australia alive. If you're not one of the very, very rich, it's ridiculously difficult to save money. The average standard of living has slid from upper middle down to working class in just a generation. A vicious cycle of corruption infests almost every part of the unaccountable government, most especially the police. Taxes both direct and indirect spiral inexorably, government officials sound and behave like thugs, the "public service" expands without bound, and quality of life is sinking steadily.

Can all these ills be laid at the door of compulsory voting? Perhaps not all, but imho it's a very significant part of the rot. The only way you can make a vote count in Australia is to vote with your feet. -- PeterMerel

Mandatory voting makes it much more difficult to gain votes by appealing (publicly) to a vocal minority. With voluntary voting, a group can come forward and say "we make up 1% of the people - who will all vote for you if you do blah" and the politician will have to listen because only 5% of the people actually vote. Mandatory voting reduces the influence of extremes of the political spectrum. I believe that both religious groups and the NRA would have a much reduced influence if America had a mandatory voting system (I would name a vocal left group as well, but I'm not that familiar with US politics).

Also, without a PreferentialVoting system, it is impossible for a third party to enter the system without adversely affecting the party they are most closely aligned with. Ie. if you have a "center" party and a "right" party, with approx 55/45 split, and you introduce a "left" party that takes 15% of the vote from the center, the right gains control even though 55% majority of the population would prefer a left/center government (as evidenced by RalphNader?'s influence in the 2000? American election) -- DanielSheppard


See AbileneParadox


As a happily voting Australian, I disagree with most of the above. The Australian system seems far superior to others I have seen. There seems a misguided idea above that people will automatically be inclined to vote for the incumbent, but this is in fact far from the truth. However, some general points on "forced voting".

  1. - you aren't forced to vote, just to show up at the polling booth. A country can force you to kill in the armed forces, can force you to judge on a jury, and can force you to pay a significant portion of your income in tax; forcing you to show up at a polling booth is a fairly minor imposition compared to the previous, and is a reasonable request to make of a citizen. If you don't want to vote for any of the candidates, the tradition is that you either hand in a blank ballot, or more usually write a rude message discussing the candidates shortcomings (votes are tabulated by humans in Australia watched by monitors from the various parties - a run of profane ballots sends a message :-) ).

  2. - Preferential voting is fantastic, as it allows you to vote for who you would really want to govern, and then go down the list to those you are prepared to put up with. As a result there isn't the problem with "splitting the vote" that occurs in some countries. Small "single issue" parties can still campaign and get votes, but direct their votes (suggest to the voters how they rank the other parties) to the large party (Aus is effectively a two party system like most of the English-speaking west) that will best represent them. Many voters "send a message" by voting for minor parties first, knowing full well they won't get elected, but indicating to the major party how they would like policies modified.

    • Preferential voting is fantastic. The australian method - IRV - is mathematically unstable. It looks better in more simple cases (two parties with a challenger), but once three viable parties are involved, the way IRV "runs off" means slight unrelated fluctuations have incredible significance in deciding elections. Condorcet (sp?) voting is better, but difficult to understand. ApprovalVoting has my vote. (Oh wow, the site that used to show the mathematics is now some sort of voting machine site - http://electionmethods.org/ ) Proportional representation (doesn't Australia do that, for some house or other) is much better than anything else.

  3. - Most people, when they show up to the polls (which are often a bit like fairs with people selling food and stuff) actually do turn in a vote, and while not necessarily deeply knowledgeable, usually know roughly which major party will represent them better - the rich tend to vote for the more right wing "Liberal Party" (which is actually conservative :-) ), while the poor will generally vote for the "Labour Party". The effect of universal voting is to shift the political spectrum to the left, as there is much broader representation. I understand that in the US many of the poor don't vote, and as a result are effectively ignored?

  4. - Far from being "Totalitarian" and "corrupt", Aus is one of the more relaxed countries to be in. As someone who has just survived the security at LAX recently, it is refreshing how little of the recent terrorist fuss has made it down here. While the government has tightened up on payments to the unemployed and disabled recently, sometimes unfairly, making life harder for the very poor, in general things aren't going too badly. Unemployment is the lowest it has been for decades, the economy is booming, yada yada. It isn't perfect, and a recent housing bubble has made it tough for the middle class to buy a house, but it's still a very pleasant place to live. As for "A vicious cycle of corruption infests almost every part of the unaccountable government, most especially the police.", nope, don't recognize that country. The police aren't perfect, but aren't too shabby either, and the government gets its head boxed by the courts on a regular basis, as is only right and proper. Aus generally makes it into the top 10 'most livable' countries, and for good reason.

So while I agree that you can't force voting, and you shouldn't, I think it's an excellent thing to insist people, as a civic duty, at least show up to the polling booth!

-- ChrisBetts


One would think one of these countries that is so bent on encouraging voting might try positive reinforcement instead of negative, like a nominal but reasonable monetary incentive (ten or maybe twenty bucks at most?). To kill three birds with one stone, you might issue a refundable tax credit receipt for the amount, (i.e. you must also file a tax return to get the credit, and the gov't doesn't have the same issuance and control costs for cheques or cash at the polling booth).

Or set up the election as a lottery, with one lucky voter winning $1M. Don't laugh, it's on the Arizona ballot for approval see http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20060523.wvote0523/BNStory/International/home [PayWall ahoy!] for more.


CategoryVoting PleaseMoveThisToTheAdjunct

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