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APRIL 6TH 2011 

It’s illegal not to vote

In 20 countries around the world, voting is the law. Australia, Belgium, Greece and Chile have all decreed that citizens must vote in federal elections, and in some cases, all elections. It’s enforced through a variety of means — in Australia, non-voters are fined $20, while in Greece, it can be difficult to get a passport or a driver’s license if you don’t vote.

These countries have decided that voting is such an important part of citizenship it needs to be a legal obligation for every eligible person, like filing a tax return or serving on a jury.

That’s not the case in Canada. Here it remains a right, not an obligation. However, there have been attempts to change that, most recently in February 2005, when Senator Mac Harb introduced Bill S-22. Here’s the speech he gave:

The bill never made it past Second Reading though, thus the status quo remains.

So let’s look at the status quo, beginning with two recent posts from our Facebook page. (

First, there was an Ekos poll conducted in February, which showed that if voters under 30 made the decision about who should govern Canada, the Green Party (yup, the one who’s been denied access to the federal leaders’ debate) would win with a substantial plurality, though not a majority. If, however, that same decision was left to voters over 65, the Conservative Party would form a huge majority.

Second, a post in the Globe and Mail in March discussed the desire for all three “major” parties to target the senior vote, largely because they actually vote:

So, the thoughtful among you might be asking, “Is it right that the composition of our federal government, and indeed the direction of our country, should be decided largely by one demographic group that happens to be engaged in the democratic process more by habit than anything else?”  You might also be looking at our decreasing voter participation rate and saying, if the last question troubles you, it sure doesn’t look like it’s going to get better soon.

So, the question arises:  Should we too consider (again) mandatory voting?

Proponents of mandatory voting say it increases turnout and legitimizes the resulting government.  It also results in less pandering to specific demographics, and in less attention being devoted to “getting the vote out” versus engaging in public debate.

Critics say it is typical of a nanny state telling citizens what to do. It would cost money, be difficult to enforce, and result in a less legitimate outcome because uninformed citizens would participate only to avoid breaking the law.

We want to hear what you think. Take our poll on whether you think mandatory voting is a good idea. Or share your comments in the box below if you have another approach to solving our declining voter participation. Should we even be trying to solve that problem, or is it a good thing that voters self-select?

PS: If you’d like to see more citizens exercising their right to vote but trip over the idea of mandatory enforcement, what do you think about this: offer incentives to vote like a $50 tax deduction?

  • Micah

    I think a fine is more effective than a deduction. Perhaps $50 fine, its not big enough to break the bank but it would encourage ppl to vote! They could tac it on to your taxes couldn’t they? That wouldn’t be so hard to enforce I think. Maybe a little slip of paper to tear off the ballot as proof just in case? Elections Canada also said they’ll probably have online voting for the next election.

    But I still say we need a major electoral reform to make representation more proportional! The Conservatives did NOT win a majority of the popular vote, and yet here we are.. a majority govt..
    I say a STV system is needed! And if that’s too complicated for voters, an MMP system!

  • Anonymous

    Fundamental Freedoms:2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
    (a) freedom of conscience and religion;
    (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
    (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
    (d) freedom of association

    If your thought, belief or opinion is chosing not to vote then you are well within your rights according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

  • Jrock1130

    ok, I am over a year late responding but I will say this since I had the epipheny of this subject being a paramount issue this one particular morning. The only reason I say that is that there is a lot of tension getting built up over Romney relieving Obama of his position and what that’s gonnna do to fix our debiltating economy. I am very fired up about this subject because I know, yes, “know” that we as a country, the USA, are failing miserably at guiding our own success because everyone is not voting on who should be running things. I do not care if it’s your congressman, your governor, your president or your vice president. WE ALL SHOULD BE VOTING! I don’t care if you get jail time for not voting! WE SHOULD BE DOING IT! What better way is there to celebrate your citizenship? If you don’t vote then it’s like just getting a free ride on the bus and saying you don’t care where the bus goes! How dumb is that? I am furious that my fellow voters are only the wealthy who “care” about where their money goes. Most democratic parties cannot “really” get all the middle class and poor people to vote because they are lazy and too tired or disintrested in something that they don’t understand. They all just blow it off by saying “those guys are all liars anyway!” or “It doesn’t matter which crooked politician you put in, it’s not going to make a difference anyway!” I believe mandatory voting would give us a true and accurate reflection of what “all” the people would really want and take our nation down the path it should really go. The rich keep getting richer and the poor, poorer because too many people are too ignorant to take the preverbial “bull by the horns” (life) and “make” it happen! We absolutely should enforce mandatory voting-PERIOD.. Why? Because you chose and should!
    If you can charge a man for not having a fishing license in this country and sentence him to jail for not paying his fine then why can’t we get our arms wrapped around this?
    Who has a right to not choose? Really? Vote or get to steppin!
    Our country is ran just like England back our forefathers “ran” away and came over here only we have managed to the same thing happen- taxes by tyranny (or no representation) Don’t pay a tax and see what happens! Don’t pay a fine and see what happens! We cannot get off our fat lazy butts and go put the “best” leaders in positiion? it’s just ridiculous! I say vote or go to jail! Vote or get a fine of $1000! Vote or get out of the USA and go somewhere where you are not allowed and some dictator runs your life. Voting is just for people who “care” about their futures and others like themselves. The rich do it to “protect” their money. The poor and cynical people don’t because their minds have defeated their own selves leaving them soulless, clueless and later defenseless. It will take years before a true leader rises up and pushes the citizens of this country to follow their hearts and minds. The greater should decide in elections by winning the majority of the vote. Isn’t that a true democracy? I believe we should call our country “lazyocracy” !!
    Or let the wealthy call it “greedocracy”!!

  • Cole J.

    If people don’t want to vote that is their right and you should respect that. And if you think having a different president will solve things you obviously don’t know how America works.

  • sirgraciousness

    I think this would fall under the reasonable limits clause as it is in essence maintaining a healthy democracy.


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