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. (www.facebook.com/citizencapitalism)
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?
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