Mandatory voting is that a blessing? We’re in the car back from a day in the Bleu Mountains – a mountainous area two hours from Sydney – and we drive back with two Australians telling us about Australian politics. Very interesting for me as a political junkie. We talk about the pros and cons of compulsory voting. Because in Australia you are obliged to vote. When you don’t go you pay a fine of 80 Australian dollars. That’s not much, but enough for most to vote.
No Mandatoring Voting Laws
Voting in the Netherlands – I’m Dutch – and many other European countries is not mandatory. That has its pros and cons, and I would like to talk about that, because perhaps it would be a good idea to think about it.
No Problems with Mandatory Voting
The first thing they say is that they do not mind at all to go out and vote every two years. It is a right and a duty for everyone and that is why it is good that everyone thinks every two years about who they want the laws to make for them.
The second reason they give is that everyone is better represented, because everyone is going to vote. Everyone is represented and that is how it should be. In the Netherlands – or any other country where you do not have to vote compulsorily – only the people who are going to vote are represented. In the Netherlands, the elections to the Lower House of Parliament are still quite high. This is the most important house in the Netherlands. In 2017, 81.9 percent voted. But if we look at the Provincial Council – the regions – elections or European elections, the turnout is alarmingly low. In 2015, only 47.8% of the Dutch population voted for the Provincial Council elections.
Less extreme political parties
This also means that there are fewer extremes in Australian politics, because a large part of the ‘silent majority’ often does not vote. These are the people who are milder and less concerned about politics. Because they have to vote, the vote for the middle political parties is bigger and there are therefore fewer votes for the extreme political parties at the ends of the political barometer. I see that as a plus, because the extremes on both sides are not always good for a country when you look at the history of any country.
Voting was compulsory before 1970
In the Netherlands there was also a compulsory compulsory voting obligation to vote before 1970. They abolished this because compliance was difficult and it was found to be contrary to the empowerment of the Dutch. The first argument is not very strong in my opinion. As far as I know, compliance is not a problem in Australia. Moreover, we know exactly who lives in the Netherlands and where, so compliance no longer seems a problem to me. Moreover, in Belgium, they also have compulsory voting, and there it is not a problem. What can they do, we can do that, can we?
Other countries where it is also mandatory to vote are: Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Fiji, Greece, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Nauru, North Korea (they don’t tell you that you can only vote for one person), Peru, Singapore, Turkey, Uruguay and Switzerland.
Mature and indifferent people
What exactly is meant by the empowerment of the Dutch is not entirely clear to me. If I read more about it, the argument is that they would rather have voters who choose consciously than people who vote indifferently.
A number of things come to my mind. The first is the chicken-egg argument. What was there before? The chicken or the egg? If people have to vote, are they less indifferent? Or are they indifferent because they have to vote or not? I would say that mandatory voting is more likely to encourage you to delve into it and make people less indifferent. If you are indifferent, you probably won’t vote if you don’t have to. So these people are not represented.
With compulsory voting you do indeed have voters who do not consciously choose or vote, because they go because they have to. I agree with that, but I think that the representation of everyone here outweighs the conscious voter. Why do we like the fact that some of our voters do not vote and are not represented by them?
In favour of compulsory voting
I am in favour of compulsory voting in order to encourage people to become more involved in politics. I accept those people who vote indifferently. There are more indifferent people if you do not have to vote compulsorily than if we were to introduce compulsory voting. That is why I am in favour of the latter.