Voting is a key component of the American constitutional republic system, government that is highly limited (in theory) by a system of checks and balances and is run by representative democracy; that is, officials who make decisions at the behest of the people they purportedly represent. Voting is the vehicle through which the people hold their elected leaders accountable.
High voter turnout is so critical to the safeguarding of a free society that some are advocating that it be compulsory. Go ahead and re-read that: our free society apparently must be protected by taking away people’s freedom to not vote.
The freedom to not vote is critical, for several reasons. First and foremost, it represents basic freedom of conscience. Citizens have the right to participate in the electoral process, but to mandate them to choose their elected leaders is contradictory: forcing an action by definition removes choice from the equation. Second, optional voting tends to promote informed voting. If everyone is required to vote, many citizens will simply select a candidate at random to be done with it. If they have to make a conscientious decision to hit the polls, it’s because they have some minimum knowledge of the candidates and issues at stake.
Finally, why do advocates of compulsory voting care who ends up exercise their right? Because non-voting reflects poorly on government performance. When voter turnout is abysmally low, it sends the very clear signal that the people don’t feel government works for them. It challenges the entire notion of representative democracy, and puts pressure on political candidates to energize the voters by actually working for them. Forced voting destroys all performance review of elected officials. While it still leaves the option of voting for a different party or candidate, it still insulates the whole system from the great question: is government working at all?
Compulsory voting questions the very foundation of representative democracy: that it actually represents the will of the people. It challenges the notion of a free society by forcing citizens’ conscience. And finally, it prevents government officials from having to face the reality that the people just aren’t behind them anymore at all. If government really worked, people would be lining up to vote. What are mandatory voting advocates afraid of?
Return to Top