In practice, it is assumed that democracies have ways of ensuring that public policy always reflects the popular will. The incorporation of the demands of the people is done through a number of approaches although the most inclusive one is through voting. However, elections only achieve the objective if the outcomes accurately reflect the larger populations views. Concerns also persist regarding the proportion of the population that participates in voting. Voter apathy can contribute to a scenario where only a small percentage of people take part in polls. As a result, the popular ill is not always reflected in voting outcomes. Owing to the realization, some scholars such as Birch have assessed the pros and cons of compulsory voting. The paper uses Birchs outline to argue for and against compulsory voting leading to the conclusion that it does not achieve the objectives of legitimacy and representativeness because it undermines the freedom of choice.
Argument for Compulsory Voting
The primary role of voting is to improve representativeness. Such is achievable based on the idea that people will vote their preferred candidates into office. If the voting patterns are influenced by interested, the result is that the interests of people prevail at the elections. Given that the poll participation ratios have been on the decline, forcing every adult to vote would ensure that the voice of the people is heard. In other words, the representation levels of people would rise based on a decision to introduce compulsory voting.
Legitimacy reflects that leaders of a country have the support of the masses to lead. Unlike in a case where only fifty percent of the population participate, in instances where the participation level is hundred percent, because of compulsory voting, leadership can claim legitimacy. In essence, legitimacy is gained from people. The smaller the number of people, that takes part in an election, the higher the chances of disputed legitimacy, and vice versa. Thus, the introduction of compulsory voting would lead to the increase in legitimacy given that leadership that is elected is content that it reflects the popular will . In addition, the citizenry ill also feel obliged to support the government based on the perception that they elected it into office.
The issue of legitimacy is also linked to a developing culture in many countries. Individuals are influenced by their parents or elderly people. If one comes from a family that rarely participates in election, such persons are less likely to vote. Thus, non-participation is viewed as a culture that is passed from one generation to another. In order to address the problem, introducing compulsory voting would be ideal. This will add to the legitimacy of governments owing to the potential of full participation.
The population will become more engaged politically. Presently, voters do not see political leaders as responsive to their needs. Although the allegation is debatable, it seems true in many instances. Often, politicians have no incentives to address the needs of common citizens. Such creates a cycle of dissatisfaction which perpetuates underrepresentation that might only be broken by the adoption of radical methods. In this regard, a form of compulsion is required.
The adoption of compulsory voting is likely to lead to a truly representative government. From the introduction, it was highlighted that one of the objectives of a democratic form of government is to enhance citizen involvement in public affairs. Given that public disinterest in political processes is on the rise, a method needs to be found to reverse the trend. In this regard, pushing adult citizens to take part in elections would be a timely idea that is likely to an increase the representativeness of government. In a nutshell, the elected government will be reflective of the composition of the population.
One of the perceptions held by Birch is that when citizens are required to vote they will take the exercise more seriously. Without any doubt, people will become more seriously. However, individuals who are already apolitical are likely to become more antagonized against politics. Thus, it is hypothesized that compulsory voting would not be the appropriate step.
Argument against Compulsory Voting
The essence of voting is to influence policy-making. For this to succeed, having informed/ educated citizens is critical. In other words, there is a danger of having uneducated persons influencing public policy yet they doo not understand the ramifications of their decisions. In such a case, elections would cease to serve their primary purpose which is to find individuals who are best suited to solve a societys problems. In brief, uneducated voting which is likely to result from compulsory voting would not have served the representative function.
One of the arguments in support of compulsory voting was to enhance legitimacy. However, legitimacy must be gained based on free will. Under a system that forces people to vote, the freedom to choose would be impeded. Thus, it is difficult to defend the legitimacy of such a process/ activity. In other words, if people are not free to decide on voting, results will not reflect choices.
Transforming voting from a free exercise to a mandatory one equates to the creation of obligations. In such a scenario, loss of interest and emergence of disillusionment would follow. Instead of forcing citizens to vote, exploring other mechanisms would be preferable. Such approaches should lobby people to see the value of participation. Going further, the use of incentives to encourage voting should be explored to mitigate the problem associated with voter apathy. An attempt to force citizens to vote will generate disillusionment and disinterest.
Voting suffers loss of meaning. Election outcomes are as important as the process itself. If the process is flawed, the outcome is also questionable. The position is that, introducing compulsory voting creates an impression that the process is punitive because it denies citizens the free will to make decisions . Fundamentally, people have rights. One of the rights is the right to choose whether to vote, or not to vote. In this regard, any attempt to introduce compulsory voting would be against a fundamental human right that borders on the freedom of choice. Essentially, instituting compulsory voting old negate a citizens right to decide. The move will lead to a scenario where people vote as a formality owing to its obligatory nature. It is also noted that voting should be a choice itself. Removing such a choice would undermine the very attribute that the move intends to foster.
Voter apathy is on the rise globally. In order to redress the situation, some countries have adopted compulsory voting. Other countries such as the UK have debated the merits and demerits of adopting such a system. Those who support compulsory voting cite legitimacy and representativeness as reasons for supporting the change. However, opponents of the system also cite the same as justification for rejecting the system. Although compulsory voting would increase the number of individuals who vote, the system might not achieve the legitimacy and representativeness objectives given that the system would have undermined the freedom to exercise free will. Finally, it is held that increased voter turnout is not a sufficient reason for the introduction of compulsory voting.