Imagine you were planning for a trip to Southeast Asian countries. You wanted a white cotton T-shirt that would keep your body comfortable in a tropical region. Therefore, you went to a fashion boutique to purchase the T-shirt you needed. When you got to the shop, you tried to look for a white cotton T-shirts, but unfortunately there were no T-shirts that you wanted. There were only two kinds of T-shirt in the store; black and dark brown nylon T-shirts. There was, however, a very strict rule that everybody who entered the store must buy at least one item before they left. You might say, “What an awkward rule of this store!
There was no item you wanted or needed for your trip. If you just bought one of the two nylon T-shirts, how could it make you comfortable during your trip in hot weather? But now, you had no choice. How would you feel in this situation? A person might have the same feeling if he or she must vote for a candidate that he or she does not like or support. He or she must vote because this is mandatory for every citizen of that country; a person has no choice like the example given previously. How would you feel if you had to vote for candidates no matter what or who they were?
You think some might be irresponsible or some might be cunning and tricky. Perhaps you are not so interested in politics or not confident enough to make a decision because you feel that you are not very educated, so you just want to stay at home during the election. However, you must vote for at least one of them because it is compulsory by law in your country. Do you feel that you have liberty now? Do you feel you have freedom to make a decision of your own? Therefore, the statement that “All citizens should be required by law” is totally unacceptable.
Forcing citizens to vote by law is a total violation of human rights and a great threat to the development of democracy. How can we say that it is a human rights abuse? Because of terrible human rights abuse during the Second World War (1939-1945), the citizens of the world reached an agreement to protect human rights in the future. On December 10, 1948, the United Nation General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.
Today, we all regard it as a common standard to protect the fundamental freedom of individuals on this earth. First, it is stated that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. ” (Article 19, UDHR) This statement means that you have the right to think what you want, to say what you like, and nobody should forbid you from doing so. You should also be able to share your ideas with people from any other country.
Here, it is necessary to understand that voting in elections is a kind of expression of your own opinion about future political leaders or parties that will shape the course of your country. Citizens have the right to choose any candidates or parties that they support or they can even abstain from voting for anyone or parties. As the example given in the introduction, buying a T-shirt, one could not abstain from buying anything if he thought the available product is not appropriate for his plan. Therefore, it is the same as we vote for someone we do not really want.
If there is no option for us to vote, it is our absolute right stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that we can express our own opinion by abstaining from casting a vote. It might also mean that you can remain politically neutral. For this reason, if citizens are forced to vote by law, it must be an unjust law that violates our human rights and individual freedom. There is a saying “An unjust law is no law at all. ”(Augustine of Hippo) If a legislative body of a nation passes a law that is unfair for every citizen, it will still simply be like no law at all.
Imposing a law that forces citizens to vote is not a suitable way to promote democratic practices. We may need to see why people vote. Normally, there are three main reasons why people vote. (1) An instrumental reason, that is to affect the outcome, (2) An expressive reason, that is, is to be able to express one’s views (3) a social norm reason, that is, to conform to a norm saying that it is a democratic obligation to vote (Carlsson, 2010). There is no need to say for the first point that we vote because we want some positive outcomes.
The second point was also discussed in the previous paragraph that it is about expressing one’s view. Thus, we have to observe the social norm reason, the third point. A survey conducted in Sweden in 2002 showed that 80% of the people, who were asked to answer the questionnaires, considered abstaining from voting unethical in a democratic country. It can be said that voting should be a duty for all citizens of a democratic nation. However, since voting is also an individual right, how can people be encouraged to vote? How can they be educated to be politically well- informed instead of forcing them to vote by law?
One of the democratic practices that we all must keep in our minds is a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down. A "top-down" approach is one where an executive, decision maker, or other person or body makes a decision. A "bottom-up" approach is one that works from the grassroots—from a large number of people working together, causing a decision to arise from their joint involvement (Monahan & Lockhead, 1977). A decision to choose political leaders to lead a country should come from the real will of the citizens instead of forcing them to do as directed.
Therefore, citizens should be encouraged through either formal or non-formal education to understand the democratic values and practice them. It would be a more suitable way to promote democratization and build a politically healthy society. Forcing citizens to vote by law is not a productive approach at all. Encouraging voting instead of making it compulsory is more effective because it would be so difficult to enforce. (Curtis, 2010) There are currently 32 countries around the world with compulsory voting, but only 10 of them enforce it.
Australia has had mandatory voting for decades and failure to vote is punished. First, a person must pay a $20 penalty. Second, if the non-voter fails to reply or cannot provide a sufficient reason declining to pay the penalty, then prosecution in court may be started. If the person is found guilty, he or she may be fined up to $50 plus court costs (Australian Electoral Commission, 2013).
In America, while only 42% of eligible voters showed up during the mid-term election in 2010, the voting percentile is way up into the 90s in Australia. The New York Times, 2010) By looking at these comparisons, what results would come out if other countries were also obliged to vote? First, we must think about some religious minorities. In some religions, voting is prohibited such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian group with more than seven million members throughout the world (Jehovah’s Witnesses, 2012). Second, some people are not totally interested in politics or do not know anything about the candidates. In this case, if these people were forced to vote, they would just randomly cast votes without caring much about candidates and the results.
How would these votes be effective? The third thing is population differences. For instance, Singapore, one the 10 countries with compulsory voting, has only 5. 3 million people (2012 Census). It is quite reasonable that Singapore imposed this law to force its citizens to vote because of its small population. However, what about countries with large populations? For example, the United States has over 300 million people which is more than fifty times the voting population of Singapore. As the U. S. as a large population, the financial cost for voting would be huge if voting was compulsory. According to the above mentioned cases, compulsory voting would probably cause additional problems in administering the vote as well as problems in enforcement. To enforce penalties for failure to vote, we would need more manpower to run this process so it would exponentially increase bureaucratic costs. Therefore, compulsory voting would be hard to enforce in countries with large populations. On the whole, voting is an individual right rather than a legal obligation.
Depending on what a citizen needs or depending on what he or she would like to change in politics, a citizen should be given choices to participate in the government of his or her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Citizens should never be forced to cast votes for any political units, or it would be a total violation of human rights. Only non-compulsory voting can guarantee the right to freedom of expression. To encourage and motivate citizens to take part in political affairs of a country, citizens should be educated through educational process so that they can be politically well-informed.
Then, it would truly be a productive approach that enhances democratic practices among citizens rather than forcing them to do otherwise. Furthermore, compulsory voting would cause many complicated procedures in the bureaucratic process and would not be easy to enforce especially in countries with large populations. Even though a law might be passed, it may never come into power. So what’s the use of passing a law without enforcement? This kind of law would be just like dead words written on papers.