Maybe it's time for Canada to consider mandatory voting ( Summary )
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Maybe it’s time for Canada to consider mandatory voting
(Note: Words in bold are defined in a glossary at the end of this article.)
1 Let’s face it: Canadians are becoming political dropouts. There’s a declining sense of civic duty or democratic responsibility. Growing numbers of Canadians simply can’t be bothered to make it to the polling station anymore.
2 Since the late 1980s, voter turnout at the federal level has declined from the mid-70s to barely cracking 60 per cent. The federal election in May once again saw 40 per cent of Canadians choose not to exercise their franchise.
3 Less than 58 per cent of Nova Scotians trekked to the polls in the June 2009 provincial election. Nova Scotia hasn’t seen a voter participation rate of 75 per cent for 30 years.
4 Most troubling perhaps is the fact that younger Canadians (18-24 year olds) are the worst offenders, with barely 25 per cent of this group turning out to vote federally. And if this trend is carried forward, as is most likely the case, voter participation in Canada is sure to drop far below 60 per cent in the next 20 years or so.
5 Can this disturbing trend be corrected with voter incentives and other administrative mechanisms? How about Internet voting technology? Lowering the voting age? Greater awareness and mobilizing campaigns by Elections Canada? What about paying citizens a small stipend to march their way to the polling booth?
6 More controversial is the idea of compulsory voting in Canada at both the federal and provincial levels (or even municipally). Before you dismiss this proposal, remember voting is already mandatory in over 30 countries. Liberal democracies like Australia, Belgium and Switzerland have well-established compulsory voting systems.
7 Australia routinely garners voter participation rates of 95 per cent, which puts us to shame. Citizens there can be fined (about $20) for not voting without a sufficient reason or justification. And if the nominalfine is not paid after several warning letters, offenders could face possible jail time.
8 In every jurisdiction that has introduced mandatory voting, voter turnout has increased by at least 10 to 15 per cent. This increase has also been most conspicuous among younger voters.
9 No one is suggesting that people have to vote a certain way or can’t spoil their ballot by not marking an X anywhere. But they do have to show up at the polls if they want to express their displeasure with politicians or the political system as a whole.
10 Some will be quick to say that there is something inherently wrong with a voting system that forces citizens to vote in a “free” and “democratic” society. Consider also the depressing prospect of uninformed voters actually determining electoral outcomes. Others will say that it won’t fly here, that it is repugnant, and that people are entitled to choices in this country.
11 In a poll 10 years ago, 76 per cent of Canadians opposed the idea of compulsory voting. And I doubt that much has changed in the interim.
12 Fine. But how do we reverse the precipitous drop in voter turnout that we are staring at in coming years? Do we really want to see only 40 or 50 per cent of Canadians voting on election day?
13 How legitimate and representative would any government elected under this scenario be? Do we want a pattern to emerge where abstaining from voting is as legitimate as voting itself?
14 Yes, the thought of being compelled to do anything in a liberal society does seem offensive. But forcing people to vote would seem a minor infringement on our basic freedoms. We already make allowances or forfeit certain freedoms with respect to wearing seatbelts, reporting for jury duty, and not driving our vehicles under the influence of alcohol.
15 Maybe compelling first-time electors to vote will make them more politically engaged and aware over time. Instead of seeing them turn off politics and tuning out of elections altogether, young Canadians might learn to value and appreciate the right to vote and having their say in forming the government of the day.
16 Furthermore, if voting is not an integral component of our democratic polity, as would seem to be the case as more and more Canadians choose to forfeit that right, then Canadians will most assuredly get the government that they don’t deserve. And, as a result, only certain small, elite segments of society will be reflected in the orientation and policy prescriptions of such a government.
17 I don’t want to sound too alarmist or argue that the political sky is falling here.
18 But there may come a time, particularly if these low voter turnout rates continue into the future, where someone is going to wonder why we have elections in the first place if no one is bothering to show up.
19 Mandatory voting, then, is at least worth having a conversation about.
McKenna, P. (2012, January 29). Maybe it’s time for Canada to consider mandatory voting. The Chronicle Herald. Retrieved from http://thechronicleherald.ca/
political dropouts: someone who does not care about voting
civic duty: responsibility to the community
pollingstation: place to vote
nominal fine: small fee
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