Voting is one of the most direct ways in which citizens can affect how their government is run, but did you know that:

  • During the 2018 U.S. congressional elections, only 50% of eligible voters chose to vote.

  • During the Canadian federal elections of 2019, less than seven of every ten eligible voters turned out.

  • Even during the highly-contested and controversial U.S. presidential election of 2016, only six in ten eligible voters cast their ballot.

Voting is not mandatory (i.e. compulsory) in the United States or Canada, however, it is in 21 other nations, including Australia, Brazil, Belgium, and Singapore.

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Why Make Voting Mandatory?

It increases participation in government. It nudges citizens to act as engaged community members.

Supporters of mandatory voting say it adds more legitimacy to elections. If everyone votes, then the winner is the true representative of the majority of the people, rather than a more active or outspoken minority.

“Ideally, a democracy will take into account the interests and views of all citizens so that its decisions represent the will of the entire people,” concludes a recent Brookings Institution paper promoting mandatory voting. “If some regularly vote while others do not, elected officials are likely to give less weight to the interests and views of nonparticipants.”

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Arguments Against Mandatory Voting

Critics of mandatory voting argue that it restricts peoples' rights, specifically the right to not participate. It can also infringe on certain groups' religious beliefs.

In some nations with mandatory voting, such as Brazil, eligible citizens can be fined for not being able to show proof that they voted.

According to political scientists like Jason Brennan , another downside is that “compulsory voting probably reduces the quality of government by some small amount,” he says, “because you are reducing the knowledge of the median voter.” Flaticon Icon

How Does Mandatory Voting Affect Election Results?

  • In Australia and Switzerland, more liberal political parties and leftist policies, like increased social spending and pensions, benefited from mandatory election laws.

  • In the Netherlands, researchers determined that when mandatory voting was abolished, social democratic parties benefited while more extremist parties lost votes.

  • In Austria, mandatory voting did not seem to affect spending policies or party outcomes in elections.

There is no clear proof that mandatory voting would benefit specific political parties or social and fiscal policies.

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Quiz

How might mandatory voting affect national politics?

It decreases social benefits

It leads to more wars

Hard to know - probably not much

It benefits right-wing parties

Summary

While the effects of mandatory voting are different from country to country, most political scientists believe that if mandatory voting was required in the U.S., the Democratic Party would benefit in close national elections.

In many Senate and House of Representatives elections, however, mandatory voting would not likely affect the outcomes.

What are your thoughts on mandatory voting? Should it be a part of your country's political process?

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This Byte has been authored by

AC

Aaron Calvert

Instructional Designer and Educator