Should Voting Be Made Compulsory in Britain?

Topics: Democracy, Election, Voting Pages: 5 (1831 words) Published: March 18, 2008
Politics & Economics
Should voting be made compulsory in Britain?
Britain currently employs a voluntary voting system, whereby it is entirely up to the individual to choose whether to vote or not. 32 countries across the world, such as; Australia, Switzerland and Belgium, employ a compulsory voting system, were the citizens of their countries must register their vote in elections. This paper is going to look into the positive, negative, opportunity and threat aspects of whether voting should be made compulsory in Britain.

One of the main arguments for Britain adopting a compulsory voting system is to facilitate higher rates of electoral participation after poor turnouts in the last two general elections, were only 59.4% and 61.4% of the public have turned out , the lowest amounts since World War I. In fact at the last election, non-voters were the largest single group, outnumbering those who voted Labour into power. Compulsory voting would cause this group to contribute, helping to address the issue that low participation indicates a lack of interest in politics and decreases the legitimacy of the party elected. ‘On average countries with compulsory turnout have 15 per cent higher turnout than countries where voting is voluntary.' Compulsory voting in Britain would therefore increase the amount of people who vote, thus helping to give more legitimacy to the victor. This is because a higher turnout, for example 80%, would take a broader public perspective and therefore be much more widely respected than that of a sample of only 61% of the population.

Conversely, a poor turnout does not necessarily justify compulsory voting. Employing a system whereby everyone was required to vote regardless would merely disguise voter apathy and legitimise a lack of content in policies and an inability to inspire the public. There is also no certainty that the public would actually pay attention to what each party stands for and may vote to simply avoid any sanctions imposed for not voting. This therefore is not making any progress into how the public as a whole wants their country to be run. Compulsory voting would in this case not be in the best interests of the country.

An example of the more extreme sanctions come from Brazil where the following can occur "Sanctions include a fine corresponding to a small percentage of the minimum wage of the region where the individual was registered to vote. The non-voter is banned from taking professional exams, or from obtaining a loan or a passport. Failure to vote in three consecutive elections, non-payment of fines or failure to justify absence within six months can lead to registration being cancelled." This of course is the most extreme, but even if no sanctions are brought about, there is then no incentive for people to attend. Not only this, fines could also be viewed as a ‘cash cow', further disenfranchising the public. This would distance the public further and only serve to undo the effort of trying to get the public actively involved and conscientious about politics and how the country should be run. Tensions already exist over the government using schemes such as congestion charges to claim more money from the public, so any moves to introduce sanctions would be met with firm opposition.

The voting system which we use in Britain is known as a ‘first-past-the-post-system'. In this system ‘the candidate with more votes than any other is elected.' The problem with this system is that regardless of turnout involved the government can be elected without gaining a majority of the votes cast, if the combined votes for two or more parties total more than the party elected. For example Labour could come into power when more people choose to vote for Liberal Democrats and Conservatives combined. Regardless of the increased turnout due to compulsory voting, it is not a good representation of the public opinion if there is a greater majority for other parties...
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