Saturday, 19 October 2013

What Do You Think? Is Compulsory Voting Democratic?

Everywhere I go, it seems there is lots of discussion about the upcoming municipal elections.  The traditional means -- radio, newspapers, television -- are awash in keeping us abreast of upcoming forums, candidate profiles, political opinions.  Even moreso, I think, we are seeing the electoral conversation on our social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. 
I recently attended a forum and was saddened to see the under 40's crowd visibly poorly represented.  When I asked why, it was suggested that there was nobody worth supporting so why bother attending and that they are busy with young families and don't have time to participate.  On the surface, perhaps I can buy that. . . scrape that surface, even a wee bit, and it unravels.  Surely, if one considered the election a priority, or even gave it the same weight as going out or dinner or to a movie, one could find a way?  I do understand that there are other ways of enlightening oneself in regard to their electoral options and, perhaps, many of these people are but, to me, it makes me think that, once again, the turn-out at the polls will not be that strong, particularly by our younger citizens. 
Did you know, in the last federal election, less than one in four under the age of 25 voted?  I think there is a mistaken belief that voting is a privilege.  Here's a newsflash for you:  Voting is not a privilege, or even a right; it's a responsibility and the underpinning of our democratic governance model.  If my father were here today, he would tell you he fought the war so that you could vote.  
We have rights and then we have the associated responsibilities that go with them. We have the right to universal health care; we have the responsibility to pay taxes to pay for that service. We have a right to a fair trial; we have a responsibility to serve on juries to protect that right. We have the right to live in a democratic society; we have the responsibility to vote to support the very foundation of that democracy.
Am I the only one concerned about the decline of voter turnout?  I think not.  Bill S-22, which would have established mandatory voting in Canada was introduced to Parliament in 2005 by Senator Mac Harb.  The following are excerpts from Senator Harb`s assertions:

Research confirming young people, as they age, may not re-engage in our democratic system as their parents and grandparents did, represents a cultural change that could shake the very foundation of our democratic institutions.  While analysts cite a variety of reasons for the voting decline including, sadly, disdain for politicians, apathy about the issues and the hectic demand of modern life,  the most important factor may well be a fading sense of civic duty.  Our parents and grandparents asked what they could do to assist the government; today, we are more likely to consider only what the government can do for us. After years of battling for the right to vote, we have lost sight of the duty that goes along with the inherent responsibility to vote, much like paying taxes, reporting for jury duty, or wearing a seat belt.
When someone suggested that Austrailia has mandatory voting legislation, I did a little research.  Despite the common perception that compulsory voting is rare, it has been used with much success. In fact, some thirty democracies around the world claim to have compulsory voting, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Luxembourg, Singapore, and Switzerland.  Compulsory voting was introduced in Australia in 1924. His private member’s bill was in response to the declining voter turnout of 57.9 per cent in 1922. Now, Australia has consistently boasted a turnout of over 90 per cent and this seems to be typical of the results where there is compulsary voting.  These mandatory voting laws are not the hardship some might claim. Australians do not feel coerced, in fact, polls in Australia show that 70 to 80 per cent of Australians support the mandatory system.
Mandatory voting would mean that voting would again become a civic duty in Canada, but not a very demanding one. Thanks to safeguards to ensure voter awareness, equality of access and the possibility of exercising one’s right to vote, the bill would establish not only our right, but also our civic obligation to take part in the democratic process.
Tell you what, if  there is ever an opportunity to pass this Bill, I would, without doubt, be 100% in support.  In fact, I think I just might start a little one-man campaign (unless someone wants to join me?) to bring this issue back into the light.  For those that don`t give serious weight to your obligation and responsibility to vote, if this ever gets passed, I have one thing to say: