A Fix for Ugly Politics

Posted on April 3, 2012 in Governance Debates

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TheTyee.ca – opinion – Force the vote and halt devious robo-calls, attack ads and apathy.
Posted: April 3, 2012.   By Bill Tieleman

“The right to vote is only meaningful when you use it.” — Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former chief electoral officer of Canada

There is a very simple way to quickly put an end to robo-call scandals, dramatically increase voter participation, reduce negative political advertising and strengthen democracy — without spending any additional money.

The solution: compulsory voting in elections.

How would it work?

On fraudulent robo-calls or live calls that attempt to mislead voters by directing them to the wrong polling location, like the ones being investigatedfrom last year by Elections Canada, there would simply no longer be any point. 
 Since all voters would be required to participate by law, discouraging a very small number would be not only next to impossible but useless.

That’s because robo-call mischief only works in close races with low turnout where it makes a difference if a small number of voters can be dissuaded from voting by illegal or at least immoral means.

Compulsory voting kills bad robo-calls dead.

Mandatory voting could also seriously reduce attack ads, since part of their intent is voter suppression — discouraging supporters of the party or leader being trashed from voting by ruining their reputation.

Since voters must cast ballots, suppression isn’t possible. And they may conversely decide to punish the party that sponsors highly negative campaigning while rewarding those that provide constructive reasons to support their policies.

Best of all, making voting the law means the overwhelming majority of eligible voters participate. And because they have to vote, more citizens spend more time examining public issues and the parties’ positions on them, boosting democratic engagement.

Canada’s democratic disgrace

As a result of compulsory voting, Australia enjoyed a 93 per cent turnout in 2010 and 95 per cent in 2007. And Australia hasn’t had a turnout less than 91 per cent since 1925, the first election after compulsory voting was introduced.

Belgium and Luxembourg also use compulsory voting and have participation rates in recent years averaging over 91 per cent.

Canada, by embarrassing comparison, is a democratic disgrace.

Our high point in voter participation was 79.4 per cent in 1958 and hasn’t even been in the 70 per cent range since 1993, a span of seven federal elections.

In the federal election last year just 61 per cent voted, with only 59 per cent in 2008.

British Columbia is also democratically disengaged, with aturnout of only 51 per cent in 2009 — and 58 per cent in 2005.

Big carrot, small stick

Compulsory voting isn’t unusual worldwide. Currently 32 countries require eligible citizens to vote in elections, and of those 19 fine or otherwise penalize anyone who does not participate.

Australia’s penalty for not voting is quite minor — a $20 fine. Yet that seems enough to encourage all but a handful of eligible voters to go to the polling stations.

Objections that compulsory voting infringes on civil liberties ring hollow when all Canadian are obligated to pay taxes, serve on juries and obey other laws.

And voters in Australia can spoil their ballot or leave it blank if they do not want to actually vote. Exemptions for religious and other legitimate reasons are respected.

Let’s turn around the decline in democracy — introduce compulsory voting.

< http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2012/04/03/Canadian-Compulsory-Voting/ >

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