Compulsory Voting

Some say compulsory voting would be the solution (or at least, a solution) to the problem of low voting turnout. In brief, they say voting is a civic duty as well as a right and everyone should perform it. They say it is not different in essence from other civic duties like paying taxes, sending children to school and, most relevant, electoral registration. They say that those who wish to abstain should have to attend and abstain positively instead of just not turning up.

Others say, also in brief, that compulsory voting would be a fundamental infringement of the civic right to choose whether to vote or not. Moreover, to force people to vote (or at least attend polling stations) would be counter-productive because, although it may increase the number of votes cast, it would probably alienate people even more from the political process.

All STV Action asks of its supporters is that they support the Single Transferable Vote (STV). Supporters are free to hold their own individual views on all other issues and we do not wish to divide them from each other or us so we do not ask them to support or oppose any other political campaigns, such as compulsory voting, and STV Action itself does not campaign on any of them. However, we believe that supporters of compulsory voting should recognize the truth in the old saying that one volunteer is worth ten conscripts, so the nation should at least try harder to encourage people to vote voluntarily before introducing compulsory voting. We also believe that opponents of compulsory voting should offer a positive alternative to compulsory voting instead of merely opposing it.

In our view, the fundamental problem is that so many people do not vote because they feel their votes have no effect and they are absolutely right. Most votes have no effect. The result of a general election is known before the election in more than half the constituencies because they are safe seats under the old “first past the post” voting system. People feel there is no point in voting for a candidate who cannot possibly win and no need to vote for one who cannot lose. So why should people bother to vote?

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system would revolutionize that. Each major party would have a realistic chance of winning at least one seat in almost every multi-member constituency. Almost every voter would actually help to elect someone. This would be an incentive to vote and it would also encourage the parties to contest every constituency properly instead of concentrating their resources on the marginal seats and virtually ignoring the safe ones. That in turn would be a further encouragement for people to vote.

 

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