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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Should Europeans be made to vote?
There appears to be widespread disgruntlement with politicians and ever fewer people are voting in most European elections.
Some countries have already gone down the path of compulsory voting. In Belgium you will be fined if you fail to vote the first couple of times and the third time you lose the right to vote and hold public office.
Should voting be made compulsory? How might it change the political scene?
For this week's Europewide debate we brought together Professor Sofronis Sofronious, a political commentator in Cyprus, which has compulsory voting and is reviewing it, and British Labour MP Linda Perham, who wants compulsory voting in Britain.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
So the government want to remove the last crumb of fairness from our election system. They don't like it that people consider them to be not worth walking to a polling station and, like the nanny state that they have created, they blame everyone else but themselves. I voted at the last election but I will certainly not vote if they make it compulsory.
Ian Thomas, England
Mike James, UK
To say, people who don't vote, have no right to an opinion, is absolute nonsense. If none of the contestants are to your liking, you have an absolute right not to vote. This right isn't granted to you by a nanny state, and I wouldn't let one try to take it away.
I think that voting should be compulsory but with an extra box on the form saying words to the effect "I have no faith in any of the current politicians". Another way to encourage people to vote is to give everyone the day off on election day. Back this up with a fine if you don't and no one really has any excuse not to as most polling stations are within a 5 or 10 minute walk of your house or flat.
I voted at the last election, but I was tempted not to. Why? Because the people we vote in to power can have their and therefore our democratic wishes overturned by an undemocratic group (The House of Lords). The present reforms do not seem to be for the better
It seems clear that the wealthier the country, the lower the poll turnout. That is, politics are the least important thing on people's agenda - they're only concerned that their quality of life is not negatively impacted.
I vote in every election (even if I just spoil my ballot paper), but as I dislike having the state order me around, I will refuse to take part in any compulsory voting. Anyway, politics is about more than marking crosses on bits of paper. It's about argument, dissent and protest - something every government hates, particularly the present lot.
I voted in the last UK election. Because the right to vote is something you get in a democracy. Voting itself is a responsibility of citizenship. I always ask people if they voted when they make political comments. If they don't then I tell them they have no right to an opinion. The political system in the UK would be improved if politicians felt forced to appeal to a majority of the population. If they need half the population's vote (not half the voters) then policies are more likely to reflect that.
If we were all forced to vote, how would we know if the voters considered the government to be illegitimate? Spoiling of ballots is more apt to be dismissed as an "accidental" measure rather than true protest, the way that staying home on election day would be. After all, we know very well by now how illegitimate the Americans consider their government; less than half the electorate there vote, showing what they think of the "choice" they have between crooks and idiots.
Mandatory voting is an excellent idea. As citizens we have rights but there should be duties as well.
We already have a form of compulsory voting which involves almost everyone almost every day: money. Our decisions on which goods and services to buy probably have more effect on Government policy on many issues (energy use, packaging, farming methods, fair trade, etc.) than one vote every four to five years.
However, more money = more "votes", and this is then multiplied by the political lobbying power of rich business interests. I think compulsory voting would be fairer, don't you?
..and if they did make it compulsory what would the penalty be for not voting? A fine, imprisonment? Presumably if we refused to pay the fine we'd end up in prison and then be denied... the right to vote.
If someone doesn't think that their own opinion (on which is the best candidate) is even worth going to the polling station for, why on earth does forcing them to state that opinion give it any more validity? Surely we get a better government when we only take the opinions of those who have thought about it enough to want to be counted? What's so bad about "low" turnouts?
If a person wants to participate in the democratic process in whatever country they are in, they will. If not, then they won't. Brussels can't control people's voting habits. If someone wants their say, they'll have it, but Brussels has to respect personal choice. Personally, I regard the franchise as a privilege.
Jarek Adam Pacek, Poland
Any changes in voting should be part of a package of total reform. It would be a good start to allow people more choice to vote for women and ethnic candidates through the system proposed by the Jenkins commission. Compulsory voting is less draconian than it first appears. Everyone can now vote by post, so it would not force people out of their homes. And people would still have a right to spoil their ballot paper or simply leave it blank. I think we should go the whole hog and allow voting via the Internet, television or mobile phone.
I believe in compulsory voting. It is the act of participation in the democratic process that counts. So anyone who doesn't like the choice of candidates can spoil their ballot paper. Remember, many people fought for the right to vote and there are still millions of people across the world literally dying to have the right to vote. Australia has compulsory voting and has still retained its democratic credentials.
Being an Australian and not having enrolled to vote yet, I believe that being forced to vote for someone who will represent you on a national and international level is not as onerous and undemocratic as it sounds. Though people feel disenchanted and alienated from the modern political process, ordinary people should still feel it is our obligation to, at least in some small part, be involved in a process which to date has shown precious little evidence of people participating and having a say in who leads and decides for them.
As privileged citizens of a democratic country we have many rights that we're entitled to. It's logical therefore to "pay" for those rights with an obligation once every four years to have an opinion. That's what democracy is all about.
The whole notion of obligatory voting creates egalitarian implications. Voting, through a democracy, legitimises the authority that a state has over its citizens. Voting creates the façade of a contract between the citizen and the state. This contract enables the government to suppress individual freedoms and liberty in return for protection offered by the state. By forcing people to vote you are forcing the acceptance of the current system and completing the loop for a natural right of states over citizens, and hence one person over another.
Duncan Ross, UK
Of course it shouldn't. Voting is a choice; you have a choice to express your preference in a democratic manner. A democratic government that makes it illegal to choose not to vote for any of the parties ceases to be a democracy, and I can tell you would definitely lose my vote at the next general election.
What is compulsory in a free country must be kept to an absolute minimum. Giving the state the power to punish people because they choose to stay at home rather than vote has got to be wrong.
There is no way politicians would put a "none of the above" option because they know that it would win! All this business about having a duty to vote would be correct if we did not have a party system. It is nobody's duty to pick a party which gives out a vague and jumbled assortment of policies which can never be to everyone's liking. The whole party whip system makes democracy a fraud.
Andrew Kerr, UK
I would encourage more people to vote by using the STV (single transferable vote) for all elections and then I would have the Australian solution whereby you have to vote, but there is also a box that says something like "none of the above/dissatisfied". My great grandfather fought in World War I and my grandfather fought in World War II to save our democracy and our right to vote. We take our democracy for granted. There are some people in this world who would love to vote, but can't because they live in a dictatorship. So yes, I think compulsory voting is a good idea.
Only if there is a genuine "None of the Above" option on the ballot sheet. Being forced to vote between several options that are as repugnant as each other is less, not more, democratic.
During the last election I was struck by pictures of a crippled 105 year old being carried to her local voting station. If people don't want to support any party then they can make the effort to go down and spoil their ballot papers. If you don't vote then you have absolutely no right to complain if the government of the day does something you disagree with!
In Thailand they have a voting system whereby one can tick a "none of the above" box. If that gets a majority, all the candidates are disqualified and the election is re-run without them. How about giving that a try?
We have compulsory voting in Australia.
When everyone knows they will have to vote, they will take a greater interest in politics so they know which way to go. Forcing everyone to vote keeps democracy healthy. In the UK and USA, so few people are voting that democracy is rapidly becoming a farce, something people learn about in history lessons.
When the only choice available at the poll is between bad and worse the best vote may be to abstain.
This is plainly wrong. You can, and should, go to the polling place and file your protest vote by submitting the empty polling ticket. This says "I am disillusioned", not coming to the polling booth says "I couldn't care less".
In Australia we do have compulsory voting and I am strongly in favour of it, though I have been fined. People can vote the way they please, but they must make an effort to express their view.
Sure, make voting compulsory, but include a "none of the above" block on the ballot. That way, it's less a matter of choosing the lesser of two (or more) evils, and would let all parties know where they really stand.
A right to vote in a free country is also the right not to vote. To force somebody to the ballot box is antithetical. Each individual should choose whether or not to exercise their right. Of course, personally I feel that this choice should be made in the context of men and women having suffered and died to bring us this right, but the status of the individual within the state should always remain paramount
In Britain some have voted all their adult lives without ever having had their representative in Parliament. They are no better off than those who never vote.
Once elected a UK politician is unaccountable.
If you vote you have a moral obligation to obey the laws they make.
If voting becomes compulsory in the UK many will leave the electoral roll.
We must differentiate between voting in a referendum - where you are expressing your own free will on a given question, and voting to elect an unaccountable representative - where you are alienating your democratic right to your own opinion on political questions. In the latter case you are actually suspending your democratic rights and allowing the "representative" to decide political questions against your judgement. To be forced to do this is to be periodically disenfranchised - the Swiss don't tolerate this, why should we?
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