Compulsory Voting – improves voter turnout

QuestionThe argument in favor of compulsory voting is that it improves voter turnout and ensures that the democratic process is actually working. Critically analyze.21 October 2021


Compulsory Voting

In a democracy like India, every adult has a legal right to vote and choose the leader of their choice. But not all voters exercise this franchise. They are either unconcerned with the merits of the electoral process, or simply unwilling to try to go out and vote.

Article 326 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen above the age of 18 years. In the recently concluded general elections, there were about 900 million eligible voters, but about a third of these voters did not participate in the voting process.

Compulsory voting is a system that requires citizens to vote in an election or be present at least at a polling place on the day of polling. If an eligible voter does not appear at the polling place, he may be punished with a fine or community service.

Globally, 29 countries have experimented with compulsory voting. At present, about 11 countries implement these rules. For example, Australia and Belgium impose fines, while Brazil and Peru restrict access to state benefits and social security if they do not vote.

But in a political system where Members of Parliament have the right to abstain from voting for a bill or not to participate in the vote, one may question why ordinary citizens cannot have equal rights. In fact, not voting is as valid an electoral option as any other option in a democracy.

In recent times there has been an increase in the demand to implement the idea of compulsory voting. This idea can have several benefits for strengthening the democratic credentials of the country:

  • This will increase turnout, and ensure that the democratic process is actually functioning, as voting represents a fundamental quality of democracy.
  • This would make democracy more inclusive. This is because it will prevent the exclusion of socially disadvantaged people from voting by eliminating external factors (e.g. loss of wages, access to polling stations, employers imposing restrictions, etc.) that affect their ability to vote.
  • More citizen participation and political participation will increase the accountability of elected representatives, thereby strengthening the accountability of the government and thus its legitimacy.
  • This will increase the political education of the people, because if voting is mandatory for them then they will pay more attention to politics.

However, compulsory voting may not be the only way to strengthen India’s democratic credentials, as several issues precede this idea, such as:

  • Difficult, harsh punishments would lead to unnecessary coercion in the formulation of effective sanctions. It may also discourage registering on the electoral rolls, while easing penalties may render compulsory voting ineffective.
  • The imposition of the fine would add to the financial and administrative cost of the Election Commission. Moreover, the petitions to be filed against this imposition will increase the workload on the judiciary.
  • It violates the freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution. Even the Supreme Court in its various judgments has held that the right not to vote is a part of the voter’s expression in a parliamentary democracy. Accommodating disagreements and differences are essential components of an effective democracy.

Therefore, it is important to address issues like fake voter ID cards, problems faced by migrants, alternative cost of loss of daily wages, etc. to improve people’s participation in the electoral process. Therefore, instead of forcing citizens to vote through compulsory voting to strengthen the legitimacy of the Government of India and the democratic credentials of India, along with the above reforms, the medium of persuasion and dissemination of political knowledge should be adopted.

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