Politics Blog: Voting should never be mandatory

The right to vote is promised to every adult citizen in our nation, and is assured as a universal and eternal right by the Canadian Constitution. However, according to Elections Canada, voter turnout rates in federal elections have remained firmly below 70 per cent since the 1990s, and have steadily dipped closer to the 60th percentile as the years wear on (the exception being 2015’s polarizing election, which saw voter turnout increase to a mere 68 per cent).

These statistics make it clear that, for whatever reason, eligible voters are becoming increasingly disinterested in the electoral process. This has led many to speculate on possible resolutions to the pandemic of the aloof citizen—either too uninformed or not proactive enough to vote. The most prominent (and polarizing) solution that has been considered is enforced mandatory voting, meaning every citizen would be required to vote in every election.

Most famously, a mandatory voting policy is enforced in Australia. Every citizen of at least eighteen years of age must attend a polling booth on voting day, register their name, and vote. Failure to do so, or one’s abstention from the voting process, results in a small fine, which is paid by few. Essentially, either you vote, or your wrist gets slapped.

While this policy is effective (Australia’s most recent federal election had a 95 per cent turnout rate), it simply would not fly in Canada. Here the implementation of a mandatory voting law would violate an individual’s freedom, as guaranteed in the Constitution.

Voting is promised to Canadians as a right, meaning that they are free to exercise, or not exercise it. Another such right is that of free speech, which is similarly guaranteed in the Constitution. If the government were to interfere with that right in any way by, say, restricting the words people could say to a limited vocabulary (*cough* 1984), public outcry would be torrential. If this is the case with one right, then it must be the case with the next—the right to vote should not be held to a lesser standard than the right to free speech.

The Australian policy is troubling, to say the least. While the policy does serve its intended purpose to nudge citizens into voting, it is a clear restriction of the right of the Australian people to vote or abstain as they see fit. The policy also forces those who don’t care about politics to involve themselves in politics. These people will be more inclined to vote for illegitimate or joke candidates (see: polls indicating Harambe, the dead gorilla, would have come fourth in the 2016 U.S. presidential race were he to run), thus undermining the very idea the policy is intended to encourage—the genuine and serious involvement of the populace in the political process.

The idea of mandatory voting goes against what Canada as a nation stands for—freedom. And with freedom comes the ability to do nothing as much as one wishes. The government does not have the authority to tell people that they must vote. This decision comes down only to the prerogative of the individual, as promised by the powers that be.