Hello, thank you for the question. I have outlined the primary
literature on the web in regards to compulsory voting below. The
response includes background information, studies and commentary, and
specific country analysis.
I hope this helps. Please do not hesitate to request clarification if need be.
Countries that have compulsory voting
Compulsory Voting in Australia
"Other countries (In addition to Australia) which have some form of
compulsory voting are:
* Dominican Republic
* Switzerland (some cantons only)
* Venezuela "
Genral Arguments for Compulsory Voting
"The most important is that compulsory voting ensures that the
government does indeed represent the will of the whole population, not
merely the sections of the population that decide to express their
opinions. This ensures that governments cannot neglect sections of
society that are less politically active.
It is also argued that voting is a "civic duty" in the same way that
paying taxes is - it is important for the continued functioning of the
nation. People have to pay taxes for the good of society, and people
should have to vote for the same reason.
The increased voter turnout reduces the cost of campaigning, therefore
reducing the influence of those who donate money to political
General arguments against compulsory voting
"Most countries do not have compulsory voting laws, and there are many
who object to them.
Many people resent the idea of being "forced" to vote, especially
those who have no interest in politics (though their lives are
essentially determined by it) and/or no knowledge about it. Moreover,
they might not even have a real preference for any candidate. Some,
especially libertarians, argue that compulsory voting is a violation
of personal liberties - people should be free to decide for
Recently, political commentators have suggested that compulsory voting
may skew the focus of a campaign towards swing voters
with candidates and political-parties trying to win the votes of the
undecided instead of motivating their "base" supporters to the polls."
Map & Graph: Democracy: Compulsory voting - enforcement by country
Map & Graph: Democracy: Compulsory voting - penalty by country
What happens "in" Australia if you don't "vote"?
<<Fines for Not voting in Australian elections. Examples of "Penalty
Notices", "Reminder & Final Notice", "Notice Of Possible Prosecution",
"Charge and Summons", "Statement of Fines and Penalties Imposed",
"Notice of Intention to Enforce" and "Final Notice". >>
Compulsory Voting Systems
Australia as a Case Study:
History in Australia
Compulsory vs non-compulsory voting in elections in Australia
"Arguments used in favour of compulsory voting:
* voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform
eg taxation, compulsory education, jury duty
* the educative benefits of political participation
* parliament reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate"
* governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation
* candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues
rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll
* the voter isn?t actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting
is by secret ballot."
Researcher warns against dropping compulsory vote
Compulsory Voting, Party Stability, and Electoral Bias in Australia
Alternative Voting Options for Australians
Voting: Should it be compulsory?
"Compulsory voting refers to the legally required participation of all
citizens in an electoral poll. The main rationale behind it is to
strive for the electoral equality of all social groups.
It is noticeable in many countries in which voting is not compulsory
that some socio-economic groups are less likely to exercise their
franchise than others. Nevertheless, voting is not compulsory in a
majority of the world's democracies."
General Research and Commentary:
Compulsory Voting by Simon Jackman
Compulsory voting means ignoring Election Day is not an option
"The impact of compulsory voting on the dynamics of a national
election is striking. The billions of dollars spent in time and effort
trying to ensure that people actually register to vote and then fill
in a ballot paper just doesn't happen in Australia. Political parties
focus their efforts on promoting their leader and his or her party's
And in the 48 hours before the dawn of polling day there is none of
the exhausting whistle-stop touring across the country trying to
encourage people to get out and vote that Sen. John Kerry and
President Bush engaged in this year."
"For many Australians the beauty of compulsory voting is that it, as
the APL paper notes, "plays a crucial role in reducing the social bias
in turnout. In voluntary systems it is the poor and the marginalized
who are the non-voters." It's certainly true that low-income workers
and welfare recipients receive the same focus and attention as wealthy
Australians from politicians because, as a consequence of compulsory
voting, their votes count as much as those of the wealthy retirees,
Compulsory voting has proved a resounding success in Australia. It
helps to keep the cost of elections down and, most important, means
that political parties don't have to raise obscene sums of money to
finance their campaigns."
"Although high levels of turnout can also be found under voluntary
voting, there is little doubt that compulsory voting laws are quite
effective in raising levels of participation in the countries that
have them. This can be inferred from the differences in turnout in a
cross-national comparison; better still, it is evident in the surges
and declines in turnout following adoption and repeal of mandatory
voting laws, respectively, in jurisdictions that availed themselves of
Problems with Compulsory Voting
"While there appear to be strong practical and philosophical
underpinnings to the desire to implement compulsory voting, there are
significant objections against mandatory voting in principle and
practice. The most common objection on normative grounds is that
citizens ought to have the right NOT to vote as much as the right to
vote. Some citizens boycott the election on principle arguing that
compulsory voting impinges upon this basic freedom, while many
people's failure to vote is borne out of apathy. Second, the argument
has been made in Australia that compulsory voting frees political
parties from their responsibilities to campaign, energize, and
transport voters. This state of affairs favours the established
parties over the minor parties and independents whose supporters are
more likely to be motivated. Finally, compulsory voting carries with
it tremendous cost and administration implications for the state.
There are the questions of the accuracy of the voters' list, voter
information, and the mechanisms for the follow-up fine or punishment
system for non-voters."
Casting intentionally spoiled ballots
"Finally, a word must be said about side effects. It should be noted
that mandatory voting will in all likelihood increase the percentage
of invalid ballots due to deliberate spoiling or casting of blank
ballots as a form of protest. But this may not be a persuasive
argument against mandatory voting laws for two reasons. First,
evidence indicates that the increase in turnout exceeds the increase
in invalid ballots so that there are net gains in participation.
Second, even invalid ballots can play a useful function. Indeed, under
a compulsory voting regime the casting of an invalid ballot may become
an additional electoral choice option that carries a political message
(a vote for none-of-the-above, as it were."
Compulsory Voting Laws and Turnout: Efficacy and Appropriateness by
Dr. Lisa Hill and Jonathon Louth
* This paper addresses some residual misunderstandings about the
effects of compulsory voting and, in particular, the effectiveness of
compulsory voting laws as a mechanism to stimulate voting turnout. It
also compares its efficacy with alternative turnout-raising
Compulsory voting: a useful target for anti-state action?
"The question I want to address here is why compulsory voting in
Australia is so readily accepted. Why has there been so very little
organised resistance to it? The wider interest here is in assessing
what sorts of campaigns to challenge state power are likely to
mobilise widespread support. If there are some techniques by which
governments can defuse obvious libertarian objections to the exercise
of state power to enforce voting, this may provide insights useful for
deciding on and promoting campaigns on other issues. "
Comparative Participation Rates: Compulsory and Non-Compulsory Voting:
(Administration and Cost of Elections Organisation)
"Countries in which registration is voluntary, such as the United
States, tend to have lower participation rates in the election than
countries in which it is mandatory, such as Denmark. Similarly, there
appears to be a marginal increase in voter turnout, as well, when
voting is made mandatory."
Paper on Compulsory Voting
Compulsory Voting (Administration and Cost of Elections Organisation)
Union call to compel voting at elections (UK)
Millions fail to vote (2001 UK election)
"The turnout in the 2001 General Election could be the lowest for more
than 80 years. Initial indications suggest that the overall turnout
may be as low as 58%."
Votes For All: Compulsory Participation in Elections: Written by Tom
Watson and Mark Tami
"Despite Labour's landslide in 1997, that election saw the lowest
turnout at a general election since the war. Recent local and European
elections have regularly seen turnouts below 30 per cent, with the
figure dropping well below 10 per cent in some areas. It appears that
Britons have little interest in voting. "
Low Turnout in U.S. Elections
"There was a time in this country when public service was held in high
esteem, when the best and brightest were drawn to the nation's capital
to work for the public good and in the public interest.
Now, the landscape has changed. As The New York Times put it,
"Americans are being insulted by a political culture that places
private gain ahead of public trust." The result is an ever-growing
mass of alienated Americans. The largest group today in the United
States is not Republican, Democrat or independent, but the
approximately 100 million nonvoters who choose not to participate in
selecting their leaders."
Is it time to reconsider mandatory voting laws?
"Voter turnout in the United States is just about as bad as it can
get. A few of the world's democracies have even worse voter turnout
than America does, but not many. Out of the 172 countries for which
figures are available, this country ranks a sorry 139th - outranking
only less developed nations such as Zambia.
There are approximately 186 million eligible voters in the United
States (that is, citizens over eighteen years of age without a
disqualification such as a felony conviction). Of that number, only
130 million - about seventy percent - are registered to vote. And only
some of those actually do. According to the latest available reports,
111 million people voted in the last presidential election, and of all
elections, presidential elections get the best turnout."
(on "conservative" viewpoints on mandatory voting)
"So why has mandatory voting never been serious considered in the
United States? There is one overwhelming reason: Conservatives - those
who first resided largely in the Democratic party and today reside in
the Republican party - have conniptions at the very thought of it. At
bottom, conservatives are offended by the egalitarian results that
would follow mandatory voting - which would cause vast increases in
the ranks of Democrats, and those who reject conservative thinking.
Unwilling to admit this truth, however, conservatives will offer other
reasons to oppose mandatory voting (even with an NCA option). They'll
say it's undemocratic, un-American, and indeed, unconstitutional. And
in support of their view, they'll rely, for example, on a 1896 relic
of the Supreme Court of Missouri, Kansas City v. Whipple. In that
case, Kansas City had adopted a charter provision that assessed a
$2.50 poll tax on every man twenty-one years of age or older who
failed to vote in the general city election. Mr. Whipple, it seems,
didn't want to be told when he should vote. And the Missouri Supreme
Voluntary versus Mandatory Registration
Salon.com News | Make voting mandatory!
"First: Mandatory voting. You heard me. A democracy where half of the
citizens sit back and say, "no, thanks," isn't a democracy at all --
just a really large oligarchy. If we have not already reached it, we
are nearing, inevitably, the point at which everyone who votes has a
personal stake in the outcome. As the percentage of lever-pullers
continues to decline, it's going to eventually be just the candidates'
friends, families and people from their secret second lives who even
bother to show up. You know -- like park league softball.
Mandatory voting would require a system of rewards and/or punishments
and another bureaucracy. But if adopted, it would instantaneously
reconfigure the political landscape. Gone would be the ages-old excuse
of the nonvoter: that his ballot matters not. At some fundamental
level, his ballot would matter dearly to himself, because failure to
cast it would invoke the wrath of the Mandatory Voting Enforcement
(on rewarding those who vote)
"For national elections, instead of punishing nonparticipation, we
should reward those who show up. With your proof-of-voting seal, you
get to cut some small figure -- $25? -- off your federal income tax."
Vermont Constitutional Amendment to Make Voting Mandatory
"Mandatory voting is a bad idea for two reasons. First, I'm not sure I
would want everyone to vote given the low levels of understanding
about politics among nonvoters. Second, nonvoting could be a
reasonable or rational decision for some informed people."
"We make education compulsory, we require registration for military
service, we mandate passage of a drivers test and graduated licenses
for young drivers. It is not un-reasonable to require young voters to
participate in the electoral process."
You Must Vote. It's the Law.
"Actually, the voting part of "mandatory voting" is a misnomer. All
Australian citizens over the age of 18 must register and show up at a
polling station, but they need not actually vote. They can deface
their ballot or write in Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (Australia's version
of Lassie)?or do nothing at all.
What happens if you don't show up on Election Day? You'll receive a
fairly polite form letter (see example here). At this point, you can
settle the matter by paying a $15 fine or offering any number of
excuses, including illness (no note from your doctor required),
travel, religious objections, or just plain forgetfulness. For most
people, the matter ends here. In most elections, about a half-million
registered voters don't come to the polls. Ninety-five percent of them
offer a valid excuse, and the matter ends there. Five percent pay a
"In the end, though, mandatory voting is extremely unlikely to work in
the states. An ABC News poll conducted this past summer found that 72
percent of those surveyed oppose the idea. The results are almost
identical to a similar poll conducted by Gallup 40 years ago. Why such
resistance? Perhaps because we view voting as a right, not a
responsibility, and nothing is likely to alter that bedrock belief.
Also, mandatory voting would probably cause a further dumbing-down of
election campaigns, if such a thing is possible. Motivated by a need
to attract not only undecided voters but also unwilling voters,
candidates would probably resort to an even baser brand of political
advertising, since they would now be trying to reach people who are
voting only out of a desire to obey the law and avoid a fine."
Compulsory voting and party activists
Mandatory Voting: Democracy Under the Gun
<<All political-states, (being the monopolization of violence over a
given territory and its people) must manufacture legitimacy, because
no one in their right mind would surrender their freedom and consent
to be robbed, enslaved and continually victimized by a criminal
organization who is at war against their fundamental human rights and
will destroy the lives of those who dare to be free. The appearance of
legitimacy under monarchist and theocratic regimes traditionally came
from the myth of a divine being who put the tyrant on the throne and
spoke for the people by presuming to give their permission to be his
slaves. Once the divine right myth was shattered, aspiring tyrants had
to invent new lies to deceive the people and manufacture new illusions
of legitimacy. The illusion of legitimacy of the so-called democratic
and republican "consent of the people" systems comes from the point of
a gun, only the tactics and lies that are used are different. >>
Are We a Democracy of Non-Voters?
Bill would make voting mandatory
By MARIA MCCLINTOCK, OTTAWA BUREAU
Political Science/ Government Links
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