Mandatory Voting

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Ecuador, Luxembourg, and many more countries are practicing mandatory or compulsory voting. But what is mandatory voting exactly and what are the advantages and disadvantages? Is it an option for Germany as well?

Compulsory voting exactly means what the word says: All the people in a (democratic) country are forced to vote in an election. Several democratic governments regard it as a duty for each citizen to take part in the voting process, so they decided to introduce the system of mandatory voting. In some states, certain voters are excluded from it, for instance, the young voters from 16 to 18 (Argentina) or voters who are older than 60, 65, or 70 (Brazil). This is because the young are not regarded as mature enough and the older people might not be interested enough in the future, so they are not entrusted to decide about the situation of the next generation responsibly enough, especially when they are only forced to elect without having any special important ideas.

Additionally, forcing votes has a bitter taste, especially for Germans, because in the time of National Socialism when people were more or less urged to vote but, in reality, they were mock elections. Nevertheless, some countries adjudicated to make the idea of mandatory voting happen.

What are the reasons? If you force people to vote you rely on their ability to decide responsibly. The fact that you are allowed to vote certainly means that you have the chance to decide on important things concerning your country and your life. When each citizen is forced to vote, nobody is excluded and is also responsible for the election result. It certainly is an honor to express your opinion by voting for people who represent your ideas. And of course, voting is the idea of making decisions together. A compulsory vote shows that each voice is valued and no person must feel excluded. It may sound exaggerated at first, but thinking more about it, makes it seem more plausible. Sometimes disadvantaged people may have problems with voting for different reasons. Maybe they don´t live in the common society or they are not educated enough to cast their voice responsibly. In these or similar cases the government has to help each member of a state, otherwise, the system would not work.

Another important effect of mandatory voting is the increase of interest in politics among voters and the citizens’ feelings of being important and equal. When everyone is included, it reminds public officials that they are accountable to all citizens, and they won’t just think about influential people and other special groups. Making voting a special occasion for all people can help “discipline“ former non-voters so that they become more interested in political matters. These effects seem to be very important even if the mandatory system might not work without mistakes and problems. Maybe it sounds stupid at first, but if the system is not permanent and it gets ceased in the future, there could be a huge impact because of the old mandatory voting system. The voter’s influence gets increased long-term.

You might think now, “Wow, it sounds so positive, why isn’t there such a system in each democratic country?” That´s because there are a lot of disadvantages. People may argue that they don´t want to be forced to vote when they don´t feel like being represented by any party or candidates or they don´t trust the election system as a whole. Additionally, people could vote for parties in defiance, like right or left extreme parties, which could injure the democratic system, most of the countries with mandatory voting want to represent. Of course, this may happen anyway but those parties attract uninformed people more easily.

Anyway, not being informed enough about what happens in a country or not being aware enough of the real and important problems, makes voting a problem. You can force people to vote but you can’t compel them to get informed. On that basis, voting could falsify the voting outcome. Civil liberty is another important point of view in this discussion. Citizens feel like being restricted in their freedom and free will. And then some people may not want to use their voice by voting but by expressing their thoughts and convictions otherwise – like by demonstrating or talking about their points of view on social media. To get to the point there is a right to vote, but there is a right not to vote, too. Everyone should have the opportunity to decide freely if he wants to vote or not. But an even bigger problem for opponents is the fact that for example, homeless people don’t have easy access to voting. They have no opportunity to vote by letter because they don’t have an address. They can’t reach polling stations, because they don’t have a car or sufficient money for public transportation and often enough, they won’t have access to information. So not everyone has an equal chance of showing their voice or participation in political decisions.

So what about Germany? Would it be logical to introduce mandatory voting now or could it hurt our democracy? On the one hand, it could be easily established at a local level. Normally you know a lot of candidates in your district or city, so it is pretty simple to decide who you identify with most. But there is a possibility there are none, whom you find trustworthy or who correspond to your thoughts and wishes. Then it could become difficult. If you turn away from the local area to the national level, it looks different. You are not able to know everyone, you have to inform yourself. But how, if you have got no time, no trustworthy sources, no ideas of the political system at all, or any other problems? Compulsory voting is only possible with certain conditions. We need more political education in general, especially in schools. Each German citizen needs a basis to work on, to have at least a chance to use their voice “in the right way“ without voting for people or parties you don’t comprehend or understand.

The age limit can also play a big role in deciding the best way for your country. Excluding the elder generation and including the younger generation probably helps to compress the demographic change within the usual voting outcome. On the one hand, the youth would make decisions concerning their future and convert their wishes into reality, while on the other hand, older people wouldn’t be capable of deciding on the future of others and certainly incapable of even destroying their futures. (Climate change is an important example: older people might not take it seriously enough)

To finish my article I want you to think about your POV (point of view) and I hope it helps you form your own opinion.