Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Questions from the BBC which we can answer

"Should voting (or actively abstaining) be compulsory?"

To extend that answer:

No, voting* should not be compulsory in a modern liberal democracy.  Contrary to what David Winnick may believe, voting is not a "civic duty".  It is more important that people have the option to vote and the free choice whether or not to exercise that option.  It is more important also that the people who do choose to exercise that option to vote, do so in the most measured, best informed and fairest manner possible.  In short, there is no civic duty to vote, but if you do vote there is a civic duty to vote well.**

Fining people for not voting* is not necessarily conducive to anything positive in terms of "democracy", "political engagement", "civic participation" or indeed getting the most out of the political process.  Indeed, it seems likely to be counter-productive in some regards - what advantage is there in forcing people, who otherwise would not bother to vote to do so?  If 16 million people either do not care enough or actively do not want to vote, what benefit is there in forcing these people to vote?  Do you think that the majority of these 16 million people are likely to be particularly well informed on politics?  Do you think they'd be able to tell you the difference between the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats?  Could they tell apart David and Ed Miliband, or Ed Miliband and Ed Balls?  Could they name the current Home Secretary?  If not, then what is there to suggest that these people would all vote in a fair, measured and informed manner?  I fail to see how introducing to the process an additional 16 million ill-informed votes improves our democratic process.

As briefly noted in the BBC article, a high turnout does not indicate a politically engaged electorate when it is mandatory to turnout to vote or face a fine or worse.  Surely no-one is fooled by this, which is as transparent as the fact that sticking "Democratic People's Republic of" in front of your country's name does not make said country either democratic or a republic.  Ultimately what is being proposed here is government mandated violence against those who refuse to vote.  Some readers may think that "violence" is being a bit melodramatic, it's only a fine after all, but if you don't pay that fine you will be taken to court and probably lumped with an even bigger fine, which if you continue to leave unpaid will lead to you eventually being imprisoned, and if you resist being imprisoned, well then things can get really nasty.  This is not a road that any modern liberal democracy should be in any rush to go down.

* or actively abstaining

** When I say people have a duty to vote "well" I emphatically do not mean that they should necessarily all vote for the same candidate or political party, in particular I do not mean that everyone should vote the same way as I do (people interpret things differently and even when furnished with all of the same facts there is still ample room for differences of opinion on the relative importance of various issues and there are always differences in different persons value judgements).  All I mean to suggest is that prior to voting, citizens seek to ensure that, within the circumstances, they are as well informed as possible on the key issues, politicians, parties, etc. such that they are able to make a reasoned decision.

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