Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Fixing Canada's Ugly Politics - the Case for Mandatory Voting - Improve Democracy and Public Engagement

32 countries have mandatory voting - isn't it time
Canada joined them
A Fix for Ugly Politics - Mandatory Voting

Force the vote and halt devious robo-calls, attack ads and apathy.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday April 3, 2012

By Bill Tieleman

"The right to vote is only meaningful when you use it."

- Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former chief electoral officer of Canada

There is a very simple way to quickly put an end to robo-call scandals, dramatically increase voter participation, reduce negative political advertising and strengthen democracy -- without spending any additional money.

The solution: compulsory voting in elections.

How would it work?

On fraudulent robo-calls or live calls that attempt to mislead voters by directing them to the wrong polling location, like the ones being investigated from last year by Elections Canada, there would simply no longer be any point. Since all voters would be required to participate by law, discouraging a very small number would be not only next to impossible but useless.
That's because robo-call mischief only works in close races with low turnout where it makes a difference if a small number of voters can be dissuaded from voting by illegal or at least immoral means.
Compulsory voting kills bad robo-calls dead.
Mandatory voting could also seriously reduce attack ads, since part of their intent is voter suppression -- discouraging supporters of the party or leader being trashed from voting by ruining their reputation.

Since voters must cast ballots, suppression isn't possible. And they may conversely decide to punish the party that sponsors highly negative campaigning while rewarding those that provide constructive reasons to support their policies.

Best of all, making voting the law means the overwhelming majority of eligible voters participate. And because they have to vote, more citizens spend more time examining public issues and the parties' positions on them, boosting democratic engagement.
Canada's democratic disgrace

As a result of compulsory voting, Australia enjoyed a 93 per cent turnout in 2010 and 95 per cent in 2007. And Australia hasn't had a turnout less than 91 per cent since 1925, the first election after compulsory voting was introduced.

Belgium and Luxembourg also use compulsory voting and have participation rates in recent years averaging over 91 per cent.
Canada, by embarrassing comparison, is a democratic disgrace.

Our high point in voter participation was 79.4 per cent in 1958 and hasn't even been in the 70 per cent range since 1993, a span of seven federal elections.
In the federal election last year just 61 per cent voted, with only 59 per cent in 2008.

British Columbia is also democratically disengaged, with a turnout of only 51 per cent in 2009 -- and 58 per cent in 2005.
Big carrot, small stick

Compulsory voting isn't unusual worldwide. Currently 32 countries require eligible citizens to vote in elections, and of those 19 fine or otherwise penalize anyone who does not participate.

Australia's penalty for not voting is quite minor -- a $20 fine. Yet that seems enough to encourage all but a handful of eligible voters to go to the polling stations.
Objections that compulsory voting infringes on civil liberties ring hollow when all Canadian are obligated to pay taxes, serve on juries and obey other laws.

And voters in Australia can spoil their ballot or leave it blank if they do not want to actually vote. Exemptions for religious and other legitimate reasons are respected.
Let's turn around the decline in democracy -- introduce compulsory voting.



Anonymous said...

Wouldn't work on several fronts. The most basic is that people (including some on this blog) would still insist it is their right not to participate even if it means spoiling their ballot. They would insist on their right to do nothing.

Attack ads? The NDP has had many in the past, and I doubt they would stop on that end. Mulcair's (and actually yours too) attitude towards Harper plays out any preventation of attack ad stoppage. For NDP it is much easier to be critical than it is to be a party that comes up with something that will actually work for everyone.

Anonymous said...

On the negative campaigning front, what is the observation of that in Australia? Is there really less there?

Jack Hope said...

I agree with you Mr Tieleman on this subject, mandatory voting would certainly be a benefit for Canada, although it would ideally be part of a package of reforms to our electoral process.

One of the few suggestions Stephen Harper has ever floated that I agreed with was looking at the possibility of having full polling stations open for two straight days, possibly overlapping with a weekend day. Aside from giving people more opportunities to vote, it might also help mollify some of the complaints about mandatory voting by making the process somewhat more convenient.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

People do not vote because they do not care who governs them, see little difference between various similar alternatives they have to choose from, or do not like any of the alternatives. I am not familiar with any other state than Australia which makes voting mandatory. Australia is a reactionary state. Therefore, mandatory voting has little appeal to me.

When as few as a couple hundred show up at a local council meeting in my town and sway a decision or two this way or that I see democracy working in our world. Once democracy expands beyond a city's borders it seems, always, to get fouled up.

Anonymous said...

You're right on Bill.

Rod McNabb said...


I'd like to know why you think a compelled voter will be any more informed than an apathetic, detached non-voter. I would rather have the uninterested/uninformed not vote than skew the process by doing an eeny... miney...mo approach.

Anonymous said...

Mandatory voting is what canada needs to call itself a demrocracy again. The system we have now is corrupt to the bone.
A $500.00 fine would sure put a spring in the walk of voters to the polls.


Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks for your comments.

Anon- On negative advertising - I don't say they would disappear - that's not going to happen - just that with over 90% voting it would be harder to go so nasty. I'm not able to argue the Australian situation with any great knowledge but will try to check.

Jack Hope - I like the idea of two full days for voting & extended hours - not aware Stephen Harper has suggested it but he could make it happen - suspect he won't.

Mr Beer N Hockey - re-read my column. 32 countries use compulsory voting and 19 enforce those laws. If you check the links you can see which countries.

Australia has a Labour Party government - not sure how you rate it as "reactionary" but it's left wing woman prime minister Julia Gillard would disagree.

As to local city and town councils being exemplars of democracy - explain the pathetically low turnout in most municipal elections - or the incredible scams that have happened in many towns - or the firing of senior staff for such events.

Rod - where do you draw your line for "uninterested/uninformed" voters? In olden days you had to be a male, caucasian property owner to vote - was government better in the 1800s? I think not. I would argue that forcing people to vote - or spoil ballots - encourages more learning and consideration of issues.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you in part Bill.

But, Campbell didn't use robo-calls to win. He out and out blatantly lied, and cheated to win, for two different elections. I remember how Elections BC used dirty tactics against the BC people, during the BC fight HST, right along with Campbell.

I don't forget Harper's part in the forced HST either. Harper is just as hateful as Campbell. He is a dictator, that we are forced to suffer, while he totally destroys our country.

How do we stop their corruption, lies, deceit and cheating to win?

Anonymous said...

Bill it would not be difficult to be nasty purely on 90% voting participation. The two are not related. While it is kosher to question a sitting government's policies, it is over the top when it gets personal and away from facts.

In regards to robocalls, every party uses them, including the NDP, the problem is lying or being overly aggressive.

The BC NDP should not

(a) use nasty tacts beyond questioning government policies.

(b) balance out by providing an alternative that would actually work and stick to it (how many times has the NDP promised and failed to deliver? Many times).

In regardings to voting there are many instances of advanced voting that people simply do not use if they are going to be away on Election Day, or can't otherwise get to a poll station between 8 AM to 8 PM.

Then there are those who simply don't vote not because of any religious conviction, but rather they simply don't want to. They would much rather sit on their behinds writing into an internet destination whining and bitching about a government they don't like, but yet fail through voting to get rid of.

Easier to bitch, complain and whine about something rather than do something about it.

The simple answer is, get off your ass and vote. If you can wait in line for the latest iPad or the KISS concert, you can also go and vote.

Rick said...

If mandatory voting was to be put in place then "None of the above" would also need to be put on the ballot so the majority who really don't want any of the crooks on the ballot have a choice.

Christopher said...

Hugh fan of mandatory voting , far to many apathetic lazy mo-fo's . I think maybe a tax break for proof of voting and a tax penalty for not voting . To many disreputable creeps in politics lately .As far as negative attack and all the dishonest BS maybe more people voting could weed out the scum-bags .....

Anonymous said...

Wrong again Tieleman. I rather go and spoil my ballot than vote for idiots like Dixs and Krusty. It's everyone's right not to vote too so you are definitely wrong. I could careless about blah blah blah the war veterans fought wars to give us freedom. The young don't care.

I'm an Australian and Canadian citizen. No one is making me vote.

Frank Bucholtz said...

You make some good points about why compulsory voting could be an improvement on the pitiful turnout we see in elections today. Instead of spoiling ballots, I'd like to see "none of the above" on the ballot, and a seat remain vacant or go to byelection if "none of the above" beats all the candidates. Many people do not vote because they do not agree with any of the candidates. They also dislike how candidates are forced to toe the party line on all but the most trivial issues. If we go to compulsory voting, there also needs to be significant reforms of political parties.

Unknown said...

Talk about avoiding issues! I don't agree with Bill's proposal, on principle. Bill doesn't get democracy. He weasels out of dealing with that issue by supporting 'legitimate' opt out reasons. You certainly lose my vote Bill. And the number of countries that misbehave the way you want ours to doesn't change my mind or my principles.

How the hell can legitimizing fake democracy save democracy?

Keith E. said...

Hi Bill,

I don't think we are at the point of compulsory voting, but we are at the point where voter apathy/ low turnout is a problem. Frank's suggestion of "none of the above" on the ballot makes sense.

We need to take a look at our present system where a vote doesn't actually mean much when governments get in then pay off their donators left, right and centre at the expense of the public good with no consequences, even when it's so blatant it's criminal.

This is the problem that has to be addressed, in doing so voter turnout would be higher. Compulsory voting at present just means more folks voting to end up with the same result.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

That would be somewhere around 10% of nations that make voting mandatory. I count Australia as a reactionary state based on how fast the police moved in to kick head at Occupy Melbourne last year. Hitler was rarely so swift.

oceantor said...

I don't think it matters? Harper's got Clark and Cummins in his pocket as well as Dix. Politics in BC is full of corruption and Harper can and will destroy what is left of this Province with Enbridge and humongous oil tankers 3 of them coming and going every 2 days up and down that narrow channel every three days. The greed and the unlimited power that Harper has is going to destroy this once beautiful country... Amen

Anonymous said...

Forcing people to vote is dictatorial. Not democratic at all.

Anonymous said...

First let's dump the references to Hitler. The Occupy Movement made their point and forgot the fact that what they were occupying is owned by all Melbourne citizens not Occupy. The Occupy Movement does not have nor did it ever have any rights above anyone else.

Second in regards to 'none of the above', it becomes a bit ambigious especially when a person can go to the voting registration table get a ballot and simply fold it and place it into the ballot box unmarked.

Low voter turnout is based on apathy and cynicism, and all parties (yes that does include the New Democrats) are to blame with power hungry people, those who get special privilege and anemic policies that don't do much for the country or province, and political parties simply are lax in the volunteer participation department.

SGregson said...

Citizenship is about reponsibility as well as rights. It's clear that voting is both.
I've said for years that we need compulsory voting. Just as we all have to file taxes if we want to or not.