Sometimes I read or hear an opinion, that voting should be compulsory. Last time I saw it in Waleed Aly article. It is interesting that Mr. Aly lives in Australia where voting really is compulsory. If Australian does not go to an election, he or she will have to pay a fine for this “crime”. In my country, we de facto used to have an obligation to vote too. During the communist era, citizens we force to go to the election despite they had no choice but to vote for the communist party. The elections could not change anything, but still, people had to go there. If they did not go, the could be fired or worse.
Because of this experience (which people still remember), I believe it would be extremely unpopular to force people to go to elections again. Czech people value their freedom and the possibility not to go to the election is part of it. So some politicians talk about it from time to time (and like we know, the politicians like to talk), but no one tries to make it real.
I think we will all agree that the politicians like people to be voting. There are many other things that the politicians want or do not want people to do. We have plenty of examples in Czech republic. The politicians want to children not to eat unhealthy food. So they have regulated school grocery stores so children cannot buy it. The politicians want people to use public transport instead of cars at city centers. So they have forbidden to park at the centers to everybody except citizens who own a flat or a house in the specific part of the city. If you have an office there or if you want to visit a friend, it may not be easy for you to find a parking space. I could continue for hours, but it is not a point of this article. I just want to say one thing: if the politicians want people to change their behavior at some point, they can (and very often they do) enforce it by laws, regulations, additional taxes etc. Mandatory voting is exactly the same case. The politicians want people to vote so they just force them to vote.
Why people do not vote?
But the main question is different. We should ask: Why people do not go to elections? Why they decide not to use their right to elect?
I would like to present an opinion which I heard from other people. I would like to add that I do not share it and I have been attending the elections since I was 18.
There are people who do not vote because they believe that elections make no difference. No matter if we have been having left or right governments in past 10 or 15 years, their policies were very similar. They have been raising taxes, they have been destroying our business environment by new regulations and new subsidies, they have been having corruption scandals. It may sound pathetic, but this is the way how many of the people feel. So they ignore the elections to send a signal that there and not satisfied with the government, that they do not support it. They want to send a signal that mainstream politicians stopped to follow interests of the people. They failed to find a political party which would represent their opinions. That there is no party which they really believe in. Thay refuse to choose the least evil because the list evil is still too big. Some people believe that elections are only a theater to make people believe that they can decide about something. Frustration is not a crime and it should not be punished.
Of course, this is not the only reason. Some people do not vote because their single vote is powerless against millions of other votes. But this argument is valid anytime. It would explain a lot of people decides not to vote, but it hardly explains that the voter turnout is dropping in time. Also, Senate elections with smaller election districts have significantly lower voter turnout than Chamber of Deputies election. On the other hand, local council elections have relatively high voter turnout. I should mention, that even a single vote can change the result. Here you can see results from my town from local council elections in 2010. Candidate with number 6 was elected, however, if she had had one vote less, the candidate with number 3 would replace here. So this “math” argument plays its role, but it is probably so important. I will also add, that city council politicians (especially at smaller towns) are much popular than government politicians.
(Perhaps a short explanation of our election system is needed here. Voters can vote for candidates from multiple parties on one ballot. Each party gets a number of seats according to a sum of all votes for all candidates. After each party gets its number of seats, the candidates to a city council are selected. Candidates are selected according to their order on the lists. Only if some candidate has a significantly higher amount of votes than others, he or she skips the other. The threshold is set by an average amount of votes plus 10 percents. So, in our example, the average amount of votes to all candidates is approx. 122. Threshold is 122 * 1.1 = 134.2. Mrs. Kubalová got 135, which is right above the threshold. If she got only 134 votes, she would be under the threshold and she would not skip Mr. Haala.)
People still have an option to express their unsatisfaction by making an invalid vote, for example by throwing and empty envelope into a ballot box. This can never be forbidden in a democratic state. Some people already do this. A lot of people would probably select this option when they are forced to come to the elections, but another people would vote for some party or some candidate (probably the least evil choice).
There is the message which we would delete without reading by putting compulsory voting into reality. It would be easy, it would be comfortable. But the easiest solution may not be the best one. The politicians should ask, how they have failed so many people. And they should start to make things in a different way. If they succeed, people will go back to the elections. Voluntarily.