Comparative Study on Compulsory Voting
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Published: Wed, 28 Feb 2018
This study explores various aspects of democracy and compulsory voting in the present political scenario with particular focus on the USA.
The Thesis Statement is:
‘Compulsory voting can help people to meet their obligation for the democratic society and reduce the inequality of turnouts in election in USA.’
This paper is a comparative analysis of the works of different scholars on the democracy and voting. The topic chosen for the study is ‘A Comparative Study on Compulsory Voting’. The first part of the paper covers different aspects of the voting. The paper covers thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, Bellamy, Tocqueville, Kilborn, Zakaria, Daltono and others. Democracy and idea of compulsory voting do not go along as per the basic concept is concerned. However, unless the voting percent is high, the objectives of democracy can not be achieved. This opens avenues for discussion over the required and right approach for the compulsory voting and democracy. The countries compared and covered in this paper are Australia, America, some European countries like UK, France, Canada, Belgium and Thailand.
Compulsory voting has been defined in the following way:
Birch (2009) defines compulsory voting as, ‘Compulsory voting can be defined very simply as the legal obligation to attend the polls at election time and perform whatever duties are required there of electors.’
Concepts of Compulsory Voting
Why to focus on compulsory voting? There are 29 countries in the world that have laws to fully force their citizens to take part in elections, and this constitutes a quarter of whole democratic countries (Birch, 2009). But in the compulsory voting states, the general perception about compulsory voting is that it is a relic of the past which has lost its utility in the present time and that it will ultimately vanish from the surface of the world as voters flex their muscles, states fight for their liberal powers and struggle to free themselves from all types of compulsion. In fact the states’ stand is definitely different from much modern political thought, which is more and more coming to see duties and rights as going hand to hand. Moreover participation in elections remains voluntary in many states. In the year 2006, there were three major reports issued on the topic of UK by the Electoral Commission, the Society of Hansard and Public Policy Research Institution (Ballinger, 2006; Electoral Commission, 2006; Keaney and Rogers, 2006). The same problem is faced by France and Canada where prominent members have recently called for the electoral participation to be mandatory. The big fact that compulsory voting has currently received too much attention from practicing politicians whose suggestion that it is ripe time for a reviewing of the old institution of voluntary voting is alarming.
‘Widespread, high voter turnout legitimizes government and helps correct for lower levels of political participation and influence among socio-economically disadvantaged groups. However, state efforts to increase turnouts are unlikely to succeed if they merely chip away at the already low cost of voting. To reach consistently high turnout, state actors must look to richer understandings of voter behavior. (Marisam, 2009)’
Oddly enough, there has not been even a single monograph available on compulsory voting in English language for 50 years. We don’t claim that any studies have not been done on the topic. As a matter of fact it has been the subject of a range of academic journal articles, and its scope has been so much widened that it also touched on literatures as varied as on wealth inequality, etc. Yet compulsory voting tends to be studied mainly for context analyses which have principal objects for investigation. This aims to fill up the gap between scholarly literature by providing a fully detailed overview of the practice, history, cause and effect of the legal obligation for vote. If ever compulsory voting is to be introduced in polities, it is very important to have clear understanding of the different arguments for and against compulsory voting. One of the main functions of this study is to assess and evaluate the entire issue. Compulsory voting has been introduced in a number of contexts dealing with a range of problems, from Belgium in 1893 to electoral corruption in Thailand over a century later in 1997. This research seeks to widen the study of compulsory voting by elaborating and systematically examining each of the effects against comparative proof from all over the world. Compulsory electoral contribution considerably alters the enticement structures which are faced by all the actors in the electoral field, from voters to parties and candidates and to electoral administrators. Compulsory voting is mainly investigated to understand and elucidate the impact of the institution on phenomena such as party strategies, electoral integrity, political engagement, electoral outcomes and policy outcomes.
‘Drawing from a range of scholarly fields, this Article introduces a comprehensive framework for how state actors can conceive of and contemplate efforts to increase turnout. An understanding of how to engage core voter motivations, such as self-interest, social identity, altruistic cooperation, and community norms, must inform these efforts. ‘ (Marisam, 2009)’
Conceptualizing Compulsory Voting
It has been largely recognized by electoral behavioral lists that there are a number of factors that bring people to the polls. We can here conceptualize the incentives to vote which generally fall into two wide categories; push and pull factors. Pull factor in which pull includes the range of vote motive and it also includes wish to influence electoral outcome, it has expressive aim, goal, objective, identification with political contestants and perceptions of civil duties (e.g. Campbell et al., 1960; Riker and Ordeshook, 1968; Verba et al., 1978; Powell, 1980; 1982; 1986; Crewe, 1981; Rosenstone and Hansen, 1993; Dalton, 1996; Franklin, 1996; 2002; 2004; Gray and Caul, 2000; Blais, 2000; Norris 2002; 2004). The lawful compulsion to vote is a main ‘push’ factor; voters are urged to the polling booths by the law and they are threatened by the sanctions. But still there are other kinds of pressures also that can be exerted to make people come to vote. It includes political and social influences and generally operates outside the ambit of formal political institution and it never can be marked effectively. Such types of pressures are known for bringing forth highest rates of turnout and have been achieved in different parts of the world- the USSR’s frequently reported 99.99% levels of electoral participation (Bruner, 1990). Australian System of Compulsory voting as discussed by Young & Hill, (2009) has the high turnout rates and high informal voting.
‘Although Australia’s compulsory voting system (4) has led to a very high rate of turnout in Australia–on average around 93 per cent of registered voters (5)–there is also a high informal voting rate and this has led to the political exclusion of significant numbers of citizens. At each national election in Australia, hundreds of thousands of votes are not counted because the ballots are improperly filled out. The informal vote rate is an indicator of social and political exclusion, with particular groups of Australians being inordinately disadvantaged. The fact that this indicator has increased in four out of the past five federal elections is of significant concern. (Young & Hill, 2009)’
A Typology of compulsory voting
Form of obligation
Sanctioned electoral compulsion ( e.g. Australia )
Unsanctioned electoral compulsion (e.g. Venezuela )
Sanctions, benefits in the absence of formal compulsion (USSR)
No Compulsion, little pressure to vote (USA)
Table: 1 Full Participation Sarah Birch
Political parties may also play an important role in influencing Coercive mobilization (see Cox and Kousser, 1981; Hasen, 2000; Lehoucq 2003). At least, sometimes even ordinary social pressure proves to be a powerful force in encouraging and boosting people to vote. Campbell et al., 1960; Rosenstone and Hansen, 1993; Blais, 2000; Franklin, 2004)
It should be considered that while discussing compulsory electoral participation, we mainly focus on the cases where electors have legal obligation for polls. But usually, legal and informal socio-political forces play very complex role. Participation of voters in the voting process due to legal obligation congruent with social and political norms must be considered a variation within state machineries along with sub-cultural, geographical or the other lines- in the forms of congruence.
‘Ian McAllister and Toni Makkai have linked high levels of informal voting in Australia to “the interaction between” compulsory voting, the “presence of large numbers of immigrants within the electorate” and the “complexity of the electoral system”. (38) The frequency of elections, the disparity between voting methods at three distinct levels of government and the presence of compulsory preferential voting, all combine to create a complex voting system that makes it difficult for those with low English and literacy and numeracy competence to record a formal vote. (39) It is telling that, of late, informal voting in New South Wales has been higher than the national average (Young & Hill, 2009)’
In simple way we should understand that there are two ways of obligation to vote: informal (social and political) and the formal (legal). It should also be clearly noted that enforcement of formal compulsory electoral participation needs to be related to cultural environment and politics which help in the reinforcement of voting (i.e. congruence between legal and socio-political forces).
Malouf puts it, compulsory voting `is a great leveler’ which forces us `to remember that however grand we may think ourselves, we have just one say like everyone else’ (cited in Jones 1996: 23). Zachary Elkins (1996:iv), wrote that from the idea Brazilian case, and suggested that compulsory voting laws are very important and it holds means civic habits and structuring a culture participatory in nations where democracy is not yet consolidated’. Senator Nick Minchin has made the debatable argument that `compulsory voting has in fact a donor to the low level of political knowledge in modern Australia’ (1996b: 18), and according to Morgan Poll conducted in 1997 show that 67 per cent of Australians was in favor of compulsory voting. According to the Newspoll market research of Australian electoral commission 1996, 3rd march and 74 % was at the side of compulsory voting at the federal election. Compulsory voting presents very significant connection between vertically (between governed and governors) and horizontally (between members of the electorate). It is silly and strange to suggest that voting is solution for many problems such like problems of power asymmetries which is linked with democracies, so it clearly seen that voting can work to restructure some of the effective marginality.
Rydon (1997: 177) also stressed that genuine democracy needs that people should be completely free to vote. In the case, an individual does not want to vote than freedom should be in his hands no one can force him. Majority report of current parliamentary question on compulsory voting and stated: `if Australia is to consider itself a mature democracy, compulsory voting should now be abolished’ (Wright 1997).
Stevens (1984: 84-91) noted that in this case voting became state election rule in Australia. It became compulsory in 1980. An education program was brought by Australian Electoral Office to explain election effectiveness, and voting propose was to prevent and effective disenfranchisement which is caused by informal votes (Jaensch et al. 1981).
State and Government
Ideal state and justice by Plato and Aristotle
According to Plato only through society (state) good life can be possible. He also mentions that society is a natural institution and all human beings are political and social animals. State exists only for the sake of good life. Now according to Plato, freedom and economic well-being can not define good life. And justice should be the aim if we intend to have a good society and lead a good life. Justice is therefore must conformed by a true state (the Ideal of which exists in the World of Forms). And so state must not define what is just. Justice is an entity of knowledge, and it is one of the forms. This is the reason that every statesman should be a philosopher. And supposing he is not the same, he will only lead the state towards self-destruction. Justice for the state is equivalent to justice for any individual, and state must be regarded as a pattern of justice for every individual. According to Plato souls have three parts:
Fig: 1 — The City-State
According to Plato justice always exists in individual when the lower appetites are subject to government of reason. The state should be in peace and harmony and this peace of the state is analogous to the peace of the individual. Recall Socrates’ self-rule. Freedom actually means what we have to do with wisdom and have ability to do what we ought. In other words, it is only when our appetites are subject to reason that every individual can do whatever they ought to do. This is clear that unjust person can’t control his anger, and he can only moderate his passion towards money, etc. So for Plato justice is a form of order, a harmony between the appetites and reason. Plato also means that just person will never allow his anger to move towards something irrational in any way. So only in this way just person is truly free, so the same thing applies to state also that only that state which is just is truly free.
Thus, the just state looks like the following
Fig: 2 the City-State
Justice in Aristotle’s View: (The Nicomachean Ethics, pp. 741-748.)
The Greek words for justice and injustice are more unclear than the recent English vocabulary.
For Aristotle Justice is a virtue-a sort of character feature.
For him justice is a part of one’s motives and behavior.
He accepts clearly a line between all those who participate in a society/state but do nothing. According to him only few are true citizens of the state who take part in state. People who stay in state and work for it but do not meet any of the criteria of being true citizen and should not receive any benefit of political enterprise.
Aristotle searches virtue in terms of the Golden Mean, if justice is a virtue as we think then it must be some kind of mean. Thus it must be some kind of intermediate act, between some sort of extreme circumstances. Sometimes, state’s character can be recognized by its effects and by the effects of its opposites. So roughly one can find out that a person is unhealthy because he holds certain types of characteristics which are opposite to healthy characteristics. Though Aristotle thinks that the characteristics of justice are vague and he feels to identify the characteristics for injustice and work.
A person who does not follow law is unjust and greedy. The just person necessarily follows the law and seeks for his fair share in state.
Greed: A person who is greedy only wants to grab everything. Every thing is not absolutely good or is not good for everyone but a greedy person can not understand it.
Law: The law is loyal to the benefit for all, or to the benefit for the best, or to the benefit for all those in power. Thus it serves the creation or the safeguarding of cheerfulness within politics. The law orders us to perform according to the mean. A well-written law follows the mean well and the poorly written law does not.
So it is clear that Justice is a virtue that can be applied to all neighbors and fellow citizens. Justice is not a particular intermediate but it is a way of looking intermediates. It is justice for all fellow citizens, but when it gets considered, it becomes abstract.
Education of the guardian by Plato and Aristotle
Plato’s Republic is most excellent and is known all over the world for its ultimate defense of justice. It also includes an equally powerful protection of philosophical education. Plato’s ideas of education, however, are hard to distinguish because of the unnecessary details of conversation. Socrates (Plato’s representative of dialogue) posits two contradictory visions of education (the first is the education of the warrior guardians and the second is the philosopher-kings’ education), but he also provides a slight description of education between the educational methods he uses with Glaucon and Adeimantus. While the spectacular framework of the conversation makes facets of the Republic tricky to clutch, in the case of education, it also provides the key to locating and understanding Socrates’ factual idea of education.
Socrates educational approach interlocutors directly correspond with his vision of the education of the philosopher-kings. And partly suggest that the allegory of the yielding is representative of factual Socratic education.
The first explanation of education, however, is not an incorporated dialogue lacking reason. In accordance with the playful, progressive and philosophical education, recommended by the yield equivalence and the philosopher-kings’ education, Socrates uses many unreliable and frequently contradictory thoughts and images (among which is the first account of education) regularly directs his pupils in the direction of a personal understanding of knowledge and philosophy.
The aim of education is to create a good man. By nature every man is good. He has to study to manage his animal behavior through the exercise of reason. Man behaves according to customs and reason as a rational being and he is able to have pleasure. Education aims at the development of the potentialities every man has. It must seek for man’s intellectual capacities for development and personal growth and highest level of physical and mental strength and health.
Form of government by Aristotle
Aristotle discussed three more different kinds of constitution namely oligarchy, democracy, and polity in his works (Ackrill, 1997, Aristotle, translated by Ostwald, 1999). There are numerous kinds of democracy and numerous kinds of oligarchy. The words “few” and “many” envelop a range of social categories, reversing from one city to other, and the term “rule” covers a range of actions which are carried out with the help of various organs. This is a good matter to deal and activities are allocated to social category. It is clear which organ of administration is managed and controlled by which groups but all this is enclosed by the umbrella terms “few” and “many”. Depending on how closely power is scattered, there are numerous unusual kinds and forms of government in Plato’s table.
In his book “The Politics” he distinguishes between good and bad forms of ruling, whether it is rule by many (democracy), by a few (oligarchy, aristocracy) or by one (monarchy). Aristotle in his book clearly stated that he was never in favor of democracy and democracy is not the best form of government.
As it is also right for oligarchy and monarchy, rule in democracy is mainly for and by the people named in the government type. But according to him in democratic form of system, rule is by and for the needy only. In disparity, rule of law or aristocracy (literally, power [rule] of the best) or even monarchy, where the ruler has the attention of his country by his whole heart, are improved types of government.
Influence of democracy on the feeling of the Americans
Government, Aristotle says, must be by those people who have sufficient time in their hands to follow virtue. In present U.S. drive towards movement of financing laws planned to build the political life existing even without well- endowed fathers. It is very unusual from the contemporary generation politicians who only move by wealth at the cost of the citizenry. Aristotle believes that rulers should be propertied and leisured, so, without any fear they can give their time to produce virtue.
Aristotle actually does not favor any one form of Government. There are possibly three types of government, oligarchy, polity and monarchy. Aristotle perhaps favors the last type. Polity is made up of the major groups of individuals who have slightest chance to do any real damage to the state. Oligarchy is made up of the aristocracy. And monarchy is made up of only one ruler. All these have the greater chance of damage because action can be taken by few individuals. For all time Aristotle approximately prefers a middle (mean) position to one of the extremes.
Influence of democracy on the feeling of the Americans
The book “Democracy in America” by Tocqueville translated by Henry Reeve says that United States paid very less attention towards philosophy in this civilized world. Americans don’t have even a philosophical school of their own. They do care but very less for all the schools and in that sense Europe is divided, and the name of such a school is scarcely known to them.
Democracy and Oligarchy
Democracy has been defined differently by different authors. A simple definition of democracy by Joseph Schumpeter is
‘that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote’ (as cited by Cheema and Maguire, 2004)
The democracy has been divided into different categories and countries are placed within different regimes.
‘The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Countries are placed within one of four types of regimes: full democracies; flawed democracies; hybrid regimes; and authoritarian regimes.’ (The Economist, 2008)
Table: Democracies across the world
Influence of democracy on the feeling of the Americans( Tocqueville)
According to the Tocqueville there is only one county on this earth where whole citizens enjoy maximum freedom of association for political purposes. America is the only country where continual exercise of right to association has been introduced into civil life. In other countries where political associations are illegal, civil associations are rare but connection between these two kinds of associations is necessary.
In many states participation in elections remains voluntary and growing number of voices which call for making it legal obligation never gets successful. In the year 2006 UK issued major report on it which is clearly given in the introduction part. Here the main things to focus is that compulsory voting is very much appreciated by the political leaders who all are practicing and giving advice that time is ripe for a reviewing of institution scholar.
Civil association facilitates political association while on the other side political association strengthens and develops the association for civil purposes. In civil life, every human may speak harshly so that he can be provided for his own want. When people have any idea of public life, they enjoy it very much. Politics gives birth to all associations in civil life but is rarely interested in drawing numbers of men to act concretely. It needs high quality of skills but in politics opportunities are present every day. In politics men come together for clear and great understanding and through this they make principles of association to teach them how to co-operate each other. A political association brings a number of people at the same time out of their own circle. Civil association never gets any contribution from political association. People look upon public association as a lucrative world because here people are free to do anything in a democratic manner. According to the author art of association is like mother of action which can be applied to all. Liberal and global focus on democratic participation in election is democracy. George said that he even heard about America that voting is most important right as being an American citizen and him also mentioned that democracy is very precious system for people and for country.
Relation of civil to political association by Tocqueville
Reeve further elaborates American democracy by the condition of equality that leads men to entertain instinctive of the supernatural and exaggerated opinion of the human understanding. Men who live in social equality are not easily led to place that intellectual authority in which they blow beyond and above humanity. Every ordinary person commonly seeks for sources of truth in themselves, and this is enough to prove that no new religions and schemes can be established for such purposes as they are not immoral. This is again clear that democratic people will not give credence to marvelous mission; people will seek to discover the chief arbiter and go beyond their limits of human kind. An individual is compared with others for equality in democratic country as he is equal to others in civil society. In United States every individual adopts great numbers of theories on morals, politics, and philosophy without any inquiry upon public trust. This is a fact that political laws of the United States are majority rules and the political community has sovereignty and this increases their power.
Effects of compulsory voting on Australia
According to Mackerras and McAllister (1996: 2) in compulsory voting Australia has an efficient system and it is probably oldest of any advanced democracies. In year 1997 Parliament recommended that compulsory voting necessity for referenda and federal elections be repealed and this was reported by Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters table. Few year back when Chris Ellison was Senator of Australia (the minister responsible for federal electoral arrangements presented a bill to Australian Parliament which was against prisoners of Australia and in that bill, it was about to deny prisoners rights for federal rights for voting. According to Senator Nick Minchin ( 1996a: 245,248) said that “compulsory voting is a fundamental breach of … civil liberties’ and that it is `inconsistent with the essence of a free and democratic society to force people to vote” There was the claim that liberal- democratic principles of choice and freedom which violated by compulsion voting, on the other-side there are some fundamental democratic ideals and principles and that is: legitimacy, representativeness, minimization of elite power and political equality (Stevens 1984: 61; Johns 1998: 368-9). Since voluntary voting low down and give incomplete information regarding the electorate, one could easily argue on it that democratic principle of popular sovereignty enhances by compulsory voting. Those who all are free over the liberal principles in this philosophical war stated that compulsory voting post minor restriction on freedom of personal in comparison to the other collective action or problems which is resolved in democracies by mandatory such like: jury duty, paying taxes and compulsory school attendances (Lijphart 1997: 1).
The fact that compulsory voting annoyance on the state to sure insertion on individuals voting, and also suggested that voting obligation is actually reciprocal one. So it is clear compulsory voting is a misnomer, it is only a kind of attendance at a polling place (entailing having one’s name marked off the roll, collecting the ballot papers and putting them in the ballot box) that is compulsory. The AEC never search to force people to note their ballot paper, so therefore great chance and opportunity to participate in state activities. Compulsory voting is a nosy and odd incident but apparently neither it bothered to Australians, nor have they make compulsion for voting, very few asked questions against paradoxical status and liberal democratic relation principles. Many of the Australian felt that voting is not a compulsion in-fact it is a fair to understand that voting is undemanding civic obligation and it is seen in Australia mainly in political culture which deeply supported Australian electorate.
Compulsory voting functions as an agent of social cohesion which mainly focus on public etymologically: till what extent voluntary voting can shape of republic and this give understanding regarding the relationship between community and voting. Compulsory voting provides a rare occasion for solitary participation.
Liberal democracy and global focus on democracy by Fareed Zakaria
The US government is stuck on democracy that it has been keenly promoting it all over the globe. US State Department officials and politicians have connected eligibility for help to democratic ‘improvements’ within the nations. Zakaria (2003) seems to have no objection to the aid. He just wishes that the United States would stop demanding that countries make democratic reforms as a condition for receiving the assistance.
Therefore, many nations in Africa, South America, and Asia who have turned more democratic in recent years, but at the same time have become less free. ‘What you end up with,’ the author writes, ‘is little unlike from autocracy; albeit one that has greater legitimacy.’ Struggling nations require the rule of law and right and respect for individual — constitutional liberalism — very much. US government has been unconsciously approaching democracy on individual level.
To take a step toward greater democracy is also obvious in America, however Zakaria (2003) does not like what he sees. He argues that people believe in the balance between the right of the majority and the will of the minority. America is at the same time pursuing a simple-minded theory that all people should value the legitimacy of democracy. This philosophy has destructed all old institutions and undermined all traditional authorities.
Congress in America for example, is more democratic, but Zakaria (2003) adds that it is therefore more open to special-interest group pressures. The author too supports Zakaria (2003) and also states that spread of direct democracy — that is, referenda and vote initiative is prevalent in the US. On these processes, Leef (2003) says; give us ‘a jumble of laws, often contradictory, without any of the debate, deliberation, and compromise that characterize legislation.’ Zakaria’s (2003) solution moves towards decision making and that is not democratic, therefore sightedness and special interest pressure remains. Zakaria (2003) really admires Federal Reserve because it is insulated by democracy. However this book is not well thought about the problems which Americans face and there people are making many different political decisions democratically.
According to the author constitutional liberalism must return but deemphasizing democracy makes difference in political institution. Here author says that earlier democratic system in America was very less and was totally authoritarian government mandates but still it passed a lot of legislation as Zakaria (2003) wanted, that’s why the author says that Zakaria (2003) has lost sight of the goal and he never focuses much on the goal namely a restoration of constitutional liberalism.
In the last, the long arguments remain the same that if there are freedom and equality which are considered to be intrinsic parts of democracy then why to enforce laws of compulsory voting. Compulsory voting is a contradiction in itself. If one has a democracy and one does not have freedom to vote or not to vote there, the very purpose of democracy that provides people with the right to vote or not to vote ge
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