Ode to Geddy Lee: Against Mandatory Voting
"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"
- Rush 'Free Will'
With that one simple line, Canadian rock group Rush has summed in total, the arguments against mandatory voting.
The belief seems to be that if we force people to choose, then government will truly be democratic and representative of the will of the people - all the people, since they vote. Further, it will prevent disenfranchisement, as the 'Jim Crow' laws of the 50's and 60's.
Brilliant, if only the root cause of 'not voting' were merely being too lazy to show up to cast a ballot or being kept away by the Klan. But such is not the case in modern Canada. During the last few elections voter turnout has dropped to the between high 50 to low 60s after traditionally being around 70%. The rates are higher the younger the person is. What this shows is not laziness on the part of the electorate, but rather disillusionment with the choices or the system in general.
If there are no real choices, is being forced to choose really free? The Soviet Union had 100% voter turnout regularly, but that did not mean their system was free. There is precious difference between being forced to choose from a field of one and being forced to choose from a field of two or three or even 4 if there is no real difference between them, or if there is no choice that represents your views.
And that gets to the heart of the matter - voter turnout is not only provided a measure of legitimacy for the government and the state, but it indicates the health and legitimacy of the system itself. Thus, in a truly free society, it is a legitimate political stance to choose not to participate in a system one feels is illegitimate or no longer represents that person's wishes and beliefs. It is Tommy Douglas' 'Mouseland" taken to its logical extreme - rather than merely being forced to vote for the white cats or black cats, or choosing other mice, some may choose to forgo the system altogether and strike out on their own.
So, if it is wrong and contrary to the ideas of freedom and liberty to, by force and coercion, prevent someone from exercising their franchise as the Jim Crow laws did, it is equally contrary to those principles to force people to exercise that franchise if the choose not to.
There are many perfectly legitimate reasons for not voting:
1. No choice - all of the running candidates either do not differ to offer real choice, or none provide a platform that matches the voter's preference. This could be for one election or all of them.
2. Choice - the person has decided that they do not wish to lend legitimacy to a system they no longer support. This could range from simply not supporting an unfair "first-past-the-post" voting system all the way to those who do not see the state, non-consensual government and non-voluntary laws as illegitimate and do not wish to enable and empower the current system (ahem...).
3. Just don't want to - for whatever reason, a person is simply not engaged and does not wish to, for whatever reason.
The result of mandatory voting will not be, then, more legitimacy, but less. As in the Soviet Union, it will create a false legitimacy, because no dissent will be accepted and people will be forced to vote for people and positions they do not truly believe in. Or worse, force legitimization from an ignorant, uninformed and disengaged electorate.
Mandatory voting and forced enfranchisement is as draconian and against the idea of freedom as race-based Jim Crow forced disenfranchisement and should fought just as hard. Mandatory voting is the moral and logical equivalent of 'freeping' an election.
To see the other side, check out this debate at The Great Canadian Debate on Mandatory Voting where I match up with Dr. Dawg.
To comment, please drop by the debate forum.