The #Fediverse is fun. One of the more fun accounts is @RickiTarr@beige.party. Ricki has a practice of asking simple but probing questions for her followers to answer, which they do in great volume.
Do you think voting should be mandatory?
It's a topic I've thought about a lot over the years, and I was interested in both responding and reading the other responses.
I did get into a little scuffle with a couple of contributors who disagree with my position (I'm a firm "no" on the question, and you can read my responses here and here.). However, it was a brilliant question and a brilliant thread, and I am very grateful to Ricki for posting it.
Because this is something I am particularly interested in, I went through all the responses that landed on my instance and did a little analysis.
First, some assumptions.
Reading through the answers, everyone who responded seems to have assumed – as I did – that the goal of making voting mandatory is to improve the democratic outcome. i.e. we were (probably) all thinking "mandatory, but you're free to vote as you wish" like in Australia, rather than "mandatory, and only a tiny selection of you will be allowed to vote against me, so as to keep up pretences" like in Saddam's Iraq.
Another assumption that is evident in the responses is that Ricki was asking in the context of the United States of America. Not being American, nor resident there, I didn't realise that there were elections coming up in a couple of days after, which made the question germane. However, as the reach of the question was global, not all respondents took it to refer solely to the US context. I certainly didn't.
The last assumption I saw was around why those who don't vote don't vote. Not caring about the outcome, or base ignorance seemed to be the assumption by those who brought up the topic for why others don't vote. I don't know what the stats say, but I'd expect it not to be so cut-and-dried. However, some of the responses seemed to be based on this assumption, which in the real world would be very unfair to many who don't, or can't, vote.
Next, some results.
I counted 143 clear answers2. Of those, 70 (49%) believe voting should be mandatory, 68 (48%) think it should not, and 5 (3%) provided clear recommendations for improvements but it wasn't clear to me where they stood on the substantive question.
I must say, I was very surprised that so many believe voting should be mandatory. However, most answers came with suggested improvements (from those who oppose mandatory voting) or appropriate pre-conditions (from those who support it), which means all the positions from "Hell Yes!" to "Over my dead body!" were quite well represented.
It seems to be accepted across the board that those who don't want to select from the options presented to them on a ballot should be allowed not to. From the perspective of those who believe voting should be mandatory, this comes as a variation of turning up to have your name marked off the list (even if you don't enter the booth) to allowing you to submit an empty or spoiled ballot.
Many think the ease of voting should be improved a lot. 11 from the Yes camp made this recommendation, as did 16 from the No camp and 1 of those respondents who didn't make it clear which side they were on.
There were 11 responses (5 from Yes, 5 from No and 1 from that other crowd) that would like to see voting take place during a paid or public holiday.
Some figured that turnout might improve if voters got a reward such as a tax credit, or a sausage(!!).
Some stated that voting is a responsibility3. All of those supported the notion of mandatory voting, which didn't surprise me all that much.
Some very concerning responses
One response appeared a few times: if voting is mandatory it would be much harder to strip voting rights from people, or to prevent them from voting. I'm of the view that a right is a right and that preventing people from exercising it is not any worse (or harder to do!) if those people were legally enforced to exercise that right.
Another response that popped up every now and again, is the assertion that those who don't vote shouldn't complain. While I very much see the logic here, we need to remember that if we put that into law we are legally removing people's freedom of speech.
One response each from the No and Yes camps suggested that voting should be allowed only to those who pass a civics or issues-related test, which was very surprising. This world has a history of applying tests to people in order to determine their eligibility for voting, and I'm not aware of any time in history that it succeeded in improving the democratic outcome. In fact, I'd say it has always been used to produce specific undemocratic outcomes.
Finally, two people suggested denying certain classes of people the right to vote in certain circumstances. One each from the Yes camp (who proposed "targeted voting", so that those not impacted by a particular measure can't influence the outcome) and from the No camp (who figures "uninformed" voters should not be allowed to vote).
It was an interesting thread. It's indicative of nothing other than who follows Ricki and who follows the people who responded to her question on the Fediverse. However, I enjoyed reading the whole thread greatly, and I'm sure there'll be many more like that in the future.
a few came in after I completed gathering my data, so I haven't included them in the analysis. Also, I'd expect that not all responses to Ricki came through to my instance, so I would have missed them, too.
Something I don't altogether disagree with, but not a responsibility that should be enforced in law. I said in one of my answers in the thread that I 100% disagree with the notion, but I didn't make it clear that my disagreement is with it being a justification for forcing people to vote