There’s an interesting piece from Rob Knight on Liberal Review on the subject of compulsory voting. Rob argues that there’s no incentive to vote in safe seats under the present system and he’s quite right, of course. But turnouts are not impressive in winnable seats either – particularly in local elections. One seat we recently lost by 41 votes had a very poor turnout. Electors there had very powerfiul votes!
The plain fact is that we have lost sight of the fact that in a democracy, it is the duty of citizens to vote. The very essence of a stable democracy is undermined by low turnouts – even in close-run seats. I remember feeling quite humbled by the first democratic elections of the post-apartheid South Africa. Newly enfranchised voters walked many miles and then queued for hours in the heat of the day to cast their votes.
We have had several local by elections over the last few months, so I’m not short of practice on either canvassing or polling day knock-ups. Sometimes I get to meet the same voters on both occasions. These are the people who tell you that they are sick and tired of x, y or z that the Council are not doing to their satisfaction. They have plenty of passionate views, and in some cases, promise to vote for your candidate. Return to the same house on polling day, and just about anything is more important than voting (washing my hair, watching the soaps). The fact is that they can’t be arsed (if you’ll pardon my french) because they no longer have any sense that voting is a civic responsibility.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a libertarian at heart – but freedom cannot be had without responsibility. I’m quite happy to provide an ‘abstain’ option for anyone who genuinely doesn’t want to support any of the candidates. It’s just that most people do have an opinion – it’s just they can’t be bothered to go and vote for it.