Opinion Column

Many benefits to compulsory voting


The right to vote is only meaningful when you use it.

- Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former chief electoral officer of Canada

There's a very simple way to quickly put an end to robo-call scandals, dramatically increase voter participation, reduce negative political advertising and strengthen democracy - without spending any additional money.

The solution: compulsory voting in elections.

How would it work?

On fraudulent robo-calls, or live calls that attempt to mislead voters by directing them to the wrong polling location like the ones being investigated from last year by Elections Canada, there would simply no longer be any point.

Since all voters would be required to participate by law, discouraging a very small number would be not only next to impossible but useless. That's because robo-call mischief only works in close races with low turnout where it makes a difference if a small number of voters can be dissuaded from voting by illegal or at least immoral means.

Compulsory voting kills bad robo-calls dead.

Mandatory voting could also seriously reduce attack ads, since part of their intent is voter suppression - discouraging supporters of a party from voting by ruining its reputation.

Making voting mandatory means citizens spend more time examining public issues and parties' positions on them, boosting democratic engagement.

With compulsory voting since 1925, Australia hasn't had a turnout under 91%.

Belgium and Luxembourg also average over 91% participation through compulsory voting. In all, 32 countries practice it worldwide.

Canada, by embarrassing comparison, is a democratic disgrace. In last year's federal election just 61% of eligible voters voted and turnout hasn't been in the 70% range since 1993.

British Columbia is also democratically disengaged, with a turnout of only 51% in 2009 - and 58% in 2005.

Australia's penalty for not voting is minor - a $20 fine. Yet that encourages all but a handful to vote. Spoiled ballots are allowed and religious and other exemptions respected.

Objections that compulsory voting infringes on civil liberties ring hollow when all Canadians are obligated to pay taxes, serve on juries and obey other laws.

Let's turn around the decline in democracy - introduce compulsory voting.