Voter participation in Canadian elections is abysmal and with municipal elections happening across Ontario, it's time to revisit mandatory voting.
If you're a voter, good for you. You probably have an opinion on mandatory voting, but I'm not addressing you right now. I'd like to take a stab at why mandatory voting would be good for motivating non-voters.
I believe there are two general types of non-voter.
- Single issue-based or politically motivated individuals dissatisfied by the status quo. They are passionate about a cause or a series of issues, but do not see their particular viewpoints reflected in the current political options come election time. They choose not to vote for fear of compromising on a particular belief.
- The voter who sees voting as a nuisance, inconvenient, and/or unimportant. They are not partisan or politically motivated; likely not involved with discussion or monitoring of political issues.
The Voter as a Statistic
All political parties are engaging in strategies designed to maximize getting out the vote (GOTV) for their parties using data collection and analysis. The objective? In a world of diminishing resources, political parties are using statistics to identify a particular individual as a supporter or not. That in turn, determines whether or not a particular individual should be targets of literature, campaign event invites, or fundraising attempts. In essence, a political party is looking to save time and resources by not engaging with lost causes and they certainly don't want to remind voters for their opponents that there's an election going on.
Political party engagement then is limited to likely partisan voters, and those voters likely to vote for the engaging political party. If everybody had to vote, this engagement would need to be more broad based. There will still be data analysis, but more effort would be to create a message or platform that more broadly reflected the majority of the electorate rather than simple motivation of a potential base.
Engaging on Issues
If you're politically active, but dissatisfied with the status quo, requires you to offer an alternative in order to change the status quo.
There's a disincentive to do so today, because the perception is there is an ingrained tendency to vote for incumbents and traditional political parties which - as mentioned above - tailors messages to motivate their own likely base and not to reach a broad consensus.
Further, the current electoral system favours just beating your closest competition.
I believe mandatory voting will create an compulsion for voters to research issues. If you vote, you're invested in the outcome - it's best to then vote for what you think is the right option for you.
If you cannot find the right option, you vote none of the above, and have your vote recorded. If you want to vote for an option that doesn't exist, you will be motivated to create the option.
In democratic countries, we try to steer clear of overtly making people do anything, but we do it all the time when the outcome is for the greater good. We agree taxation is good and it too is mandatory. We agree that jury duty is good and it too is mandatory.
We've tried the "optional" voting method and we've tried to motivate people dissatisfied with the status quo to run to change. It hasn't worked.
We need to make voting mandatory.