By Dean Midyette
With voter participation in steady decline since the 1960s, the time has come for Canadians to look seriously at compulsory voting. This idea dates back to Athenian times when voting was viewed as a citizens duty, similar to our duties today to pay our fair share of taxes, to educate all children or to wear a seatbelt. Fully one third of advanced democracies have compulsory voting laws with most levying small fines or community service for those not appearing at a polling station during an election.
There is no requirement for a vote to be cast, simply that everyone of voting age show up with proper identification, receive a ballot and mark it. Individuals can write in a candidate, spoil the ballot or choose one of the names on the ballot.
Compulsory voting makes it far more difficult for extremist parties or special interest groups to hold undue influence over policies. The role of money in politics decreases and political parties spend more resources on crafting platforms designed to attract voter support rather than wasting these resources getting out the vote. Voter suppression is negated. Robo-calls will become a distant, distasteful memory.
One of the biggest arguments against compulsory voting is that it forces disinterested and uninformed voters to support a party about which they know nothing, yet the majority of research done in countries with compulsory voting laws show that when people know a vote must be cast, they pay closer attention to political decisions.
If compulsory voting legislation were enacted, our turnout would go from around 61 per cent (the average federal turnout since the year 2000) to well over 90 per cent. There would be legitimacy for decisions that our government makes as the vast majority of Canadians will have voted.
Currently, only one in four Canadians under the age of 25 cast a vote we need to hear their voices. Also, voter turnout in areas that have a higher-than-average household income is over 40 per cent higher than votes cast in lower income neighbourhoods. The voices of those on the lower end of the income scale need to be heard as well.
Casting a vote is the foundation of our democracy with each vote strengthening our country and reaffirming our right to freely choose our leaders and our future. Our country, 148 years old, strong and free, deserves nothing less.