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Encyclopedia > Compulsory voting

Compulsory voting is a practice that requires citizens to vote in elections or to attend a polling place to get their name crossed off the electoral roll. Because of the secret ballot, people can only be compelled to cast ballots and remain free to spoil their ballot papers. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he/she may be subject to punitive measures such as fines, community service, or imprisonment. Voter turnout is very high in countries with compulsory voting. Voting is a method of decision making wherein a group such as a meeting or an electorate attempts to gauge its opinion—usually as a final step following discussions or debates. ... This article is about the political process. ... Elections Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voters choices are confidential. ... A ballot is a device used to record choices made by voters. ... In voting, a ballot paper is considered to be spoilt, void, or null if it is regarded by the election authorities to contain irregularities during vote counting, and hence cannot be recorded as a valid vote. ... A fine is money paid as a financial punishment for the commission of minor crimes or as the settlement of a claim. ... Community service refers to service that a person performs for the benefit of his or her local community. ... A prison is a place in which people are confined and deprived of a range of liberties. ... Voters lining up outside a Baghdad polling station during the 2005 Iraqi election. ...



The idea that it is every citizen's duty to participate in the decision making dates back to the foundation of democracy itself, the Athenian democracy. Attendance at the assembly was in fact voluntary, however, as is sourced from Aristophanes's comedy Acharnians 17-22, in the 5th century BC, public slaves forming a cordon with a red-stained rope herded citizens from the agora into the assembly meeting place (pnyx), with a fine for those who got the red on their clothes. This can't compare with the compulsory voting schemes of some modern democracies being rather an immediate measure to get enough people rapidly in place, like an aggressive form of ushering. The word citizen may refer to: A person with a citizenship Citizen Watch Co. ... Athenian democracy (sometimes called Direct democracy) developed in the Greek city-state of Athens. ... Sketch of Aristophanes Aristophanes (Greek: , ca. ... The Acharnians is a comedic play by the ancient Greek satirist Aristophanes. ... Stoa of the ancient agora de Thessaloniki An agora (αγορά), translatable as marketplace, was a public space and an essential part of an ancient Greek polis or city-state. ... The speakers platform at the Pnyx, with the Acropolis in the background. ...

Arguments in favor of compulsory voting

The most commonly cited reason for compulsory voting is to guarantee that the government represents the will of the majority of the whole population, not merely those individuals who choose to vote. This helps ensure that governments are not neglecting those sections of society that are less active politically.

It is also argued that voting is a "civic duty", much like paying taxes, and that it is important for the continued functioning of the nation. People are required to pay taxes and sit on juries for the good of society; some feel that voting is another duty that all citizens should be required to perform.-1...

Political leaders of compulsory systems may claim greater political legitimacy than can those of non-compulsory systems with lower voter turnout.

While the secret ballot is designed to prevent interference with the votes actually cast, compulsory voting aims to prevent interference with access to the vote. It is a measure to prevent disenfranchisement of the socially disadvantaged. Elections Part of the Politics series Politics Portal This box:      The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voters choices are confidential. ...

Arguments against compulsory voting

One argument against compulsory voting denies that voting is a civic duty and instead asserts that it should be construed as a civil right. While citizens may choose to exercise their legal rights (free speech, voting, etc.) they need not necessarily avail themselves of those rights if they do not wish to do so. Following this logic, compulsory voting can be seen as a serious infringement on the basic freedoms of the citizen.

For example, many nations provide free basic health care to its citizens, but few (if any) actually require their citizens to see health professionals. Additionally, nations that guarantee citizens the right to freedom of speech might not require that citizens express their opinions publicly.

Compulsory voting may also infringe on other basic rights. For example, most Jehovah's Witnesses believe that they should not participate in earthly political processes. State coercion to force them to do so then explicitly denies them their right to freedom of religious practice.

Some individuals resent the idea of being coerced into voting, particularly if they have no interest in politics or have no knowledge of the individual candidates. Others may be well-informed, but do not have a true preference for any particular candidate. Such people may vote at random simply to fulfill legal requirements. This so called donkey-vote may account for 1-2% of votes cast in a compulsory voting system. This could possibly be eliminated by simply including a "No Preference" option, but few jurisdictions have chosen to do so. In Australia, where all State, Federal and Territory electoral systems use compulsory voting combined with some form of preferential voting, a donkey vote refers to the practice of numbering the candidates boxes sequentially from top to bottom of the ballot-paper. ...

Libertarians and others argue that compulsory voting is a violation of personal liberties, and that individuals should be free to decide for themselves whether they wish to vote. Penalizing people who choose not to vote can be seen as oppressive. Some groups assert that low voter participation in a voluntary election shows dissatisfaction with the political establishment in a country. For other uses, see Libertarianism (disambiguation). ...

An Australian news report says compulsory voting may skew the focus of a campaign towards swinging voters, with candidates and political parties trying to win the votes of the undecided, rather than motivating their "base" supporters to the polls. As a result of this, it could be argued that polticians would therefore adopt more centrist and less extreme policies in order to appeal to politically centralised swinging voters, leading to more stable governance. However, forcing people who are less knowledgeable about politics to vote has the potential to degrade political campaigns to more populist or superficial levels.

Compulsory voting may also lead to an increase in the amount of invalid ballot papers which are not marked according to the rules of voting (either through deliberate spoiling or returning a blank ballot) as a form of protest against mandatory voting, and also that there would be a large amount of resources expended on questioning and fining non-participants.

Countries with compulsory voting

There are currently 32 countries with compulsory voting. Of these, 19 enforce it. Only 10 members of the OECD have forms of compulsory voting.[1] The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international organization of those developed countries that accept the principles of representative democracy and a free market economy. ...

Countries that enforce compulsory voting:

*In South Australia it is not compulsory to enroll[2][3][4]. Nevertheless as the form to enroll is a combined Federal and State one, with no provision to not enroll for the State[2], it is practically compulsory. The Canton of   is a canton of Switzerland. ... Capital Adelaide Government Constitutional monarchy Governor Marjorie Jackson-Nelson Premier Mike Rann (ALP) Federal representation  - House seats 11  - Senate seats 12 Gross State Product (2004-05)  - Product ($m)  $59,819 (5th)  - Product per capita  $38,838/person (7th) Population (End of September 2006)  - Population  1,558,200 (5th)  - Density  1. ...

Countries that do not enforce compulsory voting:

Countries that have abolished compulsory voting:

  • Austria (introduced 1929 for presidential elections and 1949 in some states for parliamentary elections, abolished step by step between 1982 and 2004)
  • Netherlands (introduced 1917 along with universal suffrage, abolished 1970)


  • Soviet Union: while de-jure voting was not obligatory, de-facto voting was enforced, to report that 99.8% of Soviet people "unanimously support" the current Soviet leader.
  • Zaire: Suffrage was universal and compulsory in Zaire,[5] although the country was a single-party state (until 1990), and President Mobutu was the only candidate allowed to run in presidential elections.[6]

Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... States in which the constitution mandates power to a sole party are colored brown. ... Year 1990 (MCMXC) was a common year starting on Monday (link displays the 1990 Gregorian calendar). ... i frted #REDIRECT [[ The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (French: , Swahili: , Lingala: ) , is Congos elected Head of State, and the ex officio Supreme Commander (Commander-in-Chief) of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). ... Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga (October 14, 1930 – September 7, 1997), known commonly as Mobutu, or Mobutu Sese Seko, born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, was the President of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) for 32 years (1965–1997), in which he rose to power...

Punitive measures

Although voting in a country may be compulsory, penalties for failing to vote are not always strictly enforced. Sometimes this lack of enforcement is due to insufficient resources, as is the case in Argentina. In Australia and Brazil, providing a legitimate reason for not voting may prevent the levying of a fine. If a non-voter is sanctioned with a fine, the amount is often very small or nominal in the countries. The current fine for not voting in Australia is a mere $20 (maximum $100), with 21 days to pay it. (Because of this small fine, there are some voters that refuse to vote, and merely pay the fine routinely after an election. The fine is not even routinely enforced, as it requires action by the DPP.)

Penalties for failing to vote are not limited to fines and legal sanctions. Belgian voters who repeatedly fail to vote in elections may be subject to disenfranchising. Goods and services provided by public offices may be denied to those failing to vote in Peru and Greece. If a Bolivian voter fails to participate in an election, the citizen may be denied withdrawal of their salary from the bank for three months.[7] Disenfranchising refers to the removal of the ability to vote from a person or group of people. ...

In Turkey, according to a lwas passed from the parliamen in 1986, if an eligible elector does not cast a vote in the elections, she/he has to pay a fee for about 3 dollars (5 YTL).

Compulsory voting in non-democracies

Very rarely, compulsory voting occurs in states that attempt to create the illusion of democracy, while not actually being representative. Nations such as the Communist states of Eastern Europe during the Cold War could hold elections and plebiscites, and mandate voting by the populace. These states could advertise near-100%, universal turnout in these elections. However in almost all cases, the countries that require voting from all their citizens are western democracies (see the list above). In the early post-revolutionary period in Iran, many people, especially employees of the state (by far the nation's largest employer) were often coerced into voting for candidates selected by the regime, by the requirement that identity papers be stamped to evince the vote, thus individuals without this stamp may have faced charges of disloyalty to the regime. This article is about a form of government in which the state operates under the control of a Communist Party. ... For other uses, see Cold War (disambiguation). ... A referendum (plural: referendums or referenda) or plebiscite is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. ...

Compulsory voting in Austria

The mandatory voting for the elections to the Austrian National Council was abolished in 1992. Until then, each province was entitled to regulate mandatory voting in the respective provincial election laws. Styria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg were the last provinces to exercise compulsory voting. They did so until 1992. As for the presidential elections, a nation-wide duty to vote existed until 1982. Subsequently it was up to the provinces whether or not they required the exercise of the voting right. During the elections to the office of Federal President in 2004, only the province of Tyrol still had a provision governing compulsory voting. However, said provision was abolished in the same year, shortly after the elections. (Source: Federal Ministry of the Interior website http://www.bmi.gv.at/wahlen/elections_compulsorey_voting.asp). The law was never enforced. Year 1992 (MCMXCII) was a leap year starting on Wednesday (link will display full 1992 Gregorian calendar). ... Year 1982 (MCMLXXXII) was a common year starting on Friday (link displays the 1982 Gregorian calendar). ... Year 2004 (MMIV) was a leap year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar. ...

External links

  • International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance - Compulsory voting information
  • Suffrage - The CIA World Factbook
  • Compulsory Voting, Not
  • - Australian Electoral Commission - Electoral Backgrounder - Compulsory Voting
  • - Australian Electoral Commission Australian Electoral Commission

AEC logo The Australian Electoral Commission, or the AEC, is the federal government agency in charge of organising and supervising federal elections. ...


  1. ^ Evans, Tim. Compulsory Voting in Australia, Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved on 2007-01-01.
  2. ^ a b http://www.abc.net.au/elections/sa/2006/guide/ticketprefs.htm Unique Features of South Australian Elections, Anthony Green, ABC
  3. ^ http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_act/ea1985103/s28.html Provision for unenrolled SA electors, SA ELECTORAL ACT 1985 - SECT 28
  4. ^ http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_act/ea1985103/s29.html 'Entitled' not 'required' SA ELECTORAL ACT 1985 - SECT 29
  5. ^ "The Party-State as a System of Rule" Zaire: A Country Study. United States Library of Congress.
  6. ^ Ibid.
  7. ^ The Guardian Compulsory voting around the world



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