Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Compulsory Voting

What is the point of voting?

Many people can't be bothered. So UK ministers-in-arms Geoff Hoin and Peter Hoin think it would be a good idea to force people to vote - and fine them if they don't. [BBC News] Robin Wilton thinks this proposal is farcical.

Voting is already compulsory in several countries, including Australia and Belgium. Not surprisingly, the turnout is higher. But does this make these countries more democratic? For example, do politicians pay any greater attention to the voice of the people, do the people get any greater influence over the government? Are these countries any more effective in getting rid of bad governments, bad politicians, or bad policies?

Perhaps it might be a good thing to increase turnout at elections, although I hardly think this is the most important measure of democracy. In which case, I think the best way of achieving this outcome, instead of fining the electorate for being bored, would be to fine the politicians for being boring. All we have to do is link the salary of an elected official to the total number of people voting in that election. Constituency by constituency.

Among other things, this would mean that those elected for marginal constituencies (where a single vote is more likely to influence the result, where politicians are forced to pay more attention to individual voters, and where the turnout is higher) should get paid more than those with safe seats. This seems like an excellent application of the principle of performance-related pay, which politicians are always keen to impose on others.

Meanwhile, Dilbert comes out with a different perspective on the matter. Poor voter turnout - especially by poor voters, helps to sustain the Income Gap.
I know you’ll say the system is rigged in favor of big money, and the voters are manipulated into voting against their own self interests. That’s all true of course. Still, if you’re looking to place blame, it has to be on the low income people who don’t vote. If ever there was an appropriate time for the phrase “It’s your own damned fault,” it’s now. ... If I were poor and planned to stay that way, I’d certainly take a free hour off of work every few years to vote for any goobers that planned to screw the rich and give me free stuff.
So are the voters manipulated into voting for the wrong people, or are they manipulated (for example by blanket media cynicism) into not voting at all? Does it matter which?

del.icio.us tags: POSIWID
Technorati tags: democratic deficit

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