More than half of LFF readers think voting should be compulsory

But why is it that we find low turnout ethically troubling?

polling station fence

In our last poll, we asked readers whether it should be made compulsory to vote. Over half (54 per cent) of respondents said that they thought voting (or actively abstaining) should be mandatory.

42 per cent said that the state should not make people vote, and two per cent said they supported compulsory voting, but only the first time round.


(Click to enlarge)

So does compulsory voting work? There are currently only 13 countries, and one Swiss canton, which enforce compulsory voting, although the number which have a provisional obligation is higher.

Advocates may argue that decisions made by government have more legitimacy when higher proportions of the population participate in voting. Mandatory voting could increase engagement with and understanding of politics.

Plus, a democracy means the people should choose their government – and in the best scenario this means all the people. It could be argued that if you want to be counted as a full citizen, then it is your civic duty to participate in choosing who rules.

Opponents say that making voting mandatory may increase turnout but it does not increase political understanding. It also raises questions of liberty; in a 2014 LSE study, Dr Annabelle Lever pointed out that compulsory voting confuses the question of whether governors are there to serve the governed, or vice-versa.

Dr Lever also questioned why we find low turnout ethically troubling. There a variety of reasons why people may decline to vote, and they are not all equally significant. One person may decline to vote because they are not particularly inspired by any candidate; another may feel neglected and ignored by the political system. Apathy and anger cannot be addressed using a single law.

In Australia, where compulsory voting was introduced in 1924 as a means of combating low turnout, studies have shown that 74 per cent of the population support the law. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) says that since 1924 turnout has never been lower than 90 per cent – and uses the UK as an example of a country with low turnout.

Interestingly in the same document the AEC points out the wider problem with the UK’s electoral system:

“The legitimacy of a government formed by a voluntary turnout could also be questioned. In the UK in May 2005, Labour won 55 per cent of the seats with 35 per cent of the vote after a turnout of 61.4 per cent (in other words, 21 per cent of the total possible electorate delivered 55 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons).”

As Josiah Mortimer of the Electoral Reform Society pointed out on LFF earlier this month, the UK electoral system is stacked in favour of certain voters. In 2010, it took over 33,000 votes to elect a Labour MP, 35,000 for a Conservative and nearly 120,000 to elect a Lib Dem. UKIP got almost a million votes and no MPs, while the Greens got over a quarter of a million and just one representative.

Until our electoral system favours all voters equally, it seems there is little point in making voting compulsory; it would simply replicate the current inequality on a larger scale.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter


16 Responses to “More than half of LFF readers think voting should be compulsory”

  1. JoeDM

    Hardly surprising the Stalinist response.

  2. littleoddsandpieces

    Compulsory voting or compulsory abstaining. Equals non voting.

    I’m sorry but all those compelled to vote would abstain.

    A law does not exist if most do not comply with it.

    To have compulsory voting, you would need state funding of parties equally.

    That means TUSC / MEBYON KERNOW of Cornwall / SOCIALIST GB / THE LEFT UNITY PARTY / CLASS WAR would finally get out from under the total media blackout, and the poor, mostly now in work or pensioners, would finally see the parties that represent them.

    Never happen. The big parties are in a dictatorship from 7 May.

  3. steroflex

    Ruby, has it ever occurred to you that the electorate is right? Nobody knows the exact amount of legislation that comes down to us through Brussels. It is a lot. It never goes through parliament.
    Second, the metropolitan elite are not representing the rest of the country, hence the success of Nigel Farage, the SNP and the Greens who are.
    We all know that whoever we elect the government stays more or less the same with different front men and women.
    So we – out here – may well be right. Making compulsory voting is actually an insult.

  4. blarg1987

    I do agree we should not make voting compulsory, however the reason political parties are the same is for a very simple reason:

    The main political parties have the people who will vote for them come hell or high water, and so they focus on seats which are the swing seats. As a consequence their policies are going to be similar to attract those voters.

    we could have changed things when we had the referendum for PR however people shot themselves in the foot and now can;t complain if they did not vote.

  5. sarntcrip


  6. Leon Wolfeson

    “however the reason political parties are the same is for a very simple reason:”


    And we DID NOT have a referendum for PR. AV is not proportional, please stop repeating that outright untruth.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes, thanks, Stalinist. Sorry, what did that have to do with the article again?

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    Australia is an example of how to make people hate politics and drive down engagement, while getting warm bodies into the polling booth, to Australia’s great detriment – vast numbers of voters have no idea what they’re voting FOR.

    I agree with you Ruby, it’s fighting the wrong campaign and would actually dilute the vote of informed voters. We need proportional representation at Westminister.

    (Also, again, I won’t vote while you demand an email on a single-subscription system)

  9. blarg1987

    Sorry, you are right AV is not PR.

    I would say however if we approved AV then it would have strengthened the case to push for PR.

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    I have to disagree. All parties involved were very clear that it was an “end to change”, that nothing else was on offer.

    (And AV is a worse system than FPTP, and I opposed it as such)

    In polling before that vote where PR was an option, it got twice the votes AV did. There’s a lot of support in the UK for PR.

  11. blarg1987

    I think we should have taken it though as a step and kept pushing for PR. Now PR is off the table for at least another decade.

    I do want PR long term however it will take time and have to be done in stages. History shows you don’t always get what you want straight away, but have to negotiate for it in stages for example Ireland and its separation from the UK.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    In practice, you’re being negative and opposing PR.

    AV was not a step in any way towards PR, indeed, it was very arguably a step away.

  13. blarg1987

    I would have to disagree in practice I am trying to encourage PR by taking advantage of a situation that was offered.

    AV was a step towards PR, as it would probabaly have allowed smaller parties to gain more votes, who would probabaly demand PR.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    Again, no, it’s no kind of PR, has nothing to do with PR and it would have been used as “We’ve had change, and don’t need any more”.

    You have said, very clearly, “PR is off the table for at least another decade.”. That’s not supporting PR!

    And AV mitigates strongly *against* very small parties – you need 50% support, not 30%, and the major winners would have been the LibDems.

    AV also exaggerates popular swings – if we’d have had it in 1997, the Tories would have been near-eliminated (half the seats of the LibDems, on half the first preference votes, and Labour would probably be facing a wipeout today.

  15. Kryten2k35

    I would’ve thought a left minded site would be against forcing people to do things, to be honest. How do you make it compulsory without punishing people who refuse or simply don’t?

    Forcing people to vote is just wading straight into a shit sandwich.

  16. Mark Myword

    As Leon Wolfeson says AV is not a proportional system – but I voted for it just the same. The reason was because AV is a subset of STV when you have single member constituencies. However, if you have multi – member constituencies, then STV approximates proportionality (the more members, the better approximation). If we had had AV the next step would have been to move to multi – member constituencies. It is often forgotten that we had multi – member constituencies in the past so the step would not have been quite so dramatic as introducing STV and multi – member constituencies at the same time.

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