tanvibabita's Profile and details
Assistant Professor, Institute of Law, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra
Compulsory Voting In India – A Step Towards Real Democracy
Democracy is a political method or an institutional arrangement for arriving at political, legislative and administrative decisions by vesting in certain individuals the power to decide on all matters as a consequence of their successful pursuit of the people’s vote. - Joseph A. Schumpeter
The constitution sets up in India a “Democratic Republic”. It means government by the people. Democracy may properly be defined as that form of Government in the administration of which the mass of adult population has some direct or indirect share. Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally – either directly or through elected representatives – in the proposal, development and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. The word ‘democracy’ originates from two Greek words demos (people) and Kratia (rule). In a literal sense, it means ‘rule of people’. So the great Athenian leader (Pericles) defined it as ‘a government in which people are powerful’. According to Abraham Lincoln , it is the government of the people, by the people and for the people’. Since the times of Herodotus, the word ‘democracy’ has been used to denote that form of government in which the ruling power of a state is largely vested not in any particular class or classes, but in the members of the community as a whole. A country cannot be regarded as fully democratic if a significant percentage of the electors does not exercise its right to vote. The rule of the voter in the notion of modern democratic oriented societies and the question of how this electoral participation can have an impact in the well being of democracy. Democracy may be a direct or indirect democracy. In a direct democracy, every people exercise the power of the government. The people as a whole not only carry on the government but can even change the constitution by their vote. In an indirect democracy, the people elect their representatives who carry on the administration of the government directly. It is also known as representative democracy. Our constitution provides for a representative democracy.
Why Voting is Essential for Democracy
The constitution has adopted the system of universal adult suffrage to secure political justice. Right to vote is also provided under Representation of People Act, 1951. It provides, “No person who is not, and except as expressly provided by this Act, every person who is, for the time being entered in the electrol roll of the constituency shall be entitled to vote in that constituency”. Since elections are the life blood of democratic procedure, it is via the act of voting that democratic principles are protected. Electoral systems are the main tools in which the notions of participation and representation are transformed into reality. The main purpose of the electoral system is to exchange votes cast by electors, into seats in the parliament. Given that participation in modern states is inter linked with the notion of democracy, citizens political engagement is of great importance. Leaders are trying to legitimize their actions by creating a sense of public involvement. Even though different states have different ways of elections and different ways of attracting voters, this electoral deficit is a global phenomenon. So, we can say there is a direct connection between democracy and compulsory voting. The Supreme Court in Mohan Lal V. District Magistrate, Rai Bareilly , observed: “Democracy is a concept, a political philosophy, an ideal practiced by many nations culturally advanced and politically mature by resorting to governance by representatives of the people elected directly or indirectly”.
Meaning And Definition Of Compulsory Voting
Compulsory voting is not a new concept. Some of the countries that introduced mandatory voting laws were Belgium in 1892, Argentina in 1914 and Australia in 1924. Compulsory voting is a system in which electors are obliged to votes in elections or attend a polling place on voting day. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he or she may be subject to punitive measures such as fines or community service. As of August 2013, 22 countries were recorded as having compulsory voting. Of these, only 10 countries (and one Swiss Canton) enforce it. Of the 30 member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 10 had forms of compulsory voting.
According to Birch (2009), “Compulsory voting can be defined very simply as the legal obligation to attend the polls at the election time and platform whatever duties are required there of electors”.
Compulsory voting was first advocated by Alfred Deaking at the turn of the 20th century. Voting was voluntary at the first federal elections. Compulsory enrolment for federal elections was introduced in 1911. In 1915, consideration was given to introduce compulsory voting for a proposed referendum. As the referendum was never held the idea wasn’t pursued.
The significant impetus for compulsory voting at federal elections appears to have been a decline in turnout from more than 71% at the 1919 election to less than 60% at the 1922 election. In 1924, a private member’s bill to amend the Electoral Act was introduced in the Senate by Senator H.J.M. Payne (Nat Tas). It was only the third private member’s bill passed into law since 1901. The impact was immediate, with turnout at the 1925 election rising to over 91% Victoria introduced compulsory voting in 1926, NSW and Tas Mania in 1928. WA in 1936, SA in 1942 when enrolment and voting at federal elections was introduced for Australian Aborigines in 1949 it was voluntary, and continued to be so untill 1984 when enrolment and voting became compulsory for all eligible electors.
Compulsory Voting In Other Countries
When Queensland introduced compulsory voting in 1915, it became the first place in the then British Empire to do so. There are currently 32 countries with compulsory voting, of which 19 (including Australia) pursue it through enforcement.
Countries That Enforce Compulsory Voting
Argentina, Australia, Austria (two lander only) Belguria, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Ecuador, Fiji, Greece, Lichtensteen, Mexico, Nauru, Peru, Singapore, Switzerland (One Canton only) Turkey, Uruguay.
Merits Of Compulsory Voting
• Political journalist Jonathan Levine believes that compulsory voting system confer a higher degree of political legitimacy because they result in increased voter turnout. The victorious candidate represents a majority of the population, not just the politically motivated individuals who would vote without compulsion.
• Compulsory voting prevents disenfranchisement of the socially disadvantaged. In a similar way that the secret ballot is designed to prevent interference with the votes actually cast, compelling voters to the polls for an election reduces the impact that external factors may have on an individual’s capacity to vote such as the weather, transport, or restrictive employers.
• If everybody must vote, restrictions on voting are easily identified and steps are taken to remove them. Countries with compulsory voting generally hold elections on a Saturday or Sunday as evidenced in nations such as Australia, to ensure that working people can fulfill their duty to cast their vote. Postal and pre-poll voting is provided to people who cannot vote on polling day, and mobile voting booths may also be taken to old age homes and hospitals to cater for immobilized citizens.
• Compulsory voting may encourage voters to research the candidates' political positions more thoroughly. Since they are voting anyway, they may take more of an interest into the nature of the politicians they may vote for, rather than simply opting out. This means candidates need to appeal to a more general audience, rather than a small section of the community.
• Apart from the increased turnout as a value in itself, Lijphart lists other advantages to compulsory voting. Firstly, the increase in voting participation may stimulate stronger participation and interest in other political activities. Secondly, as smaller campaign funds are needed to goad voters to the polls, the role of money in politics decreases.
Demerits Of Compulsory Voting
• Any compulsion affects the freedom of an individual, and the fining of recalcitrant non-voters is an additional impact on a potential recalcitrant voter. Voting may be seen as a civic right rather than a civic duty. While citizens may exercise their civil rights (free speech, marriage, etc.) they are not compelled to. Furthermore, compulsory voting may infringe other rights.
• Another argument against compulsory voting, prevalent among legal scholars in the United States, is that it is essentially a compelled speech act, which violates freedom of speech because the freedom to speak necessarily includes the freedom not to speak.
• Some do not support the idea of compulsory voting, particularly if they have no interest in politics or no knowledge of the candidates. Others may be well-informed, but have no preference for any particular candidate, and have no wish to give support to the incumbent political system.
• They believe that the political process is inherently corrupt and violent, and prefer to minimize their personal involvement with it.
• Some suggest that it is undermocralic to force people to vote as it is an infringement of liberty.
• The ignorant and those with little interest in polities are forced to polls.
Measures To Enforce Compulsory Voting
Although voting in a country may be compulsory, penalties for failing to vote are not always strictly enforced. In Australia and Brazil, providing a legitimate reason for not voting (such as being sick or outside the country) is accepted. In Argentina, those who were ill on voting day are excused by requesting a doctor to prove their condition; those over 500 km (310 mi) away from their voting place are also excused by asking for a certificate at a police station near where they are. Belgian voters can vote in an embassy if they are abroad or can empower another voter to cast the vote in their name; the voter must give a “permission to vote” and carry a copy of the eID card and their own on the actual elections.
States that sanction nonvoters with fines generally impose small or nominal penalties. However, 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 disenfranchisement. Singapore voters who fail to vote in a general election or presidential election will be subjected to disenfranchisement until a valid reason is given or a fine is paid. Goods and services provided by public offices may be denied to those failing to vote in Peru and Greece. In Brazil, people who fail to vote in an election are barred from obtaining a passport and subject to other restrictions until settling their situation before an electoral court or after they have voted in the two most recent elections. If a Bolivian voter fails to participate in an election, the person may be denied withdrawal of the salary from the bank for three months. In Turkey, according to a law passed by the parliament in 1986, if eligible electors do not cast a vote in elections, they pay a fee of about 10 Turkish lira (about $6 US).
After having a glance on both aspects of compulsory voting it can be said that everything has its own merits and demerits. If we talk about compulsory voting it is a civic right of a citizen which must be exercised. Most democratic governments consider participating in national elections a right of citizenship. Compulsory voting has direct relation with democracy. If we will exercise our right only then we can say that government of the people, for the people and by the people. If we will not exercise our right to vote then how we will come to know who is the better or efficient political leader. There should be 100% voting in election. Family members should caste their vote, symbolic fine should be imposed. When public need ration card, or getting licence, property registration, they need to show slip of voting stamped by election official otherwise need to pay simple fine. If compulsory voting is not there, then may be less than half of the people will cast their vote because of the fact that candidate of their choice was not there. On the other hand if people are forced to vote, it is not democratic to force people to cast their vote. People cannot be forced to vote till they have a choice to elect candidates with clean image. As also stated by the Election Commissioner S.Y. Qureishi that compulsory voting does not go with the idea of democracy. He does not agree with the concept of compulsory voting. Last, but not least voting should be compulsory or not, it depends upon the development of a country; how much the people are educated, or aware regarding their right to vote and its value. Compulsory voting is successful in a country like a Australia where there is sanction behind voting. In a country like Australia welfare sanction behind voting and compulsory voting is successful there.
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15. The Representation of People Act, 1951