Pros and Cons of Compulsory Voting

Australia is well-known for its compulsory voting laws

Australian voters casting ballots at voting polls
Voters in Canberra, Australia voting for the 45th parliament of Australia in 2016.

 Martin Ollman / Stringer

Over 20 countries have some form of compulsory voting, which requires citizens to register to vote and go to their polling place or vote on Election Day.

With secret ballots, it's not really possible to prove who has or has not voted, so this process could be more accurately called "compulsory turnout" because voters are required to show up at their polling place on Election Day.

Facts About Compulsory Voting

One of the most well-known compulsory voting systems is in Australia. All Australian citizens over the age of 18 (except those of unsound mind or those convicted of serious crimes) must be registered to vote and show up at their designated polling place on Election Day. Australians who do not abide by this directive are subject to fines, although those who were ill or otherwise incapable of voting can have their fines waived.

Compulsory voting in Australia was adopted in the state of Queensland in 1915 and subsequently adopted nationwide in 1924. With Australia's compulsory voting system comes additional flexibility for the voter. Elections are held on Saturdays, absent voters can vote in any state polling place, and voters in remote areas can vote before an election at pre-poll voting centers or via mail.

Voter turnout of those registered to vote in Australia reached less than 60% prior to the 1924 compulsory voting law. In the decades since 1925, voter turnout has never been less than 91%.

In 1924, Australian officials felt that compulsory voting would eliminate voter apathy. However, compulsory voting now has its detractors. The Australian Electoral Commission provides some arguments in favor of and against compulsory voting.

Arguments in Favor

  • Voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform (e.g. taxation, compulsory education, or jury duty).
  • Parliament reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate."
  • Governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management.
  • Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues, rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll.
  • The voter isn't actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by secret ballot.

Arguments Used Against Compulsory Voting

  • Some suggest that it is undemocratic to force people to vote and is an infringement of liberty.
  • The "ignorant" and those with little interest in politics are forced to the polls.
  • It may increase the number of "donkey votes" (votes for a random candidate by people who feel that they are required to vote by law).
  • It may increase the number of informal votes (ballot papers that are not marked according to the rules for voting).
  • Resources must be allocated to determine whether those who failed to vote have "valid and sufficient" reasons.

Additional References

"Compulsory Voting." Australian Electoral Commission, May 18, 2011.

View Article Sources
  1. "Appendix G - Countries With Compulsory Voting." Parliament of Australia.

  2. "Enrolling to Vote." Australian Electoral Commission.

  3. "Voting Before Election Day." Australian Electoral Commission.

  4. Barber, Stephen. "Federal Election Results 1901-2016." Parliament of Australia, 31 Mar. 2017.

  5. "Voter Turnout - 2016 House of Representatives and Senate Elections." Australian Electoral Commission.

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Rosenberg, Matt. "Pros and Cons of Compulsory Voting." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Rosenberg, Matt. (2023, April 5). Pros and Cons of Compulsory Voting. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Pros and Cons of Compulsory Voting." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).