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Resolved: In a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory

September 1, 2013
Published in Issues


The 2013 September-October NFL Lincoln-Douglas resolution asked whether or not voting should be compulsory for citizens.

Although this isn’t an idea that is commonly discussed in the US, and although the idea of forcing someone to participate in voting seems intuitively problematic, there are very strong arguments on both sides of the resolution.  In this brief essay, I will review what “compulsory voting” entails and then discuss arguments on both sides of the resolution.

Compulsory Voting

Although “compulsory” voting leads one to believe that advocates of the idea want to force people to vote, what advocates are really arguing for is that people should be required to participate in the process of an election, usually by showing up at a voting booth, and not that they have to vote for one of the candidates.  Individuals who do not want to vote, for example, could just fill out a “no vote” ballot or leave without voting at all.

Arguments in Favor of Compulsory Voting

Although the concept of forcing someone to vote seems problematic, there are many purported benefits to requiring people to vote.

Reduced access barriers. For many people, voting is difficult (work, long distances to the voting booth, lack of transportation to the voting booth) and if voting is mandatory then society will work to reduce barriers – it has to!  For example, in countries where voting is mandatory, voting usually occurs on the weekends.

Those who do not turn out due to access barriers are often …

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