More and more of Conservative activists seem comfortable with the idea of making voting in the UK mandatory, meaning that the state could actually punish an individual for making a personal decision not to take part in the political process. I find this deeply concerning.
To be clear, I’m completely in favour of encouraging people to vote and I think it’s important that as many people as possible make sure that their voice is and that we do our best to combat voter apathy. But is it really the government’s place to say to its citizens “If you don’t take part, we’ll make you. There’s no way out”?
Some people, when speaking in favour of mandatory voting, use the example of the Suffragettes, saying something along the lines of ‘they were prepared to die for the vote, it’s our duty to have mandatory voting to honour their names.’ I look at it from a different perspective. Yes, the suffragettes and other universal suffrage groups were fighting for the right to vote, but they were also for the right to decide to not vote, rather than the government making the decision for them.
Another important point to consider is this; would compulsory voting actually result in more legitimate election results? Forcing people to vote does in no way force them to take an interest in politics. Even now, I know grown adults who will ring up their parents before voting to ask who to vote for.
If people are being made to vote, they are more likely to go in, tick the first box they see without thinking about it and get out of there as quickly as they can. If enough people do this for a certain candidate, it could mean the difference between a win or a loss, a hold or a gain. This is why we need to, as we also need to on many other political issues, stop legislating and start educating.
A common argument in favour is that more people voting = better government. It simply doesn’t work like that. Studies conducted by sociologists have shown that higher quality government does indeed usually result in higher voter turnout. But higher voter turnout does not usually result in higher quality government.
A very high percentage of people would probably say that voting is a right (the definition of which being an action that you individually take the decision to make, or not make as the case may be without being pressured or forced by any other person), but an equally high number would probably also consider it as a duty.
To those who are in favour or compulsory voting I have to ask this question; is voting a right or a moral duty? Can it be both? It’s like using the right to buy something legally in a shop only to be told by the checkout attendant that you can only have the product if you promise to use it, as it is your duty to the shop and the product manufacturer. This concludes that a right and enforceable duty are pretty much incompatible.
We already have government telling us what to do in so many aspects of our lives. Let’s not give them another chance to.
Tom Hulme is the Deputy Chairman (Membership) of North West Conservative Future and a committee member of the Oldham and Saddleworth Conservative Federation. Follow him on Twitter: @Thatherite4
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty