Compulsory Voting: That’s The Ticket!

Maybe in 200 years, if voter turnout trends continue…

In a vision of a militaristic and disciplinarian society of the future proposed by sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers), humans on a now united Earth are divided into two basic classes. (Earth is only united, of course, because the government of Earth works to create outside enemies that we can all unite against — that old ploy.)

The two classes are citizens and civilians. The former have served terms of “federal service,” and thus have the right to vote, have a say in public policy, and effect change. Civilians, on the other hand, though not discriminated against and enjoying all the benefits of society, do not have the vote, and have no say in the functioning of government or the structuring of their society.

Sounds familiar to me, on the morning after 49.255 per cent of voters in Kootenay East cast ballots in Tuesday’s B.C. election (14,887 out of 30,224 eligible voters) — down from 55 per cent in 2009. In Columbia River-Revelstoke, the turnout was 51 per cent.

Across B.C., 52 per cent of eligible voters turned out to protect democracy, after an important, interesting and potentially historic election campaign. We should be optimistic, I suppose, that the number is trending upwards — a mere 51 per cent (50.99, actually) voted in the 2009 B.C. election. If that trend continues, in 200 years we can expect full exercise of the franchise among the citizenry.

Or maybe that spike of one per cent is an exception that is only temporarily bucking the downward trend, and in 200 years, the fascist utopia, as Heinlein suggested, will have arrived.

Perhaps a better analogy would be the gradual demise of the Roman republic and its replacement with a monarchy. You can keep the civilians comfortable and happy — the good ol’ bread and circuses — and continue to govern as best suits your interests and those of your supporters.

There has been so much hand-wringing over the years on this issue that I’m actually embarrassed to be doing it again. All sorts of reasons have been put forward for the decline in voter engagement. Perhaps what’s needed is a fresh-faced rock star type leader to excite political imagination among the young. After all, the polls show that Justin Trudeau is — wait, did I actually mention polls? As if they had any credibility at all?

In some countries, voters are prevented from voting by forceful means. Perhaps it’s time to protect our hard-won democratic rights by forcing people to vote. Create compulsory voting with the stroke of the legislative pen. After all, 23 countries on our peaceful, united planet Earth already practice it. Ten actually enforce it. If you don’t vote, you could receive a fine. The government that dares adopt this measure as law could prepare the way with an ad campaign, with the tag line “Compulsory Voting: That’s The Ticket!” (Paid for with tax dollars, of course.)

Now, the libertarians would say the less law the better, and if you don’t want to vote, that too is your right, just don’t complain, etc., etc. So maybe the bread and circuses approach would work better. Instead of forcing the populace to the polls, tempt them to the polls. I say thanks to Geoff B. on the social media, who proffered the idea of a “vote-to-play election lottery with a $5 million jackpot and a $10,000-prize for each riding.” That would ensure complete voter turnout and cost less than current campaigns, as Geoff B. points out. Geoff adds, “But of course, no one will ever do that.” And of course they won’t, just as we won’t dare integrate compulsory voting, or any kind of progressive and fair proportional representation. Of course not.

So long, franchise. Oh well, as long as they keep putting really good programs on TV, I won’t even notice that constant prorogation of Parliament.

Speaking of polls, we can ask if they are just no longer working the way they used to, and if so why not. I suspect it’s because the methodology of polling has stayed the same over past decades. Pollsters get on the phone and start calling around, at the same time of day as all those scam artists, asking you to take surveys and then sign up for a free prize. (I myself am not sure if a legitimate pollster called me for my opinion, but I am sure that throughout April I received one call per evening from someone asking me to participate in a survey about our household work habits, and then sign up for a chance to win a cruise, or something. It was infuriating.) In the meantime, cellphones, social media and the like are rendering a proper sample group harder and harder to access using traditional polling means.

Nor would it be surprising if there were some algebra or equation that proved a drastic decrease in voter engagement correlates with an equivalent decrease in polling accuracy (I’ll get back to you on that).

Lastly, and most importantly, I would like to congratulate and thank all the candidates who put their names forward in Kootenay East and Columbia River-Revelstoke. If we choose not to vote, well, yes, that is our right, and we will get the governments we deserve. But without individuals who step forward to run for public office, our democracy would die a quick death indeed. So thanks again for your commitments and your efforts.