Moving towards mandatory voting

Australia has mandatory voting laws since 1925, and could be the model for Canada.

I remember casting my ballot in the federal 2006 election and feeling a sense of pride for exercising my civic duty for the first time in my life.  It was just after my 19th birthday.

I researched the party platforms, taking into account what issues each party and each party leader wanted to tackle and the long-term future they envisioned for the country.

I remember taking the time to make an informed decision because voting is a sacrosanct part of our democratic institution.

So why is it that only 61 per cent of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot in the last federal election in 2011?

It’s even worse at the provincial level, as only 58 per cent turned out in 2013.

Voter turnout in federal elections has declined steadily since 1984, save for brief rebounds in the 2006 and 2011.

WIth that in mind, the federal Liberal Party is beginning to float the idea of mandatory voting to party members and searching for grassroots input.

Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale told the Canadian Press on Friday that while an interesting notion, mandatory voting bears more careful reflection. In the same interview, he added that democratic reform has been a major part of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s platform.

It’s not an unprecedented idea; Australia has mandatory voting laws since 1925.

And the notion of mandatory voting appeals to me, not just because it makes sense to ensure that people to exercise their democratic right, but because of the comedic value it could potentially produce.

After all, there’s nothing more frightening than an uninformed voter.

It takes a lot of work to be informed about the issues. There’s so much news and social media out there that it seems as if the average person can suffer from information overload.

But the onus is also on voters to be able to make an informed decision come election day.

But there’s no denying that responsibilities like jobs, relationships, finances and family can cut into that time that could be used to research party platforms and candidates.

Therefore, I think the electoral system could benefit with a few tweaks to the mandatory system.

At polling stations, there could be a separate booth for undecided voters. Once they get inside, they can pull a lever that would randomly make a selection.

Like a Vegas slot machine.

Or, Elections Canada could modify a dartboard that is divided up five different ways, each different chunk representing the NDP, Liberal, Conservative, Bloc, and Green parties.

The undecided voter could simply cast a dart and then cast their vote based on where it lands on the board.

All kidding aside, the Aussies really nailed it with their mandatory voting laws, as the voter must enrol to vote, and while they have to mark the ballot, they don’t actually have to make a choice.

Marking the ballot and depositing it into the box satisfies the mandatory voting requirement. Not a bad way for undecided voters to show their indifference towards any of the electoral candidates.

But failure to enrol to vote results in a fine akin to a traffic ticket. Don’t pay it, and the authorities will haul you into court, so trying the age-old trick of ignoring it won’t work.

It’s easy to understand why voter turnout is so low.

As mentioned, life gets busy. Who really cares about the election? It feels like nothing ever changes anyway? Does casting one, single, individual vote going to make a difference in a nation of 34 million?

The latter question is a column for another time, but the point is this: democracy isn’t something that we should take for granted, and everyone should feel a sense of civic responsibility to participate in the democratic process when an election rolls around.

Trevor Crawley is a reporter with the Cranbrook Daily Townsman