With the recent, not to mention forthcoming, by-elections at various levels of government, the problem of painfully-low voter turnout returns to the fore.
While I recognize that there are, occasionally, acceptable reasons for not voting, by and large the excuses we hear are but empty rationalizations. Nevertheless, I do draw the line at the common criticism that non-voters have “given up any right to complain!”
Credibility? Yes, absolutely. Right? No, for in a healthy democracy the right to complain — dissent — should be seen-as as necessary and as inalienable as the right to vote itself. The right to vote is lessened when it’s a requirement. Not voting is a choice, too. Not my choice, and usually not the best choice, in my view, but, in a free democracy, still a valid one.
Inevitably, the discussion turns to direct action on increasing turnout, such as the twin notions of mandatory voting, or of financial incentives such as tax credits for those who do vote. This is like taking your temperature, and, seeing that it’s too low, holding the thermometer over the heater — you do get the numbers up, but in doing so you lose track of the real, underlying, problem.
Low voter turnout is a symptom of a deeper malaise; it’s not quite so easy to fix as all that, but when we do the numbers will rebound. In particular, we need to get people to see themselves as personally responsible and relevant — essential, in fact — in the process.
Mandatory voting or financial incentives will no doubt get more people voting, but they will not make them engage; they will only muddy the waters for assessing the true level of engagement. Meanwhile, we’re better-off with somewhat fewer but engaged, thinking, voters, than disinterested or uninformed hordes donkey-voting for cash.