By Maria Fernanda Tamayo - International Relations student
The modern western society glorifies the word democracy. Most of the governments around the globe claim to be democracies. Even the UN claims that "Democracy is a core value of the United Nations." (UN, 2020). It is widely accepted that the right to vote its essential for a well-functioning democracy. In other words, voting is necessary for a representative government to prevail. Yet, intriguingly, abstentionism levels have been increasing in Costa Rica and other democracies. Extensive demographic research from TSE (Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones) in books such as "Abstencionistas en Costa Rica" has revealed a vast number of reasons that explain this phenomenon. Could this be efficiently fixed with compulsory voting?
Mandatory voting, also known as compulsory voting, has already been implemented in several countries. This is not a new concept. It was introduced by the Belgium voting laws in 1892. The IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) in 2017 revealed that 13% of the countries worldwide implemented compulsory voting in their democratic systems, and, even in some of these countries, not voting may result in an imposed penalty and fine to the citizens. For example, in Costa Rica, registration is obligatory, although there is no fine or penalty if the right this right is not exercised. Although, in other countries, such as Australia, not voting results in paying an administrative penalty of $20 (Australian Electoral Commission, 2020).
In compulsory voting, there is no doubt that the participation levels are higher. In countries with this modality of mandatory voting, there is an average of +7.37% participation difference over countries with no compulsory voting (IDEA, 2017). But, will people exercise their right correctly if it turns into an obligation? Mandatory voting may result in "random voting." Citizens voting against their free will could result in ignorant balloters. Who guarantees that voting is still an insightful right if it is imposed? Some argue that compulsory voting is anti-democratic and inconsistent with democracy's freedom principles. Nevertheless, results are very clear.
As a short answer to the main question: Could this be efficiently fixed with compulsory voting? The short answer is yes, voter turnout trends tend to increase when in a compulsory voting system, but with consequences. Nevertheless, the only means to be certain is to execute the policies in our own government. There is no general solution to abstentionism due to cultural differences. It commonly believed that voting is an earned right. Regardless, some have very different perspectives and opinions on the topic, and that should be respected. Some people see it as a threat to democracy. Some others think democracy is overrated. Although, it should be agreed that citizens should not be obligated to perform any sort of political activity if not interested.