Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Compulsion, coercion...

A UK friend asked if I thought people should be compelled to vote. I am not sure I have answered him terribly well. It is a difficult question to answer but, on balance, my answer would be "No".
I do think people should have the right to vote. There will always have to be some exceptions to that. If people do not understand what they are doing then they should not be participating - because someone else will be doing it for them. If people are incarcerated then they have, in my view, lost the right to vote because of their actions against society.
I also believe that people should be strongly encouraged to vote. It is part of living in a democracy. We have a duty to inform ourselves of the issues that affect us and others and the society in which we live and then make a decision about the way in which they should be handled and those whom are best able to handle them. We then have the responsibility to put these people in the position to handle the issues - if they can.
Requiring people to 'vote' - or at least attend the ballot box - makes for both complacency and laziness. The vast majority of Australians never change the way they vote. Politicians concentrate on the small group of swinging voters rather than on getting everyone to the polling booth. Most Australians instinctively know this and believe that they cannot make a change so, why bother? (I do wonder whether Bloggers are a different community. Do they take a greater interest in these things?)
My sister has a Greek MIL. She's a lovely person but illiterate in both Greek and English. It is not her fault. She had just a couple of years schooling before being sent to work. She votes as her husband tells her to vote. She knows nothing at all about politics. Given the choice she probably would not vote and it would be a relief to her not to be required to do so.
One of my former students votes. He barely understands the concept of choice. He has no understanding of political process or what a member of parliament does. He could not name a politician, party or platform. He gets a vote - or rather his carer gets his vote. Someone applied for a vote on his behalf when he could have been excused on grounds of mental incapacity. He will keep that vote for as long as someone else is prepared to use it - and they do.
Another of my former students can read both English and Greek but he can only communicate by eye-gaze. He does not have a vote because he was deemed incapable of indicating his wishes.
If voting were not compulsory the first person would almost certainly never have obtained a vote. The second person might have because politicians would want the numbers.
I would rather see the second person have the vote. He knows just what he wants.


Sheep Rustler said...

Difficult question with no really complete answer. Having lived in the UK and been disgusted with how few people vote most of the time, and here, and been disgusted with the level of ignorance of so many voters, I think that only people like you and I should be ALLOWED to vote! Not seriously, but neither solution works to my mind, yet both countries seem to end with governments that would probably have been the same if the opposite voting rules were in use.

catdownunder said...

Well Redmond has just conceded defeat. The courts should really declare the results null and void in three seats at least and order by-elections. The dodgy HTV cards have to be sailing so close to the wind that they would have made a difference. In the commercial world this would be a criminal offence.
It is little wonder that Rann does not want an ICAC. We need one!

Frances said...

Cat: I certainly don't know which way is best, but I do feel strongly that prisoners should be allowed to vote.
They are still part of our society, and presumably we hope that they will re enter society one day. Their sentence strips them of their freedom, but it does not, to my mind, remove such social rights/obligations.

What if they were political prisoners? Would you still have the same opinion?

catdownunder said...

Yes political prisoners are a different and difficult issue Frances - but the very fact that they are political prisoners would probably cause a government to ensure they did not get a vote.
But the individual inside for rape or murder or violent assault has, for the term of their incarceration, lost the right to vote. It is part of their punishment. Some short term prisoners do get a vote but I cannot agree that 'lifers' should.

Frances said...

I can't agree, Cat.
The individual inside for rape, murder or violent assault, still has obligations to society. One of those is to vote. And they should have to.

Of course, most people in prison are not there for such major offences. De-barring them - say people who've smoked a bit of illegal - from such rights - making them effectively non-persons - was a policy adopted in the last few years from the USA.

People in gaol are still citizens. albeit paying a penalty for misdemeanour.