Monthly Proposal No.7: let voting be a democratic duty by law

The decreasing participation of citizens in political elections is alarming. One of the key questions is, whether this fact is just a symptom of the ongoing democratic crisis or partly even a cause.

Of course, people are disappointed because of all half-hearted compromises, the deadlock and the sluggish development in important issues. They may feel that either their vote does not make a difference or once elected politicians cannot make a difference. To this effect, many non-voters call their boycott a protest against a corrupt system of powerless institutions. But how could resignation be a protest?  How would passing the choice generate a preferable outcome than choosing the least evil? How should the government know, whether non-voters are discontent about the possible choices or whether they are just indifferent?

It could simply ask for it. Let voting be a democratic duty by law and simultaneously add at least two more voting options to the ballot: First, give citizens the possibility to vote against all electable parties, if they do not feel sufficiently represented by them. Secondly, one should be able to confess that he or she is just too uninformed or disinterested to vote for an actual party.

Maybe there should be even more additional options and maybe the percentage voting for these options should have a direct institutional effect. However, for now it would already be an important measure to be paternalistic and force people to claim their democratic right to vote – because it is their democratic duty as well!

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3 thoughts on “Monthly Proposal No.7: let voting be a democratic duty by law

  1. Can I propose an economist’s perspective?

    Could it be that some people rationally decide not to vote because the costs exceed expected benefits? Your vote will change the probability that your favorite party will win by a millionth percent. Even if you stand to gain a million euros in case your party wins, the expected benefit of voting would be only one euro. As long as the opportunity cost of your leisure time sacrificed for the “democratic duty” exceeds one euro, you rationally stay at home. It’s not a protest against the political system, not indifference towards politics in general, but rational inattention. Now if people don’t vote because they prefer to use their leisure otherwise, forcing them to vote would make them worse off.

    How could we test this theory? Simple. The theory predicts a positive correlation between unemployment and voter turnout: If unemployment is high, the opportunity cost of leisure is low, so people should be more willing to vote other things equal.

  2. You could be right, when you say, that many people prefer to ignore the political process, discussions and elections in favour of unstressed leisure. But:

    Can I propose an economist’s perspective?

    Every citizen is part of a game called democracy. She can decide whether to contribute and vote or to freeride. The aggregate and shared benefit of the elections is that a government runs the state. This benefit positively depends on the participation of voters, because a higher participation implies a more representative government. To this effect, the individual benefit even more depends on the own participation. However, this dependency could be small and getting sufficiently informed could cause costs. Therefore, as you said, it could seem “rational” to disclaim the right to vote and freeride. But the voter finds himself in a prisoner’s dilemma and her “rational” choice would lead to a inefficient low representation of the people’s will by the government. What would economists suggest? Right, an institutional setting, which obligates the citizen to vote.

  3. Your argument would be correct if you would force people not only to vote but also to inform themselves thoroughly before they vote. If they just elect a party at random, follow their gut feelings or whatever, you don’t get a more representative government, you get a more random government. Now I’m sure the ORF would fully support a policy to coerce people into watching their chaotically moderated candidate confrontations and their tendentious election coverage. But I, for one, find this idea repulsive.

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