Keep the right not to vote

‘Should we give voters prizes for voting?’ asks an anguished Skipper in response to a councillors commission report.

Skipper, who believes we should be obliged to vote, acknowledges that low turnout is a symptom of something rather than a cause. And that something is not just apathy; I’ve elected not to vote on occasion.

But invoking the martyrs of the long fight from absolute monarchy to representative democracy does not convince me that anyone should be obliged to vote, although I can see some advantages. Local councillors would not feel so beholden to small community pressure groups, for example.

The rights democratic society grants us do come with some responsibilities, including an obligation to respect the rule of law (although it can be legitimate to protest outside of the law; the refusal to pay Thatcher’s poll tax is a good example), but those obligations should be kept to the minimum. Instead we should look to ensure the voting system maximises the potency of each vote and somehow incentivise politicians to engage in decent debates on matters of principle that make a difference to voters’ lives.

Aside from preserving the right to boycott the process, we should be cautious about forcing the apathetic to vote. They can’t be trusted to consider the issues and come to a reasoned decision and, having not done much thinking, are more likely to vote with their prejudices.

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