POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Compulsory Voting

In a compulsory voting system, voters are forced by law to participate in an election. Failure to do so can result in fines or other legal punishments. However, voters do not necessarily need to cast a vote for a specific candidate, and can instead spoil their ballot. Compulsory voting is not widespread, with only 22 nations practicing it and only half enforcing the law. 

The following countries have enforced compulsory voting:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Cyprus
  • Liechtenstein
  • Gujarat - an Indian region

As would be expected, the concept is controversial. Proponents claim that a citizen has a duty to take part in democratic processes. Voters tend to benefit by voting, and therefore it is in their own self-interest to do so. The large turnout that inevitably results from compulsory voting usually also reduces the chance that fringe and extremist parties will take power. Candidates are also more likely to run on more centrist policies if they know the entire country is coming out to vote.

However critics, especially libertarians and classical liberals, find compulsory voting to be an encroachment by the state on an individual’s rights. While voting may be in a citizen’s best interest, in a free society no one should be coerced into doing so. In addition, it may be beneficial for less informed voters not to take part in elections.  

The most notable example of a country that practices compulsory voting is Australia, which fines citizens who do not vote 20 dollars. The law was put into place in 1924, with voting being seen as a symbolic duty to honor the heroism of those that died in WWI. If the goal is to increase voter turnout, the project has largely been successful, with turnout not falling below 92% since 1962. Extremist parties have also rarely had any prominence in Australia, which is attributed to compulsory voting.

A study by Monash University also states that 75% of Australians are happy with online voting

See also: Legal Rule, Voter Turnout, Election

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