Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Case against Compulsory Voting

To begin with, compulsory voting will require processes and man power to ensure adherence. Its a massive expansion of government and hence a colossal waste of tax payers money. Why would we divert resources to spy over people's political participation when that money could be spent on more useful sectors like Health and Education?

How come French people vote 85% without any compulsory voting? How so in Kerala, Puducheri and many north-eastern states? Infact except Australia, no serious democracy in the world has country-wide compulsory voting. I think its becos, compulsory voting is a extreme form of cynicism. An Unwillingness to trust people's judgment. If people have to be forced to vote, I wonder what kind of democracy will that entail?

We in India, don't even have postal ballots! We don't have week long polling as it is the case in the US. We don't receive the ballot packets by post. We whimsically schedule elections during extreme weather conditions. And on top of all these, we want to force people to vote? Are we serious?

People have genuine reasons not to vote. They could be working away from home and cannot afford to go home for voting. Daily labourers cannot miss a day's work. People might be sick, old and dying. People might be travelling for causes that are much more important like ... family. In the ridiculously staggered elections we have, people can have a holiday when their place of work goes to polls and not when their hometown goes to polls. Now how incredibly arrogant and perverted should someone be, to ask the above people to come, stand before a babu and explain their conduct? Or else face punishment! Really? How arrogant? How can citizens be treated with such disdain?

One of the reasons put forth for compulsory voting is that, it'll make our democracy more representative. Really? In about one-fourth of the constituencies at all levels, namely the ones reserved for SC/STs, a majority of the population cannot contest the election becos they belong to the 'wrong' caste. And in the local bodies, half the population cannot contest elections becos they belong to the wrong gender. Now, how is one responsible for his gender or his/her alleged caste? In a electoral process designed to never truly represent the people, how can we make voting compulsory?

Why not respect people's right to boycott elections? Every election, some village or the other announces a boycott of elections. I think its beautiful. To see a whole village expressing its opinion in one voice, even to not vote, is a triumph of democracy much more than a vote forced out of people. Some years ago, in the Modakurichi constituency of Tamilnadu, many farmers decided to contest, so as to make a point about their demands. The election was delayed a while to make arrangements and when it did happen, people were given booklets containing about 1600 contestants! Again, how beautiful!

In the past several elections, some constituencies of Kashmir like Sopore have recorded less than 20% voting. Many Kashmiris genuinely reject Indian occupation of their land. While the rest of us would like them to remain part of the Union, we should, at the very least, respect the right of Kashmiris to reject our electoral process. Everytime there is an election in Kashmir or recently in Jharkhand, our media and the state claim victory for the status-quo. How cheap? Why not let people express their anger in one of the more peaceful ways? Namely boycotting elections.

Article 21 of our constitution provides for 'Personal liberty'. I think its a violation of fundamental rights provided by that article, to make citizens explain their choices in such a whimsical issue as voting in the elections. And punishing citizens for not harming anyone's right to anything is utterly unacceptable. Remember, this article grants citizens the right to Emigrate out of India without having to give any reason.

In anycase, republic, constitution and democracy are all make believe concepts. No matter how well intentioned they are, and widely accepted by the people, no individual can be forced to accept citizenship and a particular form of governance. If a person wants to stay out of these processes, his/her right to do so, must be respected by all means.

This is not to say that someone who claims not to accept the constitution and our laws, can violate them. Becos by doing so, he/she might be denying the rights of others who have accepted the constitution. And the Republic is entitled to quarantine such individuals from the rest of the constitutional society in a safe place like a Jail. But the minimum requirement here is that someone's constitutional rights must have been violated. A person not voting is by no means causing any such offence.

Even people who accept membership of the Indian Republic, need not agree with our practice of first past the post, electoral democracy. They could be Communists, Libertarians, Epicureans or say Sanyasis who have renounced the worldly affairs. For these people, 49-O, the none-above provision, is not a sufficient form of rejection. Because that would give legitimacy to a process which doesn't deserve it. I can't fathom situations where a sky-clad Jain monk is going out to vote or has to explain to a Govt babu the reasons for not voting.

And finally, in the last year, I have personally met about 7000 people and asked them to vote. In the Lok Sabha elections, I was campaigning for a party and now I'm part of a non-partisan effort to boost voting in my municipal ward. Nothing will make me more happy than to see 85% or more voter turnout in the elections.

This morning I stood for about 5 hours at a stall to help people to register to vote. And I'm willing to spend many of my weekends like this. But I will never accept a solution where my fellow citizens are forced to do something, anything by the state. Compulsory voting is a shameless assault on people's liberty. And liberty is never negotiable.


Anonymous said...

Well written...

Maybe some simple perks for voting??

Again controversial, but seems better than compulsory voting.

Arun said...

I'll wait for online voting.

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GuNs said...

Interesting point of view. I would though like to see what can be done of those cynical, lazy buttheads who take the day off for elections and sit at home watching TV instead of voting and then after the results they again sit on their couch blaming the government for what is wrong and what could be improved etc. All this while throwing trash out of car windows and train windows and on the street while walking.

Something needs to be done about such people - I'm not a big fan of complete freedom: there should be some limits to freedom. Freedom shouldn't mean you are free to go and murder anyone you like or dirty any street you like. After a point, freedom needs to be curtailed to separate humans from other animals - we cant really stick one leg up randomly anywhere while walking and let loose a stream of pee, can we? Leave that to the dogs, please.


Balaji said...

well, freedom is only to the extant that the same freedoms of others aren't violated.

looting etc violates others right to property etc. so are obviously not freedoms.