June 13, 2014 8:07 am

Should Ontario have mandatory voting?

Voters head to the polls on election day in Carleton Place, Ontario on Thursday June 12, 2014.


Okay, so Ontario’s voter turnout wasn’t as bad as some feared. In fact, it actually edged up a couple of percentage points compared to its record low in 2011.

But is this good enough? Should voting be mandatory?

Australia’s done it since 1925 and boasts turnout rates topping 90 per cent, making Ontario’s 52ish per cent look particularly abysmal.

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“Canada is on the lower end of voter turnout, even among our peer countries,’  says the Samara Foundation’s Jane Hilderman. “And it is a concern that we are starting to be the lowest performer in terms of voter turnout.”

Blame apathy, indifference, alienation from the traditional political process – or chalk up low turnout as a political statement in and of itself.

“Now, voting is increasingly seen as a choice. You have the right to vote but you also have the freedom to choose not to vote. So many more are opting for that freedom not to vote,” Hilderman said.

“Some say if there was an option on the ballot, like ‘None of the above,’ you’d probably have more people come out. So they’re voting with their feet, instead by staying at home.”

In 1925, Australia held itss first election with compulsory voting and saw a turnout of 91 per cent.

Those who do not vote get a letter requesting a valid reason for not voting or they must pay a $20 penalty.

If non-voters don’t pay the fine or provide sufficient or valid reason, they’re taken to court and can be fined up to $170 and have a criminal conviction.

According to the  Australian Electoral Commission, “it is at the discretion of the Division Returning Officer for each electorate to determine what is a valid and sufficient reason for not voting.”

But not everyone is sold on the idea of compulsory voting.

University of Toronto politics professor Nelson Wiseman says political leaders probably wouldn’t want voting to become mandatory.

“Leaders are not interested in proportional representation. … The smaller universe of voters, the more likely people will vote for them,” Wiseman said.

Voter turnout isn’t a true representation of a society’s level of democracy (or lack thereof), Wiseman argues.

“Iraq had a 70 per cent voter turnout, does that make them more democratic than us?” Wiseman asked. “No. we are not less democratic than Iraq because we may have less voter turnout, tonight.”

There are 31 countries that enforce mandatory voting.

Wiseman says the issue with low voter turnout isn’t because it’s optional; it’s because of a lack of education.

“If people knew more about politics,  they would be more likely to get engaged in it.”

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