Mandatory voting; why not?

With voter participation falling with each election, online voting won't push percentages up enough.

B.C.’s Chief Electoral Officer announced last week that the Independent Panel on Internet Voting has been struck. The esteemed panel includes an East Kootenay presence, Lee-Ann Crane, CAO of the RDEK.

The panel will look at the possibility of online voting, including a hard look at technology, cryptography, Internet security policy, and electoral administration,

The primary reason internet voting would even be looked at is the appalling drop in voter participation in this province and across the country. Participation at the polls has dropped a good 20 per cent in less than a generation, and yes, that is troubling.

However, I am going to go out on a limb and say internet voting won’t work, and furthermore, it shouldn’t even be considered because the only thing that will truly allow a vote that cannot be tampered with at all is mandatory voting.

I can see you recoiling in disgust now — mandatory voting in a democracy? But consider this — mandatory voting is in place in many jurisdictions around the world including liberal democracies like Belgium, Australia and Switzerland. And it’s working. Australia’s voting participation sits at around 95 per cent.

But before we delve further into the ins and outs of mandatory voting, let’s discuss why internet voting makes me so uncomfortable.

When you vote, it’s you and a pencil and a ballot. That’s it, that’s all. There’s no one close enough to see how you vote, no one standing beside you to make sure you vote how they have instructed you — it’s just you and your pencil.

Internet voting does not allow that. Period.

No matter how you encrypt your program, no matter the safeguards in place, you cannot prevent voter coercion from taking place inside someone’s home. You cannot prevent a husband standing over his wife’s shoulder as she casts her ballot, or vice versa. You cannot prevent one politically aware person from holding an election party, logging in for each person and suggesting they vote for a certain party. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with internet voting.

And besides, I’m not sure the voting rate goes up much if you can vote on the internet. It’s not that difficult, especially in a small city like Cranbrook or Kimberley, to get to a polling place. It’s just not. And there are advance polls as well. I don’t think being able to vote at home is going to get those who are not inclined to head to the ballot box politically engaged.

Australia has had mandatory voting in place for almost 80 years. Voter turnout of those registered to vote in Australia was as low as 47 per cent (we’re almost there Canada) prior to the 1924 compulsory voting law. In the decades since 1924, voter turnout has hovered around 94 to 96 per cent.

Technically, it’s not mandatory voting but mandatory attendance at the polls since no one knows who voted in a secret ballot — we’re back to that you and the pencil thing. The punishment for not showing without a valid reason is a fine, so yes there would be some administration cost.

But look at the gains. A government truly elected by the people, and a people truly engaged in the democratic process.

Yes, there will be people casting ballots having not truly done any research on the candidates, but I bet that happens now too. And nobody is saying you can’t deliberately spoil your ballot in protest once you do attend the polls.

I’ve always said you shouldn’t complain about your government if you don’t vote. Nobody listens to me, of course. Everyone complains about their government. But mandatory voting would make sure everybody votes as well.

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