Compulsory Voting

Thank you to Simon Fodden for inviting me to contribute to Slaw. I am delighted to be here!

One of yesterday’s headlines caught my eye: passing legislation to make voting mandatory in Canada. This debate is certainly not new, as each election and the somewhat disappointing turn out seems to bring similar questions to the forefront; however, any law addressing this matter has yet to be passed, as opposed to a number of countries that have already adopted such legislation.

As with any law, not voting would have consequences, i.e. penalties (a fine of some sort). Such a law could likely increase voter turn out and this, for a number of reasons – people want to respect the law, they want to avoid paying fines, etc.; but would it really make people care more about politics and democracy?

There is little doubt that in the long term, civic education is crucial to getting people to understand the importance of the role they play in Canadian democracy; however, what about in the short term? As with many things nowadays, it seems that social media has played a key role in this, among the age group that is most often criticized for its lack of enthusiasm when it comes to voting: the youth aged 18 to 25.

Rick Mercer, host of the Rick Mercer Report, has recently enflamed youth across the country with his rant on voting (you can see the video here). In reaction to this video, vote mobs – youth rallies encouraging their peers to vote – have taken place and continue to be planned at numerous university campuses across the country. Videos of these vote mobs are posted on Youtube and discussed in local and national newspapers. Several Facebook groups supporting the organization of vote mobs have sprung up. Twitter is also all aflutter with messages encouraging friends and strangers alike to vote on May 2nd. It will certainly be interesting to see whether this translates into an increased voting participation.

While the law is one method of creating obligations and incentives, there may also exist other methods to inspire people into doing something that should or needs to get done. Maybe there are other ways of getting people to vote than a law whereby fines would be meted out for failure to making your voice heard.


  1. I’ve contemplated the same following the 2008 election. You can see some of my thoughts on it here.

  2. Gabriel Granatstein

    Interesting post. There may be some merit to the argument that some political parties don’t have an interest in getting out the youth vote.

  3. Geneviève, welcome to Slaw!

    I had heard it was a Rick Mercer clip getting people revved up; thank you for the link.

  4. Interesting also that today’s headlines are talking about the unprecedented uptake in early voting.

    I must, by virtue of location, protest anything mandatory.

    Great post Geneviève. Welcome.

  5. This idea gets brought up during every election campaign and I must say the first time I heard it my reaction was that it is absurd because democracy cannot be about compulsion. I stopped voting years ago, but spend far more time than the average person engaged in what I consider to be political activism – advocating for fundamental reforms that no parliamentarians want to even consider. I believe that what most people lack, and what I lacked until I did the necessary reading, is an adequate understanding of the history of the development of our governing institutions.

    I suspect that the process of developing a workable democratic system (at least of the Westminster Parliamentary model) went seriously off the rails in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, at which time even the most inspired science-fiction writer could not imagine the Internet – a paradigm shift that politicians still don’t get.

    If any Canadian government does try to make voting mandatory I would hope someone would proceed with a Charter challenge.