DH EXPLAINER | Compulsory voting and its rules

NITI Aayog CEO, Amitabh Kant on Thursday has suggested that compulsory voting is worth a try in a country like India, considering the apathy of the rich and middle-class voters in the urban cities of the country.

But how does it work? DH explains compulsory voting rules and how they work around the world.

Compulsory voting is a practice wherein penalties are imposed on citizens who fail to vote on election day. As of 2015, there are 26 countries with compulsory voting, out of which the practice is enforced as a law in 12 countries.

The Australian Electoral Commission holds that ”It shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election”. Hence,  the Australian Electoral Commission doesn't regard voting as merely a right, but as a responsibility or a duty, and therefore failing to do so results in punishments.

In Australia, alternates forms of voting had been introduced to ensure that compulsory voting can take place, keeping in mind certain obvious obstructions, like unavailability or emergencies. These alternate methods include postal voting, pre-poll voting, absentee voting or voting at mobile teams at either hospitals or in remote locations.

The primary reason cited for the introduction of compulsory voting back in the early 20th century when Australia was still a part of the British Empire, was to ensure that there was high participation of the public, thereby assuring that the representatives elected into office are elected purely by people's mandate. The voter turnout has never fallen below 90 per cent since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1924.

Arguments have been made both for and against the idea of compulsory voting. Proponents of the idea argue that voting is a civic duty comparable to duties such as taxation and therefore it makes sense to make voting mandatory. On the other hand, opponents of the idea argue that compelling people to vote is an infringement of their liberty and that the uninformed or apolitical populace don't voluntarily make decisions.

Failure to vote at a State election or a referendum will lead to the person receiving a notice, seeking an explanation as to why the person failed to enforce his/her duty. The penalty for first-time offenders is $20 (AUD) and that number is hiked to 50$ for repeated violations. If the explanation provided by the violator is reasonable, the person is exempted from paying the fine. The reasoning for failure to vote can include personal physical inability, accidents or claims of public duty which made it impossible for the person to vote at the time. Claims that openly question the very essence of the compulsory voting system are not accepted by the courts.

Repeated failure to acknowledge notices could result in punishments which might include seizing of the person's driver's license. Excessive cumulation of fines could also lead to possible jail time for the offender.

Other countries in which compulsory voting is enforced include Belgium, Brazil and Switzerland among others. In Brazil, people who fail to vote are barred from obtaining a passport until they stand before an electoral judge and settle the dispute.

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