Should voting be compulsory in European Parliament election?

June 5, 2009

As people across the European Union vote in a European
Parliament election
, is it perhaps time to consider making voting in each country compulsory by law?

The build-up to the election has been dominated by talk of voter apathy and how low the turnout will be at the polls. This has drowned out discussion of policies and how to bring about changes in government.

As an Irishman living in Belgium,  I must vote in the elections or face a hefty
fine. My first response to this five years ago was: How dare they
tell me what to do ? But on further reflection, it may make sense.

It is annoying to listen to people who haven’t voted for
years trying to put the world to rights by complaining about
their government or engaging in a bit of “Euro bashing”.
The only way they can make a difference is to vote.

Voting is compulsory on the election in Belgium, Cyprus, Greece
and Luxembourg.

Pollsters say a low turnout favours the extreme left and
far-right parties because they can mobilise their voters while 
mainstream voters are more likely to stay at home. 

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also made
the point that there is another issue at stake — that most
countries in Europe have experienced bloodshed without which
people may never have had the right to vote in some countries. He
appealed to voters not to scorn this chance to vote.

16 comments

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I think it should be compulsory. I would also prefer that the polling booths were equipped with something that leaves a less erasable mark than the pencil the polling booth I used in London yesterday was equipped with, and that there weren’t so many complaints about the miss-use of postal votes, the most recent being in relation to a Labour Party candidate selection vote in south-east London. I like democracy, but I’m a bit worried about the way it’s implemented.

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

NO NO NO! People have the right NOT to vote! Forcing someone to vote is an attack on human rights!

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

There’s always the accusation that forced voting will lead to wild swings in support for minor or reactionary parties. Yet the evidence doesn’t support this in any of the countries mentioned here nor in Australia where voting is also compulsory. In fact the AUS$100 is motivation enough for Aussies working abroad to form very long queues outside their embassy to cast their votes. Luxembourg is another case in point where forced voting could lead to mass vote spoiling as the electorate is so small but here too there appears to be a general acceptance that voting is just like paying tax – unavoidable and necessary to live in a civilised society

Posted by Joe L | Report as abusive

I’m against compulsory voting. If people don’t want to participate i don’t see why the government should force them. Democracy gives you the right to vote and free speech and personal i’m all for that.
But some people just don’t care or have ideological motivations for not voting, and i fully grant them that right too.

If the politicians, whether it is for the European Parliament og local city council races in Luxembourg, want people to vote, the politicians most encourage them by talking about issues that concern them. Not by forcing them so it looks like everyone cares.

Posted by David Garby | Report as abusive

Definitely not. It’s the media and governments’ fault for not motivating people to vote. If the issues are not explained how can we expect people to vote? And forcing people to vote would make people vote for the fringes out of disgust at being forced to vote for something many of them might disapprove of in the first place. Get the political and media houses in order and people might become interested.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

I don’t vote in Euro elections not because I don’t care – apathy – but because I refuse to participate in an electoral fraud – proportional representation – which perpetuates the grip of a corrupt political class on powewr.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

Voting is a right, not an obligation. Some politicians fail to understand who is the master and who is the servant here. The master is the citizen. Don’t forget it.

Posted by James | Report as abusive

It would be nice to be able to vote at all. I’m an Englishman living in the Netherlands. Tony Blair abolished my vote with a sneaky bit of legislation. British people who live outside the UK for more than 15 years now have no automatic right to a vote in the UK.

European regulations say in order to vote in a country other than your own, you must transfer your vote from country of origin to country of residence. You do this by filling in a form. But since I now have no vote in my country of origin I have nothing to transfer.

Posted by Adrian | Report as abusive

Voting is just one of many civic duties citizens in a free democratic state are charged with. We all now the price when we fail to meet our responsibilities.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Voting should not be compulsory, making it so is an attack on democracy itself.
People with no interest in voting should have no input, thus narrowing down the voting population to the more politically educated.

What should be compulsory is political education, without which one cant hope to make an informed decision, and democracy is almost worthless. Capitalistic societies usually leave it up to almost unregulated private undemocratic media monopolies tied to the business aristocracy of a two party system as the primary source of political education, making democracy in these countries definitively bankrupt.

If people aren’t voting it’s because they obviously don’t think it matters.. How can you believe in democracy when you only get to answer 1 multi-choice question every 3-4 years and the victors in the “greatest democracies in the western world” can win with a ‘majority’ of 30% of the population? How can you believe in democracy when people like bush are being voted in, twice!

The only reason voting is made compulsory is to make ‘democracy’ appear more legitimate. If it were, news-media would be a democratic science and we would be using modern technology to vote on issues, representing ourselves.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

I think it is all about making a decision, abstaining
means “nothing” voting means “i at least try to make things better according to my views by selecting my
representative whom i grant “le benefice d’etre honete”.

Posted by Constantine | Report as abusive

I know what you’re trying to say constantine but I respect people’s right to make the decision to not want to lend their name and legitimacy to something they don’t believe in. If you are serious about making things better wouldn’t you rather highlight the deficiencies in the choices you’ve been offered than play along.
I don’t ever think it’s better to abstain from your conscience, and the decision to ignore elections does mean something as it highlights a big problem that urgently needs our attention.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

It’s a pity that those people that advocate that all of us Europeans should vote in these elections didn’t give us the opportunity to vote on whether or not we wished to be a part of a united Europe in the first place.

If I had a baby and the choice of babysitters were:

a) Ian Huntley
b) Fred West
c) Myra Hindley

I would rather not choose than have to be forced.

It is rather annoying to have people refer to those (like myself) who prefer not to choose as “idiots” or “politically inept”.

Also, the only vote regarding membership of europe was to join a “common market” and not the superstate we are heading towards now.

At the last election the labour party said they would hold a referendum and then once in power, weasled out of it.

That is one of the reasons that there have been many who have used their vote as a “protest” vote.

Posted by Billy | Report as abusive

Compulsory voting for the European Parliament?

How about a compulsory vote in each country to determine whether that country should be part of the EU at all?

Those countries which voted to be part of it instead of being sold into it might see a little more enthusiasm for its Parliament and a higher turnout at the elections.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Given tht 40 odd per cent dont vote anyway perhaps this is something to be mobilised.

Some of them at least are not doing this quite deliberately probably cos they want none of the above

When you vote you have a choice tweedledum , teedle dee or in the case of the lib dems tweedle c

Imagine if someone was to organise some kind of boycott of the next election

If it was well known I reckon that at least 10% of the electorate would send u their ballott papers the day after the election based on the average post war turnout of 75% compared with 60% at the last 2 elections

and many more would be interested if they thought it could undermine the political class

The present political system is rotten

Iraq proved that Mps dont represent us

the expenses scandal proved they were in it for themselves

If this is indeed a democracy then surely u should have a right to reject the lot and demand something better

an organised boycott would be a way of expressing this

Posted by James Rowland | Report as abusive