Sunday, September 8, 2013

LD Sep/Oct 2013 Compulsory Voting - Affirmative Position

Click here for part 1 of this analysis - definitions

Resolved: In a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory

Pro Position

Compulsory voting is already the norm in a significant part of the democratic world.  The CIA Factbook gives details on the number of countries currently mandating compulsory voting (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Congo, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, Honduras, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nauru, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Singapore, Thailand, Uruguay).  Perhaps not all of them are democratic in the classic sense of the word.  For example, some are Republics and the distinction between democracies and republics may or may not be significant in this debate.  The argument is strongly made by some historians that the United States, for example, is not a democracy, but is a republic.  At this point, I am not sure it is important for me, in my analysis to draw those distinctions.  There is a certain overriding perception among Americans (and that would include LD judges) that The U.S. is a democracy and so it is a model for democracies around the world.  Shaking that perception would only serve to add a measure of incredibility to a case.  For those, interested in examining those distinctions, here are a few sources:

Benedict LaRosa; Deomcracy or Republic, which is it?; undated

Hamilton A. Long; The American Ideal of 1776: The Twelve Basic American Principles; 1976

Generally, speaking both the Aff and Neg will find evidence.  Often one finds Aff and Neg arguments in the same articles and so it becomes a matter of weighing the good and bad and reaching a conclusion.  LD debate allows one to add an additional element: the value framework. This permits the savvy debater to shift the advocacy into another place which allows the judge to evaluate the round on the basis of something other than a rote weighing of benefits and harms.  Believe me, I have a feeling that if all you want to do is argue statistics, pragmatic facts, and historical reviews, go ahead but it will get boring very soon.  Link the pragmatics to big values and make the debate more interesting for everyone.

I also would like to touch on another potentially important area.  Many proponents of compulsory voting will point out that such systems can allow the individual voter to cast a sort of blank ballot which amounts to a "no vote".  This avoids the objection that claims people are being forced to vote in an unpopular election in which the individual does not wish to participate in either choice.  For example, a voter thinks all the candidates on a ballot are poor choices so decides not to vote for any of them.  This may be legitimate since often the compulsion is not to vote but rather show up to vote or at minimum to cast a ballot even if the ballot makes no choice.  One's vote then becomes, no vote.

Legitimacy in Numbers

One of the most common arguments, perhaps the ONLY argument for mandatory voting is the perceived need to overcome voter apathy and the tendency for low voter turn-out at elections.

Lever 2009:
"Participation in elections is declining in most advanced industrial countries. Lower turnout, moreover, is more unequal turnout and these two facts, taken together, underpin the case for compulsion. Lower turnout seems to threaten the legitimacy of a country’s government and electoral system, because it significantly increases the likelihood that governments will reflect a minority, rather than a majority, of registered voters, and of the voting-population, itself."

Mackerras 1999:
"The level of popular participation in national elections is usually regarded as a sensitive barometer of the health of democratic institutions. Political systems that attract high levels of participation are seen as more legitimate and more responsive to the needs of the electorate compared to systems with lower levels of participation. As a consequence, various electoral devices have been introduced to increase turnout, the most notable of which is mandatory or compulsory voting."

Personally, I can find no other harm in the status quo other than low voter turn-out.  But, by solving that harm, it enables a number of advantage scenarios which can be claimed.  As you research, you will discover the low turn out harm, has impacts but the most important cited in the literature is the impact upon governmental legitimacy and this could be the most important value in the round.  I think anyone can understand that if only 40% of the eligible voters cast a vote, one can question if the elected government truly represents the majority which is supposed to be a criteria of democratic governments.  Therefore, a very simple and obvious value/criteria framework is isolated.  The value of governmental legitimacy is upheld by maximizing voter participation; or by ensuring some kind of actual investment in the government by the majority of the citizens.  This is much more than merely affording the opportunity to vote.  It means to make sure people have their views represented.
So let's look at some advantages.

Malkopoulou 2009:
"Despite the many problems of enforcement, a number of scholars, policy-makers and voters worldwide continue to believe that compulsory voting is a good thing. Besides the obvious reason of increasing participation in elections, they defend it on many more grounds, theoretical and technical. In short, full participation prevents electoral corruption and promotes political integration and equal influence on the electoral outcome. In comparison to other means of boosting voter turnout, compulsory voting is the most effective measure; it decreases campaign spending, increases the income of the electoral administration and functions as an indirect tool for civic education."

The Minority Voice Advantage

Malkopoulou 2009:
"In his milestone article in 1997, Arend Lijphart argued that low turnout is biased against citizens with a lower education, income and social class. According to him, citizens with lower education or modest social status, as well as those belonging to ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities, are more prone to abstention than others. Conversely, voluntary voting perpetuates political inequalities and misrepresentation."

Further to the claims of Lijphart, Carey and Horiuchi conducted empirical studies so see if low voter turn-out did indeed result in bias which disfavored the low-income sector of society.  They concluded Lijphart was correct and the interested reader can review their methodology (though the source is missing the graphics) in the paper cited in the bibliography.

Flavin 2012:
"One likely reason that citizens with low incomes are underrepresented by their elected officials is that this group votes at significantly lower rates than more affluent citizens (Lijphart, 1997; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995). Therefore, the upper income bias in political representation might simply be an artifact of the reality that (1) elected officials focus their energies on representing the opinions of citizens who vote and (2) wealthy citizens turn out to vote at higher rates than citizens with low incomes. As Sidney Verba (2003, p. 663) put it, “Equal activity is crucial for equal consideration since political activity is the means by which citizens make their needs and preferences known to governing elites and induce them to be responsive.”

Wealth is not the only determinate in low-voter turnout.  Other demographics are also affected differently in other parts of the world.  For example, the following reference with respect the the European Union.

Lever 2009:
"Now, as it happens, in Britain, as in most other countries, it is age, rather than wealth or income, which is the best predictor of who votes (Blais 2000).9 Interestingly, in Britain, race is not a significant variable in explaining turnout, nor is wealth per se. In so far as they matter to turnout, in other words, it is because they are correlated to age and to the second most important factor to explain turnout, namely, education10 Indeed, Keaney and Rogers say of age that “it is the single most significant of socio-demographic factors – more significant even than socioeconomic status” (2006, 11)."

The Morality Advantage

Lever's paper brings up an interesting argument which leads to a possible case advantage for compulsory voting.  If the voting of can be visualized to incur a cost, then those who do not vote are not paying the cost, hence, they are "free-riding" on the efforts and responsibility of those who do vote.

Lever 2009:
"The key idea here is that a democratic electoral system is a public good, in that all citizens get to benefit from it, even if they do nothing to contribute to it. Because it is a public good, it is possible to free-ride, or to enjoy the benefits of that good, without contributing oneself and, indeed, most people will have an interest in doing precisely that. Non-voters, therefore, can be seen as free-riders, selfishly and immorally exploiting voters."

The Balance Advantage

One of the claimed impacts of low voter turnout is target campaigning by those seeking office or the passage of issues.  One need not strain their thinking to hard to realize that campaign money and energies will be focused on those groups which are likely to turnout at elections and those who are  least likely to vote will be ignored.

Hajnal 2011:
"The skewed nature of the vote raises real concerns about how well the interests of different groups are served in democracy. As V.O. Key noted decades ago, “The blunt truth is that politicians and officials are under no compulsion to pay much heed to classes and groups of citizens that do not vote” (1949:99). The fear is that individuals and groups who do not participate in the voting process will be overlooked and their concerns ignored (Martin 2003, Bennet and Resnick 1990, Piven and Cloward 1988). Policies will be biased, outcomes unfair, and in the end American democracy will represent the interests of the privileged few over the broader concerns of the masses (Mills 1956; Schattschneider 1970)."

The Value of Voting

There is a lot of argument on both sides of this debate and hopefully I have given you enough to get moving on some ideas for cases.  There are more advantages that can be isolated and the research will yield these quite easily.  One can choose to create and defend a very pragmatic, non-philosophical case and it can be successful on the basis of comparative advantages.  There will be objections of the Neg side, most notably regarding the problems associated with enforcing the mandate to vote.  Aff can choose to avoid this argument by taking the debate to a more abstract level.  In other words, the resolution asks us to debate whether or not voting OUGHT to be compulsory not how to make it compulsory which is more in keeping with proposing a plan.  However, be careful because a pragmatic case will be subject to pragmatic evaluation.

Solving the main identified harm of low turnout suggests the governmental legitimacy is an obvious choice, as I have already mentioned earlier.  Nevertheless, other values emerge as one examines the advantage scenarios.  Consider values like equality and justice, for example.

I see this as a good topic to start the season.
Good luck.

Click here for the next part in the series - Neg positions


Carey, John M, Horiuchi, Yusaku; Compulsory Voting and Income Inequality; 2013

Flavin, Patrick; Does Higher Voter Turnout Among the Poor Lead to More Equal Policy Representation?; Baylor University, Asst Professor; 2012

Hajnal, Zoltan, Troustine, Jessica;Uneven Democracy: Turnout, Minority Interests, and Local Government Spending; 2011

Lever, Annabelle; Is Compulsory Voting Justified?; 2009

Mackerras, M., McAllister, I; Compulsory voting, party stability and electoral advantage in Australia; 1999



  1. What's a good VC? I tried util but it doesn't work well.

    1. In my opinion, util is NOT a value. It is a framework used to justify actions. In fact, util promotes happiness and happiness is a value but perhaps not a good one for this resolution. Democracy itself may be a value but a useful strategy may be to isolate values which are promoted by democracy such as fairness, protection of rights (yes - despite the compulsion) which guards life and liberty, the common good, justice, and diversity.

    2. thanks for the input

      however i found a card stating that democracy IS utilitarian, because in a democracy we start off with valuing each person's well-being in a government

      John Hart Ely(Princeton University, Yale Law School, faculty at Harvard), a scholar, mentions in his book, Constitutional Interpretivism: Its Allure and Impossibility, that a democratic government is utilitarian.
      What is important to an attempt to understand the seemingly inexorable appeal of democracy in America is that whether we admit it or not-which is largely a function of whether our descriptive eye is distracted by the side constraints and distributional corrections or rather remains on the underlying system being corrected-we are all, at least as regards the beginnings of our analysis of proposed governmental policy, utilitarians. There may be, indeed there must be, further steps, but the formation of public policy, at least in this country, begins with the questions how many are helped, how many hurt, and by how much. The way this connects with democracy is fairly obvious. It is possible to assert, I suppose, that the best way to find out what makes the most people happy is to appoint someone to make an estimate[yet this idea is irrational], but no one could really buy this idea. The more sensible way, quite obviously, is to let everyone register their own preference. There are many subjects on which I am prepared to yield to the expertise of others; the subject of what makes me happy is not among them. Thus democracy is a sort of applied utilitarianism -unfortunately possessing utilitarianism's weaknesses as well as its strengths-an institutional way of determining the happiness of the greatest number.

      My 1C is that compulsory voting legitimizes a democracy because higher turnout makes a better representation of the people
      this is utilitarian because I legitimize democracy, and democracy is utilitarian.

      2c: Too much liberty destroys the government. NOncompuslory voting gives too much freedom and when too less people vote the democracy is less legit and the government is worse.

      Utilitarian again because I legitimize democracy.

      Thanks for responding, could you help me review this?

    3. Okay. I think your case Is completely workable. I am not sure what your value criterion is, but nothing in your card changes what I said. Util is not a value, it is a standard. I hate to sound like govt legitimacy is the only value (it is not) but in your case, it jumps out at me and something like upholding democratic ideals is a criterion that fits the case. The fact that democracy maximizes happiness for the majority (i.e. it is util) gives the judge a reason to prefer democracy and its principles. As for the too much liberty claim, it is tricky but I agree there is a card (maybe several) that says that true liberty is realized when people agree to constrain absolute liberty. Believe me, to explain this in detail would take an article in itself but I hope I have given you enough to make it work. good luck.

  2. Hi,

    I was wondering if the value equality would work well with the criterion duty.


    1. The value of equality is fine. But for me, the criterion of duty is vague and vague standards make judging difficult. The criterion tells the judge "this is how we achieve equality" so there must be a link that supports "duty achieves equality". So maybe you are thinking, "doing our duty achieves equality" but it is still vague. What duty must be done to achieve equality? I think it is workable if you prove citizens have a duty to vote in a democracy, then the criterion becomes "maintaining the democratic duty to vote". It supports the Aff because govt mandated voting becomes a duty much like the draft upholds the duty to defend the country, and it is a criterion that is fair to the Neg, because they also can maintain the duty to vote, but only in the Aff world does the duty result in consistently high voter participation where equality is upheld because everyone is given equal opportunity (one assumes) to voice their opinion at the polls (or whatever you link between duty and equality happens to be).

  3. for negative, if my value was autonomy. what could i use as a criterion?

    1. So why didn't you ask this question under the post about the Neg position? I am asked this question often, what VC should I use? But the VC is the link between your case and your value. Anything can be a VC but it is very dependent on your case. Ask yourself how your case supports autonomy. When you can boil it down to a single sentence or phrase you have your answer. Does your case protect autonomy because it "upholds individual freedoms", or because it "protects choice", or because it "minimizes government coercion" - those would be examples.


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