Compulsory Voting and Human Rights

Stream: Panel 35 - Human Rights & Democracy: Human Rights & Democracy Panel 1: The Democracy – Human Rights Nexus 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm

Abstract

Compulsory Voting and Human Rights Critics of compulsory voting have suggested that the universal and equal right to vote (formal opportunity to vote) is sufficient to protect our rights as citizens. On this view, low voter turnout is as effective as high voter turnout where rights protection is concerned; therefore compulsory voting is an unwarranted imposition on personal autonomy. I challenge this line of reasoning by arguing that the mere opportunity to vote does not protect rights in the same way that actually voting does. It turns out that governments elected in high turnout (especially compulsory voting) elections behave differently to those elected in low turnout (usually voluntary voting) elections; for example, they tend to be better able (and willing) to protect such rights as the right to a decent standard of living, the right to an education and the right to equality before the law. When voter turnout is high, democracy functions better and rights are more secure. As will be shown, like any other right, when the right to vote goes unexercised, it only has “formal” existence. But it acquires “material” existence when it is actually exercised by every eligible citizen, in which case it serves its oft-asserted role as the sovereign right that protects all other rights. All this is particularly true of the Australian case.

Author

Lisa Hill (Presenter), University of Adelaide
Lisa Hill is a Professor of Politics at the University of Adelaide. She is a political theorist and intellectual historian with an additional interest in electoral studies.