Published on February 4, 2014 | by Sean McKee and Beau Bass


Should voting be made compulsory in the UK?

With young voter turnout at an all time low in the UK, Arts London News‘ Sean McKee and Beau Bass debate whether it’s time to introduce compulsory voting.

Sean Mckee says ‘yes’ to compulsory voting.

headshot of Sean Mckee

Sean thinks voting is a privilege as well as a right [Alice Russell]

At the last general election in 2010, only 46 per cent of 16-36 year olds cast their vote, compared to 76 per cent of over 65s. No wonder the government protects the elderly against budget cuts, they pretty much put them there!

I come from a place where until the late 1960s and early ’70s your right to vote was often based on your religion and how much land you owned. Elections and constituencies were deliberately manipulated to ensure a Protestant (and Unionist) majority ruled, and continued for decades despite a growing Catholic (and largely Nationalist) population. Voting, for me, is a way of thanking those who fought and campaigned for the right of representation, for themselves and future generations.

Being able to cast your vote is being able to tell the people in power whether you agree with how they run, or not. Sometimes protests are necessary to shock them into action. The London riots may have got out of hand, but it started as a largely peaceful protest, and the aftermath of the events in August 2011 has resulted in a complete overhaul of London Metropolitan Police’s policies, including controversial stop and search tactics targeting ethnic minorities.

Being able to vote fairly in a democratic society for someone to represent your beliefs and morals is a privilege as well as a right. The Arab Spring and Syrian conflict have shown exactly how hard some people in other parts of the world have to fight for something we take for granted.

Legal duties

Registering to vote and going to the polls are legal duties in Australia for citizens aged 18 and over, and failing to do so can result in a fine and potentially a day in court. Once non-registered voters and spoiled ballots are taken into account, turnout for polls is around 80 per cent, almost one fifth more than in the UK.

 People who wish to speak out against current government policies need to realise that they need to vote to have any valid opinion.

Although some critics argue that the system is a contradiction against the very system it attempts to uphold, do you really think it’s that big of an ask to turn up and vote every so often? I look at it as paying a bill. Even spoiling your vote or not filling it in is making a statement in itself. It’s a way of saying: ‘You haven’t done anything to improve my life, you aren’t getting my vote’ or ‘I want change’.

What is most important is that people who wish to speak out against current government policies need to realise that they need to vote to have any valid opinion. After all, if you have voted to put them there, then they are representing you. If you haven’t bothered, then they aren’t really speaking or making decisions on your behalf.

To go even further, engaging voters through compulsory voting may encourage them to believe that even if they don’t feel anyone represents them, then they are free to run for government themselves. That is the true ethos of democracy, after all.

Beau Bass says ‘no’ to compulsory voting

Headshot of Beau Bass

Beau thinks compulsory voting would take away the freedom to choose [Andy Fyles]

I’m not against voting per se, but the idea of compulsory voting presents a paradigm in itself – it both advocates and prevents the concept of one’s individual rights.

Voting allows you to have some control of the country you live in, yet forcing people to do so takes away your freedom to choose not to vote. There are compulsory elements that are logical for the society we live in such as education, taxes and jury service, but I naturally disagree with compulsory voting as it is an encroachment on civil liberty.

The encouragement of people to vote is not a bad idea at all. However, forcing people to place their ballot when they do not have any knowledge of politics could be quite detrimental. People may make ill-informed decisions as they are voting for the sheer fact that they have to. So how about a policy outlining the benefits of politics to try and get young people more engaged, rather than one that will infringe on individual rights?

Furthermore, some people abhor the concept of voting, regardless how good their eduction of politics might be. This is because many people do not trust politicians as they make promises they can not keep – so why waste your time voting? Didn’t the Liberal Democrats promise to scrap university tuition fees, yet now under the coalition, students pay a fee of up to £9,000? This is just one blatant lie of many I could name.

Therefore, is it so surprising that there is such a disillusion among many voters? If people do not want to submit their vote to the treachery of the ruling class then so be it.


Politicians should be campaigning to persuade people to vote freely without having to coerce the public into doing so. I think that the low rate of voters, particularly among the young, should not be blamed on the public but should be recognised as a failure on the part of politicians and the government. In order to squash this dissolution, political parties should be campaigning hard and really engaging with the needs of the public so that they can convince them of their merits. If the political parties on offer were more appetising to the public, and provided authentic promises that were followed through, then maybe more people would be registering to vote. But perhaps I am being a bit too optimistic.

All of this considered, compulsory voting will only foster more frustration with politics and politicians, as who likes being forced to do something they don’t want to do for someone they don’t like? I am aware that people in some countries are able to tick a box saying ‘none of the above,’ but some people have a strong aversion to politicians and therefore do not want to waste their time taking part in this spectacle whatsoever.

All of this considered, compulsory voting will only foster more frustration with politics and politicians, as who likes being forced to do something they don’t want to do for someone they don’t like?

Lastly, compulsory voting would only work under the pretence that there are punishments for people who do not vote. A monetary punishment is one way of intimidating people to the ballot box, but this would not necessarily mean that the people voting would be engaged in politics or would be making an educated decision.

With all this said I think it is important to mention that personally, I do vote, as I still have the faintest belief that it gives me some control over the country I live in, but I also enjoy that I reserve the right not to vote.


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