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Monday, August 26, 2013

Patronising first time voters

Today's report by the Institute for Public Policy Research recommending that we introduce compulsory first-time voting for young people is the most patronising I have seen for a long time.

The Institute suggest that such a measure could overcome the current apathy among young voters and tackle the “inequality” in turnout rates which means older, wealthier people in society have more influence over politics. In my view it is more likely to lead to widespread civil disobedience by young people, and I would not blame them.

I do not agree with compulsory voting. I do think that everybody should vote and that those who do not have to live with the consequences of decisions by other people, however forcing anybody to participate in the democratic process seems to me to be a contradiction in terms.

Compulsory voting is an admission of failure on the part of politicians. It is our job to give people a reason to vote. That turnout has been falling in recent years is an indication of how bad we are at that job. To focus a measure forcing people to vote on just one section of the population is a sign of desperation. It treats them as second class citizens, with lesser rights than others.

If we want young people to vote then we have to go out and inspire them to do so. Education is key, but at the end of the day most people only start to think about exercising their democratic rights when they take on the responsibility of a home, a job or a family. In other words when it becomes directly relevant to them. No amount of coercion is going to change that.
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