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Compulsory voting

Published Tuesday, February 10, 2015

This Note examines the arguments for and against legislation to require voters to cast their votes and whether it is a citizen's duty, as well as a right, to vote.

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Should there be a legal requirement to cast a vote in elections? Would compulsory voting increase engagement in the political process across social classes and ages?

The decrease in turnout at elections has led to calls for a debate about introducing compulsory voting in the United Kingdom. This Note examines the arguments for and against legislation to require voters to cast their votes, and suggestions that it is a citizen’s duty, as well as a right, to vote. It also includes recent arguments for making voting compulsory for first time voters only, in order to instil the habit of voting.

The Note gives details of the experience of compulsory voting in other countries and draws together the conclusions of recent academic work on compulsory voting and summarises the publications of research institutes on this issue.

The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee conducted an inquiry on voter engagement and published reports in November 2014 and February 2015. In 2014, the Committee considered whether compulsory voting could be an effective way to increase voter turnout and engagement, but did not come to a unanimous conclusion. However, it did recommend that the next Government should conduct further research on this issue. The Coalition Government’s response to that Committee report was published in February 2015 and stated that the Government had no plans to introduce compulsory voting for elections in the UK.

In its second report the Committee was still not unanimous on compulsory voting, but recommended that the Government should consult early in the next Parliament and report its view to the House by May 2016.

Commons Briefing papers SN00954

Author: Hazel Armstrong

Topics: Elections, Electoral systems

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