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FROM THE OJEN BLOG

Announcing Canada’s Next Top Law 2015!

OJEN is proud to announce the winner of this year’s Canada’s Next Top Law competition: the Mandatory Voting proposal by RH King Academy. Here’s a summary:

The Proposal:  Introduce a new law to mandate that every eligible person in Canada who has the right to vote must do so. People who disobey their duty to vote will be issued a $500 fine.  A person will be exempt if they can clearly demonstrate the reason they were not able to vote in the election.  Failure to pay the fine will result in community service, and failure to vote in three subsequent elections will make the offender eligible for a sentence of up to 30 days in jail.”

This proposal impressed us with its boldness, its supporting research, and its attention to detail. We liked that it provided a clear answer for a well-defined problem: what can we do about the low voter turnout in Canada? Their submission told us what the law would be, how it would be enforced, and why it should be adopted – all the things we were looking for in a Next Top Law!

In their full proposal, the students from RH King Academy expanded on the reasons why they thought this proposal was justified and necessary. Here’s an excerpt from their analysis:

“There are many purposes for proposing this law. Firstly, mandatory voting would provide more accurate results from municipal, provincial, and federal elections as the elections would be representing every individual eligible to vote rather than only representing the individuals that choose to vote. This means that the majority will be represented rather than just the majority of the individuals that chose to vote which is what happens in most elections today. Secondly, if voting is mandatory, it will have to be made easier and more accessible to ensure that the individuals that must vote are able to do so. Another purpose of mandatory voting is to guarantee that the entire electorate, which is all the people in a country or area who are entitled to vote in an election, are considered when policies are created and managed. This means that individuals of the wealthy class or other groups cannot overly influence government officials to create policies that only benefit them as everyone eligible to vote will be voting making it much more challenging to do so. Lastly, mandatory voting would allow politicians to focus on serious issues rather than campaigning to get the average voter to come to the poll and vote.  This will also encourage more people to actively follow the political campaigns as it is mandatory for them to vote for one of the politicians when it comes time for elections. This will also lead to Canadians being more politically informed and more confident in their voting decisions.”

They also engaged with counter-arguments to their proposal. They noted, for example, that some people choose not to vote as a form of political expression, while others don’t vote because polling places are inaccessible or they don’t have time. The students from RH King hoped that greater voter turnout would put pressure on the government to make voting easier and faster for people with challenging schedules or disabilities. Although the question of people who don’t vote for political reasons remains a tricky one, we liked that the students who proposed this law spent time discussing with those arguments and considering both the short and long-term effects of their new law.

This proposal was a contentious one around our office; it caused us to have some great conversations about rights, democracy, and civic participation.  It also made us think about all the enforcement tools that the law has at its disposal besides traditional penalties like fines and jail time. This proposal takes a harsh, punitive stance on people who don’t comply with the law, which caused us to look up how mandatory voting is enforced in other jurisdictions. Australia has mandatory voting laws, and their enforcement scheme is a more lenient version of the one proposed by RH King: a $20 fine for not voting, which can be followed up with larger fines or, eventually, a criminal conviction.  You can find an interesting backgrounder on how it works here: http://www.aec.gov.au/About_AEC/Publications/backgrounders/compulsory-voting.htm.

The details of compulsory voting laws vary from place to place. Many jurisdictions have an upper age limit, usually around 70 (people older than 70 can still vote, of course, but are not obligated to do so). Lots have very serious consequences available for not voting – including jail time, losing public benefits, not being issued a passport, and disenfranchisement – but those tend to be rarely (if ever) enforced. It’s easy to forget that sometimes there is a lot of wiggle room between the text of a law and how it works in practice.

Congratulations to the students at RH King Academy, who have won a pizza party for their class!

And thank you to all of our participants this year.

 

By Michelle Thompson. More information about the Canada’s Next Top Law competition is available here.

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