For the first time ever, voter turnout has gone up in European elections. More than half of all eligible voters cast their ballots in May 2019, the highest proportion since 1994. Which is great news, as we’re sure everyone would agree. But what about the half who didn’t vote? What do they think? Was it principled political abstention? Were they too busy to vote? Too confused by all the options? Or just lazy?

Turnout in the first European Parliament elections in 1979 was over 60% (for comparison, that’s roughly the same proportion as turned out to vote in the most recent UK General Election). Until this year, however, the trend has been sloping downwards. So, how might things have looked if voter participation had been closer to 90%, as it is in Belgium – the country with the oldest system of compulsory voting in the world?

Voter turnout in individual EU Member States varies wildly. Belgium and Luxembourg almost always top the list with voter participation greater than 80%. However, these outliers are easy to explain, in both these countries voting is compulsory and people who don’t cast their ballot risk being fined. The argument in favour of extending compulsory voting to other countries is that if too few people vote then it weakens democracy, allowing dedicated (and more extreme) minorities to capture the political process.

Low voter turnout is particularly a challenge in Eastern Europe. Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are all lagging behind, but many analysts argue this can’t just be brushed off as being about a lack of interest. In these countries there were elections under socialism, but they were not free. That experience has, arguably, left many people very sceptical about elections and the legitimacy they confer on elected representatives. Given that history, might compulsory voting feel like it’s intruding on civil rights? Shouldn’t it also be a person’s right not to vote?

Should voting be compulsory? Would it strengthen democracy? Or would it just trample over people’s rights? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credits: (cc) Flickr – Keith Ivey

33 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    You wish? Sorry, but a firm NO for “EU elections”!

    Refer: “Are you happy with the EU election results” dated 27/05/19 dealt with a similar scenario. Replies from the “policymakers and experts” on these comments are still outstanding = ignored!

    Repeat: The average participation for the last 8 EU elections was ~52.08%. If one includes this election than the average t.d. is ~51.95%. The 2019 50.95% result is higher than some previous figures, but still narrowly below the overall average.
    I estimate this is rather a measure of political displeasure than pleasure!

    As long as the political parties and their manifestos on national & EU level remain disjointed and unaligned I see no sense to make EU elections compulsory. The entire “expert’s” thinking- remains “wishful thinking”.

    Our electoral choice could/is easily sold to different EP groupings during the “EU auction window” until the EP is finalized- without any possibility for us to intervene!

    The real democratic influence to oppose and voice ones disapproval over the present EU concept remains the one and only peaceful weapon in the hands of all voters: to withhold one’s vote on a massive scale in all 28 Members states.

    Only an EU election boycott would/could force the EU ruling clique & their “policymakers” into serious re/actions.

    Please don’t start counting your chickens before the hatch!

  2. avatar
    catherine benning

    Should voting be compulsory?

    How can you force people to vote for those put up who are unfit for purpose and do not offer policies the citizens wish for? That is crazy.

  3. avatar

    No, it’s completely illogical for a civil right to be compulsory. Then it’s not a civil right any longer. If politicians want more votes, they should persuade the citizens to vote, not obligate them.

  4. avatar

    Local civic assemblies should be. Political decisions need to be made from the bottom – up, not from the top -down. You work for us!

  5. avatar

    YES… Have the option to vote blank of course… but if you don’t vote… €20 fine… but then it should also be made easier to vote… for example online voting…

    • avatar

      Thomas , blank goes too the majority. What if I don’t agree with this and prefer not to vote at all? Pay for something most off the Belgian people want to leave. I don’t think so. Over the years we will leave. We’ve had it with corruption and other lies.

    • avatar

      Although I think you find that the blank vote doesn’t go to the majority anymore. But, yes being fined for not voting does make a mockery of the freedom part of democracy.

    • avatar

      Marc, witch democracy? Can we vote for the EU president?

    • avatar

      Marc why a mockery? there are a lot of things in one’s adult life that aren’t done freely voting should be at the top of one’s list ! and Ghislaine i’m sorry to say i’m from the UK a biger joke when it come’s to democracy you won’t find plus we can’t vote for our prime minister

    • avatar

      No you can’t!

    • avatar

      David –
      It’s a mockery because you aren’t free to choose to vote or not to vote.
      As for voting for our PM that’s part of the problem with the party politics model. Another thing about the UK is that it’s not a democracy. It’s a constitutional monarchy. Probably the fairest system available but, it has been subverted by the establishment for the last 800 years.

  6. avatar

    Only people who pay tax should be allowed to vote.

    • avatar

      Rumy – I agree if you are a long term burden on the people who pay all the bills why should you get a say

    • avatar

      I’d say only who pay property tax or taxes on profit. Labor shouldn’t be taxed at all. Or as a reward for military service. Voting is in fact a privilege not a right. When you vote, you’re exercising political authority, by deciding on other people’s destiny, and by doing that, you’re using force, the supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.

    • avatar

      Rumy – everybody pays taxes, even those on benefits. Taxes are imposed at the source, so no one escapes. Except those who cheat on their income taxes and/or employ people illegally.

  7. avatar

    I think it is more important to make sure that those who do vote really understand exactly what they are voting for.

    • avatar

      Michele – you mean like all those remaniacs who don’t really know anything about the EU?

    • avatar

      Michele – like the 17.5 million voters who had no idea for what they were voting. Or the coward that allowed them to decide

  8. avatar

    Yes it should once the individual meets the eligibility criteria, it would have the added benefit of ensuring actual majorities rather than political majorities shaped the democratic landscape of the relative jurisdiction.

  9. avatar

    Voting is a right not a duty. Compulsory voting is an unconstitutional oppression.

    • avatar

      Лукан – in Belgium it’s a duty

  10. avatar

    Voting does not mean democracy. Democracy is represented by political parties. The parties are in turn formed by people selected by the people for the people. If the EU takes away democracy, takes off the parties and removes the people…. the vote serves what? (I mean the European not to national and national ones are already expressed) to decide if the rope where to hang me I want a meter or a meter and a half? I don’t want the rope and if the choice is on the rope to hang people don’t vote, people (and democracy) has already been excluded upstream of how he intends to live
    Ps European Constitution failed and passed the same as treaty of Lisbon that prevails on the constitutional principles of the states The Rope of the gallows

  11. avatar

    Paying taxes is a civil duty, voting should be, too. No taxation without representation, no representation without voting.

  12. avatar

    An interesting question! In Belgium it is

  13. avatar

    Yes it should be! It already is here. It should be everywhere in Europe.

  14. avatar

    I believe voting is not only a right, but also a duty, at least in memory of those who died struggling for that right, in almost every european country. I also believe, however, that making that right, or duty, compulsory would distort electoral results, because people wouldn’t feel entirely free to make their own decisions. Concluding, I believe voting is a right and a duty, but not voting is also a right. Let’s leave the “duty” part with the conscience of each and everyone of us. After all, not voting is a vote itself.

    • avatar

      Filipe – not voting in Belgium means your vote goes to the biggest party as far as I understand so I’ll go with yes. No party ever represents you fully so it’s always tactical.

  15. avatar

    If polititians change their plan after beeing voted they should go to prison

  16. avatar
    Leonardo ed Emanuele

    No, because if all citizens were forced to vote, most would vote casually.

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