There’s some irony in the recent news that in Gujarat state, that democracy will now be mandatory:
All registered voters in Gujarat will be required to vote. Those absent will be asked to submit a valid reason with proof within a month. The Bill empowers the election officer to declare people who do not vote defaulter voters.
A local editorial in favor of the law argues that with reduced voter participation, “the true spirit of the will of the people is not reflected in the electoral mandate”. The logic of the law, then, is that by forcing an increase in that voter share, you better approximate that “spirit of the will”. But will that actually make things any better? In any democracy you have to be an idealist, to believe in that magic aggregate with which your single vote will join and thus, together, make a difference. In India, with far greater dynamic range between rich and poor, it seems like the deliberations of the mighty are so far removed from the daily life experience of the average rickshaw wallah, that explaining how his vote will really matter seems a pointless excercise.
And there is some serious irony at work in the fact that this law is being promoted by Narendra Modi, whose role in orchestrating the 2002 pogrom against muslims in Gujarat undermined democracy far more than mere voter absence. When the machinery of the state can be abused by those in power with no checks and balances, and they actually get away with it (and are even “rewarded” electorally for it), then you have a banana republic with a democratic fig leaf.
More votes won’t magically erase the corruption and graft that infects the Indian body politic. It’s hard to be anything but cynical about this. Putting that aside, though, the general question of whether voting should be compulsory or not is an interesting question. According to the articles, 32 countries have adopted this law, and if all of India follows Gujarat’s lead, then this may become the rule to which America is the exception. Quite a contrast indeed with Western ideals, which have tried to limit the franchise to the white male elite, and the “lesser” classes and gender have had to fight for and paid dear price to win.
My personal instinct is that freedom cannot and should not be mandated. Perhaps this law throws the fundamental flaw of democracy into sharp relief – that there is nothing sacred, or inherently libertarian, about majority rule (a lesson learned from the Swiss minaret ban as well).