To vote or not to vote? Should that still be a question?

by Monica Nica

In Sofia, the Europe on Track presentation was part of a larger event dedicated to the Y Vote project, also organised by AEGEE. The format comprised an initial debate on compulsory voting, followed by a panel debate on voting and youth participation, ending with our presentation on the European Parliament elections.

During the debate, two teams from Sofia Debate Association brought up their best arguments in favour and against compulsory voting. The debate was carried out in Bulgarian, but we had Angel translating for us. Although he did a great job, he conveyed just the big picture, providing us with the main lines along which the debate developed, without going into details. Basically, the team arguing in favour of compulsory voting said that this measure would cause the receding of right-wing parties’ influence; furthermore, being obliged to vote, citizens would develop an increased interest in politics, give more informed votes and would become more active in holding politicians accountable. This last argument, has been reversed by the opposing team asserting that arbitrary and unreflective voting would take hold of most of the apathetic electorate. With regard to the winners/losers of mandatory voting, the other side of the coin was emphasised, as they said that big parties would profit if everyone would vote. Moreover, the team kept reiterating the ‘not voting’ or ‘not expressing one’s opinion’ right.

10371534_318146711666306_3262859861645054090_nAlthough I do not fully agree with some of the arguments on both sides, since I could not grasp the debate in its entirety, which might have included some nuances making me more amenable to them, I prefer not to rebut them. But I will mention some rebuttal coming from the public. Compulsory voting was compared with taxes, as a duty citizens have and the white vote was mentioned as an option for those who do not want to express their opinion on the political offer. Finally, several participants said that young people’s low turnout does not equate a low interest in politics, conclusion also derived by research on the topic.

An interesting position, which I cannot recall hearing it from a young person before, held during the ensuing panel debate, stated that young people do feel represented; and if they do not, it is because it is normal for them to be against the system. Furthermore, a real dialogue between politicians and the citizens instead of mandatory voting, was mentioned as a different and maybe more effective way of inducing a higher turnout. One very memorable metaphor used for compulsory voting was comparing it to an imagined obligation to buy tomatoes, just that the only ones available on the market are rotten. This statement is quite revealing on how young Bulgarians relate to their politicians and national political arena.

Although research shows that given a congenial setting, compulsory voting seems to be the only institutional mechanism able to raise turnout in the range of 90%, questions remain, for example, how would everyone voting change the politicians’ approach to the citizens? Politicians respond to the interests of those that participate. Hence, could this provide them with an increased incentive to have a real dialogue with citizens mentioned previously? How would outcomes change? Apparently it would not make much of a difference on the outcome as the preferences of non-voters are similar to those who vote.

Although it might be difficult for any of the sides to have an indisputable victory in this debate, it is definitely worth having an exchange of arguments on the topic .