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Report No. 255

(v) Other arguments for and against compulsory voting

9.16.1. Some other arguments espousing compulsory voting highlight the improvement in public awareness and financial benefits because resources generally utilised in convincing people to vote are instead focussed on campaigning on substantive issues. Such opinions fail to consider the cost of raising awareness about a change in the law and the heavy cost of implementing (registration, sending notices, conducting show-cause hearings, adjudicating, and appeals) and enforcing (based on the yet-undefined penalty) compulsory voting provisions.

9.16.2. More importantly, however, they fail to consider that compulsory voting hides the problem (and reasons) for voter disengagement, instead of confronting it. Various courts and committees have alluded to the causes for voter disillusionment (discussed above), and the need to focus on education and awareness campaigns that emphasise the importance of voting as a civic duty. As the then Law Minister of State, Mr. K. Venkatapathy noted while arguing against Mr. Rawat's Compulsory Voting Bill in Parliament in 2003:

"such a participation [in the democratic process] should better come out from the people voluntarily rather than by coercion or allurements. A sense of duty in this regard should inform the people on their own and it is this sense of duty which should be the motivating factor in impelling people to turn up at the polling stations in larger numbers."

9.16.3. Instead of seeking a quick fix, or an ornamental change in the law, politicians should pursue a strong reform agenda focusing on decriminalisation of politics; inner party democracy; campaign finance reform, including the removal of black money; and introducing accountability of elected representatives. Thus, instead of seeking persuasion by compulsion, the government should seek persuasion by education and action.

9.16.4. Interestingly, many have suggested incentive schemes such as tax rebates or financial benefits423 to boost electoral participation as an alternative to criminalising non-voting. Besides being financially burdensome and hard to administer, introducing money in the voting calculus fundamentally changes the nature of the right to vote, and the civic duty of voting. As Michael Sandel persuasively argues money "crowds out" and erodes important non-market norms of democratic participation and common good, which should guide our decision to vote.424

423. RFGI, surpa note 380; NCRWC Consultation Paper, supra note 93, at 17.1. In their consultation paper, NCRWC additionally recommend "small incentives" for non-tax payers in "in the matter of rations, speed of granting certain licenses, passports, etc. The revenue lost as a result could be treated as partial state funding of the electoral process. Such policies might help push electoral turnout up."

424. Michael Sandel, What Money Can't Buy 112-113 (2013)

9.16.5. This section has analysed the arguments in favour of and against compulsory voting to conclude that the latter outweigh the former. Why then is it common in some parts of the world? The next section analyses compulsory voting from a comparative perspective to conclude that the phenomenon is not as pervasive as it appears and international models will not work in India.

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