Let’s Talk About Political Apathy by Victoria Belbin

I have been thinking about the Canadian federal election that is looming, casting an uncertain shadow over my country, to be reconciled in October 2019, and I think about how Canada is in desperate need of a change of governance. Currently, we have a majority Liberal government under Justin Trudeau; there have been many mistakes and issues uncovered during his time in power, and regrettably, in 2015, I voted for him. Thankfully, the Member of Parliament (MP) in my area was not elected, so my action was negligible at most, but when it comes to voting and exercising this fundamental right, I remember being ecstatic! This was the first time that I could legally vote in any election, and being someone who is politically-minded, I was ready and willing to try and help influence my peers to cast their ballots. This was a challenging task to undertake, as my university did not have many resources for students, but I was involved with our politics society on campus, and we did class talks, had an all-candidates debate on campus, and even carted students to polling stations. During this time, I remember engaging with some of my professors, and we had a conversation about voting rights. We talked about the free and democratic way in which citizens cast their ballots, but there was an elephant in the room: the issue of compulsory voting. I walked away from this conversation thinking about this issue, and it has recently arose in my worries for our next election. That being said, when it comes to my involvement with the radical left, a year later, there is this broad hatred and resentful attitude for politics; politics is seen as being a “white” and/or “colonial” construction. I would grow to hate the democratic process; I would grow to want to extinguish this fundamental process, as I was indoctrinated to believe it was problematic. Because our systems, our processes, and our history was transplanted from the UK, these avenues of democratic process are no longer seen as legitimate in the eyes of the radical youth, as they wish to go back to a time where there was no white people and only tribal governance. You can imagine the challenges that arise during election time and their intense perspectives on the issues and the country, in general. At the end of the day, all citizens have the right to vote, regardless of their hatred for the every institutions that gave them this right.

So, without further ado, a short essay on the potential benefits and impacts of compulsory voting:

The conceptualization of voting can be analyzed from two different, idiosyncratic positions. The first perspective follows the action of government imposing compulsory voting, where citizens would be required to vote during respective times of election; the second perspective argues that citizens should have the autonomy of choice when it comes to exercising the civic duty of voting that is fundamental to citizenship in a democratic state. 

In a rapidly changing world of globalization and neoliberalism, political apathy is growing at a troubling rate. What appears to be occurring is a complex social change and transformation of values. A way to combat the apathy would be to impose a state where voting would be compulsory. Compulsory implies that the citizens would be required, under law, to cast their ballots on Election Day. There are many strategic approaches to this controversial action as there is a battle between the demarcation of rights and obligations. Under mandatory voting, there would be greater voter turnouts as a penalty may be possible if eligible citizens did not participate. Due to the nature of the voting process and all of the preliminary work for election, there is a push for greater community involvement and civic engagement. There is the apparition of past government structures that have been less than adequate, and mandatory voting will allow for greater knowledge and broad interpretation of the pressing matters in a given country; this would serve as beneficial to the state as current generations have a strained understanding of political framework. 

In a democratic state, citizens (in theory) should acknowledge the rights that their ancestors had fought for; the right to vote is often regarded as a privilege, and in many cases, it is viewed optional and up to the discretion of the citizen. However,  compulsory voting would allow for the potential for abuse to the system, as there would be a penalty imposed upon citizens that are not compliant. If we have the right to vote, then we should have the right to abstain from voting, in theory.  We have the freedom of choice within democracies and to the best of our knowledge and opinion of potential parties or candidates that we oppose, we exercise a form of dissent in choosing not to cast a ballot, which implies despondency with the choices. In an age of dwindling turnouts, compulsory voting may increase the presence, but the caliber of the vote will be shameful due to the fact that citizens, in a free society will dislike being coerced to vote under the threat of penalty. Greater apathy is also a risk that would be taken if citizens did not have the choice to vote. Due to the very fact that voting is a freedom, the compulsory voting would take away the merit of the vote and replace it with a manipulated and contradictory view within the democracy. 

Politics are a crucial element to democratic states, as who is chosen to govern is passed off to the responsibility of citizens through voting. In retrospect, those who are governed under undemocratic and unjust regimes would partake in questionable actions in order to acquire and secure the right to vote; we are privileged and fortunate to have these rights and should exercise them. We remove the meaning of ‘right’ when it is labelled as compulsory. Citizens should have the right to abstain from voting, as that would be the inverse of voting; but their standing in their respective country will be decided upon for them by the voters of the country, therefore, rendering avenues for complaint counterproductive as they did not exercise their civic duty to change circumstances or influence public opinion. 

There has been a metamorphosis in the social workings of a developed society in terms of the standards that the action of voting is held to. Older generations tend to be more interested in politics, whereas current generations, arguably, were born apathetic as, social media raised them. These influences are able to manipulate the truth and ultimately the thinking of the fragile minds of young citizens. The reputation that is evident in terms of opinion on politics (in a broad sense) can be mapped out to be “old-fashioned”. In the Great Transformation of society, where hyperbole is applied to nearly every aspect of life, politics is being left behind, as it is stigmatized to be unimaginative. Whichever perspective is adopted on the issue of compulsory voting, regardless, the action of making an informed decision and voting is unquestionably imperative to the stability of a democratic state. 


What was your first voting experience like? What does it mean to you to have the right to vote? What is your opinion on compulsory voting? Tweet me, @victoriabelbin, and we can have a conversation!

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