Democracy as an institution is often thought of as a new invention, a creation by the minds of men such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine. However, democracy was not conceived during the enlightenment and is no mere modern innovation; democracy has its roots much farther back in history, stretching back as far as the classical era of Greek civilization, and likely even earlier.
The ideals and core principles of democracy have changed very little from its original inception, however many aspects and many procedures of democracy have invariably changed rather significantly over time, and will undoubtedly continue to change. Voting, being the single most important criterion in of which a democracy requires in order to properly function, and having been granted as a right of the citizenry of democracies from antiquity up to modernity, is an exceptional example of such change in procedure over time. In the modern era, dialogue about voting has shifted and become less about ‘who gets to vote’ and more about ‘how to further enfranchise voters.’ The end of this line of questioning then becomes “what is the most efficient method of voting,” and the answer to this question seems to be a compulsory voting system – that is, a system in of which the citizens possess the obligation of voting.
Not only is this method supported by empirical evidence suggesting the benefits of such a system over a voluntary one, but it is also supported through legal and historical precedence of expansions in suffrage/voting enfranchisement and of governmental power to enforce certain conditions and responsibilities unto the citizenry, as well as through the ethical reasoning of relational civics.In the modern era, the idea of democratic governance is undisputed by virtually every nation in the world. Very few systems of governance outside of democracy exist in the modern world, with only a handful of monarchical and authoritarian states withstanding the modern era. However, the idea of undisputed worldwide democracy, unlike the institution of democracy itself, is actually a fairly new development. There was only one democracy in 1789 – the United States of America, but by the advent of the 21st century there were well over 100 nations which could be considered true democracies.
That’s a change from 9 million to 4.1 billion people that lived under a democratic regime, or a change from 0.9% of the worldwide population to 60% of the worldwide population. Needless to say, that is radical difference within a mere matter of 200 years. During the course of the democratization of the world, and especially so in the democratization of Europe, dissent and revolutions were all too common. Feigning inspiration from the success of the American Revolution, the liberals and intellectuals of Europe began to believe they too could wage a successful people’s revolution. These dissenters and revolutionaries had very similar mindsets and justifications when they took the actions towards revolution – that being the philosophical ideal of civic nationalism.
Civic nationalism is different from other forms of nationalism, such as ethno-nationalism, in civic nationalism was quite liberal while more traditional types of nationalism were far more conservative. Essentially, civic nationalism is the belief that a nation can stand on shared principles, beliefs, and practices, as opposed to more menial and tribalistic standards, like race. The most famous example of such a revolution would be the French Revolution. The French Revolution was characterized as being one of the most left-wing inspired revolutions of 18th and 19th centuries. The slogan of the French Revolution, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” accurately encompasses the ideals that the French revolutionaries believed in, and that they truly believed there could exist a nation of France that was characterized and defined by its shared principles of equality and liberty and not by the ethnicity of its citizens (Zimmerli “Slogan of the French Republic”).
These revolutions in Europe had a great impact on the political culture of the American nation, just as the American Revolution had a great impact on the European nations. But most importantly, the French Revolution illustrates the power that shared beliefs can have in a nation. The power that civic nationalism can have over people is immense and showcases how the dedication to a set of ideals is very important, thus creating the grounds for the argument of a voting system that is designed to place the needs of the nation over the individual’s liberty to abstain from voting.
These historical factors all culminate in creating a very interesting environment for voting to develop within democratic nations, and it is the case that these historical factors are far reaching, as most democratic nations have followed similar patterns in regards to expansions of voting rights. For instance, most of the earliest democracies gave suffrage only to the land owning class. Suffrage was then expanded for particular groups in a gradual progression, expanding first to the entire landowning class, secondly to the greater ethnic male majority, then to the entire male population, and lastly to the entire female population. This has been the general formulaic progression of suffrage for most democracies since 1789. In more recent history, nations have advanced the idea of voter enfranchisement even further in the spirit of universal suffrage.
Beginning in the early 20th century, several nations began to experiment with, and eventually implement, policies that would encourage voter turnout by mandating they civically participate. Australia implemented compulsory voting registration on the federal level in 1911, with several Australian states implementing it on a state level shortly thereafter. However, Australia wasn’t the first European nation to implement such a voting method. Belgium implemented a similar law in 1892, requiring all men 18 and over to report to polling stations on election days. They weren’t required to vote, however they were required to be present at polling stations, which inextricably would have a direct positive correlation to increased voting levels. Those who failed to show up four times to the polls would have their voting privileges taken away from them for up to ten years. However even Belgium wasn’t the first nation to implement mandatory voting.
Almost 2 millenia prior to Belgium’s implementation, the citystate of Athens was the first the government to be recorded to enforce a type of mandatory voting. Athenians voluntarily voted in the direct democracy of Athenian state, however even they had a point in which they forced their citizens to participate. At times when there were insufficient numbers of citizens in attendance of the assemblies, a form of social opprobrium – public ridicule essentially, was enforced (Charlton T.
Lewis, Charles Short “Opprobrium”). Citizens were rounded up towards the agoras with a rope containing a red dye. Those on the outside of the round ups would be stained with the dye and thereafter those who had the red dye stained unto them would be fined. In essence, lazy citizens – those who showed up last to participate in the democratic processes, were punished for not performing their civic duty as a citizen of Athens. This is analogous to a modern voting mandated nation fining a citizen for failing to participate in the voting process. Many more nations followed and implemented a form of compulsory voting as well, with the number of UN member nations with a mandatory voting system reaching a grand total of 22 by the end of the 20th century, or approximately 10% of all UN member nations (United Nations “Democracy”).
In essence, compulsory voting could be seen simply as just another expansion of voting enfranchisement in a similar way that suffrage was continuously expanded throughout the history of democratic nations. This succinctly illustrates that there is vast historical precedence to be drawn from that can justify the implementation of compulsory voting systems.While it may be the case that a considerable number of nations have implemented forms of compulsory voting, it may prove that it is a popular idea and policy, however it doesn’t necessarily prove that mandated voting is ethically or viably superior.
One particularly significant aspect that is ignored by simply enumerating the popularity of such a system is the actual justification for the system itself. To be more specific, the justification for using state mandated force against a citizen. This can be taken in meaning in many ways, and that’s because state mandated force is a very broad term that encompasses an enormous range of actions. As such, only a few specific cases will be used to justify the use of state force, and the reasoning for those cases shall be an analogous justification for the use of state force to mandate voting.
The first case that confirms the justification for the use of state force is West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette. This case found that the obligations of American citizens are to his nation first and all others things second, regardless of their personal beliefs. The presiding justice of this case, Justice Jackson, explains the appellants’ position by saying, “The witnesses claim that… law of God is superior to that of laws enacted by temporal government…”(“West Virginia Bd.
of Ed. v. Barnette” 1943).
This court case establishes the fact that the government has deference over one’s personal beliefs as the government reflects the shared beliefs of the people of the United States. This harkens back to civic nationalism in the sense that a nation is the defined by a people’s shared ideals, as opposed to other such things as ethnicity or religious belief. The next case that supports the use of force by the state to achieve certain goals is the case of Hamilton v.
Regents of Univ. of Cal. This case concerns the teaching of certain subject matter within public schools. The subject matter in this case was the instruction of military science, and the appellants’ argument was that the instruction of military science was a breach of their 1st amendment rights to the freedom of religion. However, it is ruled that “..
. instruction in military science is not instruction in the practice or tenets of a religion. Neither directly nor indirectly is government establishing a state religion when it insists upon such training. Instruction in military science, unaccompanied here by any pledge of military service, is not an interference by the state with the free exercise of religion..
.” therefore the state has the right to enforce the instruction of what they deem proper to the welfare of the people, and this could be applied to also be the case for compulsory voting (“Hamilton v. Regents of Univ.
of Cal.” 1934). The last case which also supports presence of legal precedence towards the implementation of a state mandated voting system is the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts.
This case establishes that the government has the right to enforce vaccinations onto the people of the United States in order to reap full state benefits. The court ruled thusly as the there was no preponderance of evidence or any actual scientific data that supports the claims he made about the harmful effects of vaccinations, but rather that his claims “involved matters depending upon his personal opinion, which could not be taken as correct, or given effect, merely because he made it a ground of refusal to comply with the requirement”(“Jacobson v. Massachusetts” 1905). The defendant claims “that his liberty is invaded when the State subjects him to fine or imprisonment for neglecting or refusing to submit to vaccination; that a compulsory vaccination law is unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive, and, therefore, hostile to the inherent right of every freeman to care for his own body and health in such way as to him seems best; and that the execution of such a law against one who objects to vaccination, no matter for what reason, is nothing short of an assault upon his person.
” however the courts disagreed with him as they argue that the state holds the right to have restraint over an individual, even at the cost of personal liberty, because “the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good”(“Jacobson v. Massachusetts” 1905). Moreover, the courts ruled in favor of the state being able to impose restrictions over the defendant as “his views could not affect the validity of the statute, nor entitle him to be excepted from its provisions,” therefore supporting the theory of legal precedence in state enforced obligations (“Jacobson v.