Only 40 per cent of young people vote in Canada, but 100 per cent of young people vote in Brazil.
That’s because voting is mandatory in Brazil. Many are desperately trying to mobilize the youth vote in the current election and the question remains: is the Canadian voting system the problem? If mandatory voting is imposed, would young people vote intelligently?
According to St. Thomas political science professor Tom Bateman, mandatory voting does not necessarily mean political engagement.
“I guess that the problem with mandatory voting is that you can get people to vote, but will they vote intelligently?” the Canadian constitutional specialist said. “Mandatory voting, in the short-term won’t solve the problem, but some people argue that over a long time, mandatory voting will encourage people to become more intelligent and thoughtful voters.”
Canada is one of the 205 countries in the world where the citizens have the choice to vote or not. In 24 others, people have a legal obligation to vote. Thirteen of those 24 countries are in Latin America, but compulsory voting is also the law in Australia, where you can expect a $28 fine if you fail to vote.
Bateman believes one of the solutions today would be educating younger people. He says the school systems can do more to introduce young people to their responsibilities as citizens.
“What I understand is that Canadian students don’t get a lot of political history, so they don’t know their country and its issues.”
Hugo Damiani was only 21 years old when he faced the fear of living under a military dictatorship in Brazil. Damiani worked in a bank when its employees went on strike for better work conditions. After nine days, the Brazilian army took to the streets with tanks to end the strike. He and his friends lay down in front of one of the tanks to stop the army.
Thirty years later, Brazil is a democratic country. Now 51, he believes that democracy is good for people, but forcing people to vote is not a good form of democracy.
“If you live in a democratic country, you should have the freedom to have the option to not vote without suffering penalties,” said Damiani. “Once you make it obligatory, you give a chance to the politicians to buy voters. If you give people a choice, people are going to vote more consciously.”
Sean McCullum, a fourth-year student from STU, is part of the campaign Get Out The Vote, a national university movement.
He said he votes because if people do not vote, they give up the right to complain about anything the government does.
Like Bateman, McCullum thinks that if you make voting mandatory, there would be more people making uneducated votes.
“You get more people voting the way their parents do, more people voting based on what they see on ads,” McCullum said. “I think if you give people the option not to vote, the ones that do vote are more educated, but at the same time, you get the problem of people not actually getting there and voting.”
Still, McCullum thinks this year more students are going to vote.
“I can see more people going to the polls because they simply want change.”
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