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Compulsory Voting Serves the Colombian State, Not Constituents

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Oct 6, 2014, 12:38 pm
Colombian politicians have instituted obligatory voting in an attempt to legitimize their policies.
Colombian politicians have instituted obligatory voting in an attempt to legitimize their policies. (Somos el Medio)

EspañolMembership in a modern society requires individuals to participate in activities with those outside of their immediate social groups.

Among these activities is the participation in political decisions, which is nothing more than the search for resolution to problems that require collective action. This requirement is not explicit, but it comes with being an active member of the group. However, as important as it might be, should the state force individuals to participate politically?

It seems the answer for some Colombian politicians is a decisive “yes.” Last week, within the framework of parliamentary debates aimed at political reform, a group of congressmen proposed making voting obligatory for all citizens. The proposal was approved in the first of eight Colombian Congressional sessions.

Despite how important it is for individuals to participate in the political decisions of their society, compulsory voting is not only wrong, but often based on misguided premises, as in the case of Colombia. This will only result in advancing the state’s systematic process of eliminating individual liberty.

An individual’s decision to not vote is in itself a form of political participation. It does not matter if it based on a lack of political culture, a form of protest, or apathy toward the election’s outcome. The point is that, in a free society, an individual has the choice whether or not to participate in collective decisions. In a free society, the individual does not live according to the state, but based on his own particular interests, desires, and expectations.

Obligatory voting implies that an individual’s primary concern should be the resolution of problems requiring collective action, and this is undoubtedly false.

Furthermore, in Colombia, this proposal has been justified in the worst possible way. Its proponents, Viviane Morales and Horacio Serpa, among others, represent the worst of the political and statist classes.

The bill’s sponsors make reference to other countries where obligatory voting has been established, such as Ecuador and Argentina. The problem, however, is that these countries are not exactly known as bastions of liberty.

Compulsory-voting supporters then say that mid-20th century populist leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán defended this approach. Although, anyone who reads one of his speeches will soon recognize the man managed to flawlessly integrate many fascist and communist elements of statism.

Proponents of the bill have also argued that this policy will help reduce the corruption associated with elections, such as vote buying. But how does forcing people to the polls, who do not want to vote, going to alter their apathy, disinterest, or lack of knowledge on a given issue? How does forcing everyone to vote eliminate incentives for vote buying?

The proposal has also been positioned as the simplest means for the national government and its coalition friends to gain approval for the peace agreements reached with the FARC guerrilla. This is how they will bring the agreement to the public for a vote, without the need to make any effort for publicity, debate, or the public’s own comprehension of the issues.

Obligatory voting is yet another impediment to the construction of a free society in Colombia. Like so many other threats to liberty, it is one that has been created by politicians. It is a threat that originates not only in cold electoral calculations, but in an obsession to create any kind of democracy other than one that respects individual freedom.

Compulsory voting does not improve political culture, nor does it generate greater interest in the political issues that affect us all. This can only be achieved if individuals perceive the state to be acting in their service, fulfilling the functions for which it was created. Public interest in political participation and a collective sense of societal identity cannot be created by decree.

It is unfortunate that the Colombian government and its politicians have once again demonstrated their contempt for the freedom of their citizens. They continue to sacrifice the individual’s ability to make his own decisions and determine his own priorities, for the sake of imposing their own political interests.

Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.