Is it the responsibility of citizens to vote?

As the election draws near a common phrase has been cropping up on my Facebook feed: “it is the responsibility of citizens to vote”. And that phrase makes me uncomfortable.

Until recently I couldn’t articulate why, but the recent debate in US politics on compulsory voting gave me some clarity. It is simply because the correct phrase should be “it is the responsibility of citizens to use their vote responsibly”. An irresponsible vote is not one that strengthens democracy or improve a country’s ability to govern.

Voting responsibly doesn’t mean that people should vote for who I want them to (whenever I decide who that is anyway), or that I think protest votes don’t have a place in politics. It simply means it is the responsibility of a voter to consider their choices carefully – not to tick a box without thought.

Compulsory voting discussions gave clarity to me here because they are the enemy of responsible voting. Even when there is a “none of the above option” it encourages lazy voting. Why not tick a party box if you have to turn up anyway? Might as well tick something, even if you haven’t considered the options much.

Voting should be a conscious choice, with a deliberate thought behind your decision to change the place you live on through politics.

Countries like Australia are not better democracies because of compulsory voting – they are worse. And even in non-compulsory world we need to be careful of what we are asking citizens to do on polling day, and the somewhat lazy rhetoric we use to get people out to vote (nit-picker that I am).

That said, get out there and vote on 7th May, just think about it first!