A democracy bonus - Macleans.ca

A democracy bonus


Eight years ago, in an essay for Policy Options, professor Bruce Hicks made the case—with reference to Athens—for the sort of tax credit now being floated by the Alberta Liberals as a response to declining voter turnout.

The Australian Electoral Commission, meanwhile, has a useful guide to their system of compulsory voting—Eric Weiner wrote a good overview of it for Slate some years ago. The idea of a tax credit has been floated before by politicians and observers in Canada, but it doesn’t seem that any jurisdiction, here or elsewhere, has ever followed through.

Professors Hicks, Peter Loewen and Henry Milner conducted an experiment in 2007 to test whether financially compelled voting necessarily led to greater political engagement. Their results didn’t demonstrate the increased awareness that is supposed to follow from compulsory voting, but there is too the argument that increased voting is a good thing in and of itself. Conversely, there is a case to be made that low turnout isn’t necessarily a problem—that those who vote accurately reflect the views of the general populace, that low turnout is a sign of general satisfaction, that high turnout is often seen in moments of crisis (and nations with dictators) and so forth.