Technology’s place in society, questions of privacy versus security and issues of government transparency were all explored in The Circle, a new movie directed by James Ponsoldt and based on a novel by Dave Eggers. I wouldn’t go as far as to agree with Vox’s appraisal that the movie is “bafflingly bad,” but it certainly contains confusing elements and has a startlingly abrupt ending. However, the movie does feature several topical ideas that have relevance to our society and everyday lives.
Among those ideas was one that, as someone who has studied politics, I found intriguing: mandatory voting. In the movie, staff at the Circle, a Google-esque tech company, have the idea to link voting with citizens’ social media accounts. Essentially, in order to vote, you need this account; or, to put it another way, if you have this social media account, you must vote. In the meeting where the idea is pitched, someone draws a comparison to a totalitarian regime.
But, as another character says, we have hundreds of laws that govern people’s actions, and that’s not considered totalitarian. Laws surrounding driving, for example, are more or less accepted as being beneficial for the safety of members of society. Following speed limits, or general rules of the road, are not seen as optional, or as personal decisions. So then is voting a personal decision?
On one hand, of course it is. Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” Who people vote for is a personal decision; I’d argue that the decision to vote (or not vote) is also a personal decision. If people do not want to exercise their right to vote, then it’s their will to do this, so long as they live in a country that does not enforce mandatory voting.
In theory, mandatory voting is good because it encourages (or, rather, forces) citizens to get involved in the democratic process. Low voter turnout is a problem even in countries that pride themselves on their democracies (America had a turnout of approximately 56.9 per cent in the 2016 federal election). Mandatory voting would change this; but it wouldn’t automatically mean that citizens were well-educated about the choices on the ballot.
To professor and author Jason Brennan, this is a critical issue. He writes that “Bad choices at the polls can destroy economic opportunities, produce crises that lower everyone’s standard of living, lead to unjust and unnecessary wars (and thus to millions of deaths), lead to sexist, racist, and homophobic legislation, help reinforce poverty, produce overly punitive criminal legislation, and worse.” In other words, voting matters. It has huge societal implications, ones which reach beyond the voter and impact the millions of people in the country where the election is taking place.
Brennan argues “That citizens have no standing moral obligation to vote” since it is only one way to contribute to a civic society. If citizens are not going to vote ethically, and with the greater good in mind, then “They should stay home on election day rather than pollute the polls with their bad votes.” This, to me, is a compelling argument against mandatory voting. If people are not educated about the candidates, they will make uneducated decisions. This can negatively impact a country and, really, the entire world.
So then I return to my earlier question. Should we be able to decide whether or not we vote, or should this be a decision that the government makes for us through something like mandatory voting? I think it’s incredibly important to hear all voices in a democratic society; and yet, I’m not sure if forcing people to vote is the right way to do this. There are other ways to encourage people to vote, such as having a wide range of candidates who can speak to the issues affecting people, having more civic education so that voters are not ill-informed and making the voting process easier.