The Circle In Real Life: Mandatory Voting?

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.

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Kanye West, Young People, and Politics

When I decided to stop watching the VMAs last night, I thought I had seen all of the important moments. I had seen Taylor Swift and her squad walking down the red carpet; I had seen her performance with Nicki Minaj; I had seen a few awards doled out. I went to bed questioning pop culture, but satisfied that I had seen the buzzworthy moments of the show. Boy, was I wrong.

This morning, I woke up to find that I had missed perhaps the biggest event of the night (and certainly one of the most talked about): Kanye West announcing that he plans to run for President in 2020. Everything about that statement seemed strange to me – especially that, of all the platforms available in this day and age, Kanye would choose an awards show geared at teenagers to announce his presidential bid.

Kanye at last night’s VMAs (source)

The more I thought about it, though, the more sense it made to me that Kanye would announce his political ambition to an audience teeming with young people. His actions represented the growing shift in the dynamic concerning young people and politics; comprised of, in my opinion, a change in the way adults and organizations are viewing the teen demographic, and a significant change in the way teenagers get involved in politics.

Many of the people who watched the VMAs are too young to vote. They are not, however, too young to voice their opinions. “[T]he worst thing that we, as young people, can do is to accept things [as] the way they are because of our age,” writes youth activist Rebekah Bolser in her article ‘The Key to being a Youth Activist’ on Huffington Post Teen.

She adds, “I know it’s hard to not find yourself discouraged by politics and the current system. But we cannot allow the people who pass these laws to create the world we will live in. We have to build that world ourselves.” Lately, it seems like more and more young people share Rebekah’s attitude of taking responsibility for the things that aren’t right in the world; and, in the process, breaking the barrier of age.

My interest in politics has skyrocketed in the past couple months. When I was younger I was mildly interested in poll numbers and policies, but these interests manifested themselves only in watching the news on election night.

Today, I am still too young to vote; but I consider myself more informed about politics than I used to be. I read articles in the newspaper and online about politics; I seek out more information when a subject particularly interests me; and I have debates and discussions about politics with my family and friends.

This may sound strange but I genuinely think that what jump started my interest in politics was Donald Trump’s campaign, as I am a fan of The Apprentice. Having seen his attitude in the boardroom on The Apprentice, I was interested how Trump would act in political settings when he wasn’t just in it for the ratings (he might still be in it for the ratings, in actuality – so that’s debateable).

The Trump announces his presidential run (source)
The Trump announces his presidential run (source)

In the months since he announced his plans to run for President, I have paid close, curious attention to Donald Trump’s campaign (my interest can be summed up by this article from The Onion). This has caused me to pay attention to Hillary Clinton’s campaign as well, as well as the American election as a whole (even though I’m Canadian). Politics – both American, and Canadian – have become a common dinner table discussion for my family.

Earlier in the summer, my cousins came to visit. One of them is a year younger than me, and a year older than my sister, and and she’s very interested in politics. One day we took online quizzes to see which political parties aligned with our standpoints on various issues. That night, we all had a sleepover in my basement. Having just watched a Harry Potter movie, you’d think that our late-night discussions would have focused around magic and wizardry. They did not: instead we talked about taxes, and whether the 1% should have to pay more, and which political hopefuls agreed with our viewpoints.

As I fell asleep, my head filled with unsaid questions and debate points, I wondered how many other teenagers stayed up late discussing politics. I think, honestly, the number would be significant. The fact of the matter is that even youth are affected by the issues that politicians deal with; and because we can’t vote, we need to find other ways to make our voices heard.

An example that comes to mind are the strikes that recently happened in my local education system. Students were directly affected by the strikes, and many made the news for setting up online petitions and groups to protest what was happening. This, to me, highlights the growing realization of youth that making our voices heard is a way to affect change – and that often, politics factor into this.

Caring about the issues in our lives causes young people to care about politics, and many organizations and adults are taking notice. In the last municipal election, my school held a mock election. This is an example of one of the many initiatives geared towards harnessing the interest youth hold in politics.

Even without those initiatives, though, the discussions are still happening: on social media, in schools, at dinner tables, probably even at malls. And now, thanks to Kanye West, they are happening at awards shows.