Should voting be compulsory? - ‘It is a civic duty’ 

“People should be forced to put an X beside a particular candidate."
Ellen Kenny
Ellen Kenny

11.28 17 Aug 2023

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Should voting be compulsory? -...

Should voting be compulsory? - ‘It is a civic duty’ 

Ellen Kenny
Ellen Kenny

11.28 17 Aug 2023

Share this article

With local elections coming up next year, some believe compulsory voting should be introduced to help falling turnout numbers and improve representation. 

Irish Examiner Special Correspondent Mick Clifford told Newstalk Breakfast we have a “civic duty” to vote, and it should therefore be compulsory. 


“People should be forced to put an X beside a particular candidate,” he said. 

“We've seen throughout large parts of the world that democracies are under a bit of a threat.

"One of the reasons for that is disenchantment to the system, and another is falling numbers who are voting. 

“If you take for instance Donald Trump, he got just over a quarter of all the votes of those eligible votes in the USA, yet he became president. 

“That’s because there was a turnout of about 58%.” 


Mr Clifford also argued compulsory voting would create a legislature that is “representative of society as a whole”. 

“We have an average of 60% turnout [in Ireland],” he explained.

“I would venture to say that that turnout tends to be older and better off financially.

“If we want a more equal society, if one wants more input from younger people, one step in that direction would be to have compulsory votes.” 

Voting count following an election. Image: Mark Waugh / Alamy Stock Photo

Former Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger disagreed, saying compulsory voting is going to change people’s “disenchantment” with democracy. 

“It is very frustrating when you see a very low turnout in working class areas in particular,” she said. 

“But I think it's because people don't feel a stake in the whole process or see that anything will change. And that's a bigger question.” 

She said the problems in democracies currently – such as the rise of far-right groups – cannot be solved with voting. 

“Things like demonstrations and protests are much more likely to impact the cost of living, the housing crisis [and] racism than voting anyway,” she said. 


Making voting more accessible could be a way to increase turnout without imposing rules on people, Ms Coppinger argued. 

“A lot of people don't even realize that they can vote in a local election, for example,” she said. “You don't have to be an Irish citizen to vote in a local election.” 

Ms Coppinger also said many people who don’t vote might not like the candidates available and compulsory voting would not fix that. 

“If I was compelled to vote in some elections, I'd be struggling to vote for candidates," she said.

"A lot of them are going to be from the same political persuasion."

Mr Clifford said people could spoil their ballot “if necessary” - but they should turn up to the ballot box regardless. 

“[Compulsory voting] is an important thing in democracy that is used in other countries like Belgium and Australia,” he said.

“There’s very little complaints about it.” 

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