Anthoula Malkopoulou, Ph.D
Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy
P.O. Box 35 (Ylistönmäentie 33)
FI-40014 University of Jyväskylä
Tel. +358 408054151
Debating electoral reform: the question of compulsory voting in context
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, just at the time when universal suffrage seemed to break ground in Europe, low voter turnouts and preoccupation about the rise of the radical left triggered voting debates in France and Belgium. The reluctance of citizens to participate in elections was undermining the legitimacy of parliaments, the authority of governments and the democratic component of the representative system as a whole. It was argued that the concepts majority and minority made sense only in the context of a full participation of the electoral body, even if this had to be enforced by law.
Yet, according to the opponents, compelling citizens to vote was a concealed way to control voters and violate their freedom of consciousness. Indeed, towards the middle of the twentieth century, the oppressive aspect of compulsory voting became manifest in the case of anti-communist Greece.
Later, the trend changes again and compulsory voting is defended in the 1990’s as a definite tool to restore political equality and promote civic education. My thesis follows this change of argumentation around compulsory voting from 1870 until today, underlining the continuities and ruptures of this ongoing legal, political and philosophical debate.