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Let’s Talk Mandatory Voting!

Let’s Talk Mandatory Voting!
September 07
00:00 2018

There is a lot of talk, and there have been a lot of complaints about our leadership and how we are governed. I have tried to study this phenomena of how Belizeans vote and why we keep voting for the very same offenders but somehow we keep expecting change.

I pondered deeply on our electoral brain processes as a people and I find that:

Voters don’t seem to pay attention to politics when they vote. They watch the news, of course, and are mostly informed on national issues – but just on the surface.A large percentage of our youth are disenchanted with politics and don’t vote at all unless they are paid; so even when they vote, they do so irrationally and for contradictory reasons.

It seems that most people make biased decisions in politics and don’t bother taking an honest examination of reality or of conscience.

They try to elect leaders who will carry out the promise of Nation-Building and progress,and vote against those who they believe will not; in the end, we hope to be left with a government that will serve our personal interests and seriously think that that translates to Nation-Building.

I do believe that the voting population isdoing the best it can. They just don’t have a lot of trueinformation, and so they substitute guesses and assumptions about their party and candidate that make them feel comfortable. I think people are looking for ways to make sense of what are a series of very complicated realities in our presently chaotic nation. It’s hard for us to make sense of it all,being in the “outside looking in” and getting our brains polluted with all the political rhetoric and mudslinging.

So much of Belize’s political decision-making from both voters and elected officials turns out to bebased on momentary feeling or emotions rather than on sound understanding of how those decisions will improve or hurt people’s lives.

The political parties, for example, use party conventions as a charade…It’s a game of fake party strength; and serves no purpose other than marketing…It is very clear that they are picking people who appear to be on their side, who play the right rhetorical game. The voters don’t have any real say. So in reality these interventions in political conventions divide the party from their true supporters and they are left with paid voters at election time.

Elections in Belize have become extremely predictable. Even though most individual voters are not; they are very capricious and uninformed. What tilts the balance of our elections is the minority of educated and engaged voters. But they are not very likely to vote in the upcoming elections, making the 2020 elections a coin toss. Now, I’m not saying that the next election will be random. There are lots of elements to ponder, such as crime, economic conditions, how long the incumbent party has been in office, the involvement of Independent candidates and how we will get voters to come out.

With all that said, if Belize wants a healthy democracy,voters are required to actually vote and be informed. Belize is failing as a democracy with less than 75%of registered voters turned out in the 2015General elections. From those, many voters sold their votes for a pittance.

It is unclear if the failure to attract voters to the polls is because of political disgust by voters or strategic action by the political parties in order to manipulate the uneducated or emotional vote.

Many countries have been using mandatory voting as a solution to the problem of low voter turnout. Presently about 25 countries in the world have adopted mandatory voting, 14 of them our neighbours in Latin America. Mandatory voting would certainly increase voter turnout.The political impact,however, would be much more importantif it leads to higher quality, informed,educated decisions at the polls.

Low voter turnout can be explained by what experts refer to as a “collective action” problem. That means that while society collectively benefits greatly from high participation in elections, an individual benefits little from casting a single vote. There are costs, including in lost time (standing in lines too long) and lost labour, to voting. Mandatory voting, along with penalties for non-voters, corrects that imbalance by creating a disincentive, a cost, to not voting. Experts actually say that it increases voter turnout by at least 16%.

Belize must look seriously at the possibilities and benefits of mandatory voting, and look at the examples of Latin American countries that have penalties for not voting. In Brazil, for example, non-voters pay a fine and cannot apply for a passport or a government job. In Bolivia, a fine is accompanied with a ban on access to government services and bank transactions. As a result, turnout tends to be high.

Mandatory voting may be an excellent constitutional change for Belize.It is believed that when voting is voluntary, younger, poorer and less-informed voters tend to abstain in higher numbers. This has several reasons: poorer voters pay a relatively higher cost in transportation and lost labour than the rich in getting to polling stations.

The rich in Belize hardly vote; their input is mostly in campaign funding and they fund both parties to balance their risk. And since a large number of the people that are actually making it to the polls are paid voters…this means that election results tend to reflect the interests of the older, richer citizens. By forcing all citizens to vote, the playing field can be levelled, resulting in the election of politicians that better represent the interests of the young and the educated.

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