Living in a country where mandatory voting exists and experiencing the results in another without mandatory, I'm wondering:
What are the advantages and disadvantages of mandatory voting?
There a few things that come to mind.
One of the major issues raised by people who are for mandatory voting is legitimacy, the authority the elected candidate has over the governed people. However, not voting has the same effect of casting a blank or null vote, which renders the legitimacy arguement invalid.
The State can only control whether a person did or not vote, that's it. All the talk about the importance of dedicating part of your precious time to choose the best candidate is just invalid. How can you prevent people from voting to the most handsome candidate or picking any other meaningless criteria?
If the number of people who vote are reduced to those who are interested, the candidates are going to make a better effort than repeating pretty words such as: education, jobs, health, etc. They may have to actually show how they intend to solve these problems and even adress sensible issues such as abortion and legalization of drugs.
Fewer people means less budget to organize the elections.
Mandatory voting increases the impact of the moderate vote, as many moderates wouldn't bother to show up if it was optional. It also means that more effort is focused on getting moderates to swing over to your side, while in optional voting much of this effort is instead focused on ensuring your supporters turn up to vote (by demonising the opposition). It encourages the political parties to head towards the centre.
There are frequent claims that poorer workers are afraid to leave work to go vote as they want to be seen as hard working.
If someone doesn't want to vote, do they really care enough about the issues to have an informed opinion?
I think it's an absolute 'no-brainer'. Voting in a 'liberal democracy' should be mandatory, a responsibility of every citizen. Is it not rather hypocritical when someone who hasn't turned up to vote starts to complain about what the elected politicians are doing?
If people want to see real change in society, they need to engage more in political issues and mandatory voting would encourage a greater level of interest. Alongside this, basic politics should be taught in all schools as part of a compulsory life skills course. This isn't, of course, what many governments would want, as it is likely to result in greater public scrutiny of the workings of government and the parties in power being held more accountable for their actions.
I would be ok with mandatory voting if "non of the above" was an option and if the electoral college wasn't the actual group electing the president. Based on that premise, if enough voters selected the NOTA option, the parties would have to select new candidates. I personally wouldn't vote for any person as I believe that when you vote for someone for any office, you share responsibility for what they do while in office. I don't mind voting issues. The problem with the people who run for any office these days is that they are in it for personal gain, not for any good they could do as an elected official. If political office was an unpaid position and had no benefits to offer the elected (retirement, health care etc.) only those interested in making a difference might run. Of course I'm sure that they would still figure out a way to acquire some sort of personal gain. IMHO...
While my previous post might not have been a complete answer and by the way, I don't think there is a correct answer. If the voting population were required to vote, in order for that system to be fair and honest, the option for "none of the above" would have to be a part of that system. I also feel in our current system here in the US, any registered voter who doesn't vote should count as a vote for "non of the above". Why are we forced to choose between 2 candidates, neither of which are a good choice for the office of which they are running? If those running for any office don't receive a minimum percentage of the available votes, say for example (I'll keep this small scale) 100 voters are registered, and each candidate receives 25 or less votes, the election would be void, and new candidates selected. Yes I know this would never happen, but this would be a fair system. None of you can honestly tell me you are happy about our choices for president, so why do we have to chose the lesser of 2 evils?
Mandatory voting becomes a nightmare for unpopular minorities if voting is not secret.
The anecdote I read was from before the days before the WWW, but a fellow of a certain historically-persecuted minority lamented that he would rather not be eligible to vote than be obligated to vote when the ballot was not secret. It invariably happened that whichever side did not get his vote would come around and beat him up.
Populist, leftist parties in countries with low levels of education love the mandatory voting system because it makes available to them masses of gullible, easily manipulated citizens who will in effect sell their votes for very little in return. A tee-shirt is enough. This is the case of Brazil. Moreover, such a system makes possible election based on name recognition only, thus aiding the candidacies of show-business personalities. In the last congressional election in Brazil (where all candidates run state-wide rather than in electoral districts) the candidate who received the most votes in the state of Sao Paulo was a television clown.