countries of the world where voting is compulsory

What does North Korea gain by making voting compulsory? North Korea doesn't have a democracy, and yet, it practices compulsory voting. What does North Korea have to gain from doing this? Is there a purpose in making voting compulsory when the outcome has been already decided?

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Compulsory_voting.svg

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    Shouldn't the countries of the former USSR be in yellow?
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 29 at 15:57
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    Even here in the UK it's merely a nuisance, not impossible or even greatly difficult to track which way anyone voted. Those who doubt that have only to ask their local authorities for details of how elections work. Merge that simple fact with the policies of a country in which, apparently, it's not a good idea to have a hair-cut different from your Greatly Beloved Leader's and what do you get? Commented Jan 29 at 23:22
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    @RobbieGoodwin How? Isn't there also a secrecy requirement? Like you could probably narrow it down by the district in which someone voted, how that district voted and so you'd narrow it down from 1/country population to 1/district population and if it voted 100:0 you'd know instantly but apart from that you'd still need to guess, wouldn't you?
    – haxor789
    Commented Jan 30 at 10:41
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    @haxor789 When you vote in the UK, your ballot paper gets a number marked on it which corresponds to an identifying number on the list of voters the polling station holds on election day. If someone of authority really wanted to know how I voted, they could find my voter number and sort through all the ballot papers for the polling station to find mine. It's a secret ballot only insofar as you or I won't know how the other voted, but the authorities can if they wish.
    – John
    Commented Jan 30 at 15:53
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    Of course it has democracy, comrade. Right there in the name: Democratic People's Republic of Korea. As opposed to the other republic that lacks democracy in its title.
    – Therac
    Commented Jan 31 at 4:25

4 Answers 4


In "democracies" where the votes are meaningless (for example, because there is only one candidate, opposition candidates don't get fair treatment or votes are cast under intimidating conditions), citizens can still signal their disapproval by boycotting the vote. Which means that winning an election by a very large margin but with a very low voter turnout puts the legitimacy of the election into question.

By making it a crime to not vote, dictatorships like North Korea can avoid that.

Also keep in mind that elections in authoritarian regimes are not just to legitimize the regime. They are also a ritual where the citizens signal their compliance. Not supporting The Party is bad. Which means that anyone who refuses to vote for The Party is a bad person. And bad people need to be punished.

99% of the citizens voting for the regime is a clear signal that the regime is still in control. It doesn't matter if that control is voluntary or forced. Just that it exists. Because as soon as an authoritarian regime allows the appearance that there is dissent, or even that dissent can be signaled in a public forum without facing consequences, then the dissent becomes a threat to its authority.

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    Of course with voting being compulsory, a high turnout has no meaning. That leaves the submission ritual you mention, and by some accounts also a sort of census/roll call of all citizens. Are they really in the province where they should be? There are other methods for that, as well.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jan 28 at 14:41
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    Also, as a propaganda tool. Even if somehow results were less than perfect (let's say "only" 75% of support) the official data would duly correct the mistake and report the correct 99% value, leaving anyone who has voted against with the idea that he is the only one.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 28 at 16:12
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    Worth mentioning that North Korea claims to be democratic, and presumably feels the need to continue that claim, even though it's nonsense. Commented Jan 28 at 16:51
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    @o.m.: One thing high turnout has as a meaning is that "Any dissent in the country isn't willing to risk becoming a criminal by not voting." can become a defence that "The Party" brings up about its legitimacy. Essentially forcing people to not say "Keep politics out of living in the country.", by forcing them to get political every election cycle number of years...or live with the fact that they're supporting their dictatorship and renewing their claim to legitimacy. Commented Jan 29 at 2:30
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    @o.m. A high turnout in a country where voting is compulsory indicates that the citizenry still acknowledges the government as functional (not good, or doing what they want, but sufficiently functional to be able to enforce it’s laws within it’s territory). Commented Jan 29 at 12:15

There are three main reasons.

First, political scientists and psychologists who have studied voting in one party regimes find that people who cast votes, even if they have no choice about whom they vote for, feel more positive about the regime after voting that they did before voting. This may not make a lot of sense from a political theory perspective, but it is an empirical fact.

Second, mandatory voting provides a way to identify hard core ideological opponents of the regime and to single them out for punishment, before they can gain any real support.

Third, regular elections force low level political party officials and government officials to show that they have the capacity to mobilize and control the actions of everyone in their communities. This prevents the party and government from getting so lax that they don't actually control anything, on pain of gross embarrassment before their superiors. A failure to mobilize 99% of the population to vote is a highly visible early warning system that the government and party might be losing control in a region (even if the subpar performance isn't truthfully disclosed to the general public).

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    Do you have a citation for the 1st claim? Commented Jan 29 at 6:13
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    I tend to agree with the first claim from first-hand observations, but i am curious, too, to see a systematically obtained data
    – fraxinus
    Commented Jan 29 at 9:39
  • @Fizz I've read it a while ago and I'm looking for the reference.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 29 at 15:59
  • Would second (or 16th, given the upvotes) the request for a citation. Would be interested in how they carried out this research Commented Jan 31 at 15:10

Something that doesn't seem to be mentioned in the other answers is that turning out to vote acts like registration time in school, in that everyone is expected to attend, and everyone who attends is expected to be accounted for.

This not only provides information to the regime about who has gone missing, but also potentially about who has appeared unexpectedly.

North Korea is typically cast as a place where the main tension is between the state and the people. In fact, in places like North Korea, the main perceived tension is between the people and the agents of foreign interference.

By making it compulsory to vote, and by there presumably being additional rules and circumstances which assist neighbours in supervising each other's compliance with the compulsion, the process can be used to check movements and whether there are any cuckoos in the nest anywhere.

  • This. Vote in these authoritartian regimens are used as a form of census. People who don't appear to vote better be dead or make a convincing case they're dead and not, gasp, defectors. Commented Jan 29 at 19:51

Voting was de facto compulsory in Stalinist USSR. E.g. in 1950 "Of the 111,116,378 eligible voters, 111,090,010 came to vote." And North Korea already claims similar stats; for instance they claim that their 2019 election had 99.99% turnout. I've not been able to find how this was/is done in North Korea, but back in the USSR:

During the voter registration process, the work of the precinct election commissions seeking to compile exhaustive lists of residents is assisted by the internal passport regime under the control of the police and housing authorities and by the persistent door-to-door visits of agitators. Each agitator contacts twenty or so citizens to extract a personal commitment to vote; and on election day, the agitator, who is evaluated on the turnout voters (and normally is unable to go home until they have cast ballots), will seek out non-voters to bring them to the polls.

That paper says that the mechanism held firm until 1984 or so--only some 23,000 absentees were registered in that year's "elections". Furthermore, in later [glasnost] Soviet times (1986 or so--when this could be surveyed), when this mechanism was no longer enforced, a correlation between non-voters and regime opponents was becoming evident:

That there is a close association between non-voting and other kinds of non-conformist behaviour: [...] For example, intermittent non-voters were over 5 times as likely as voters to have participated in a protest against some Soviet policy, and consistent non-voters were over 9 times as likely.

Therefore, the only effect of this [North Korean] law is probably to formally establish a punishment for anyone not showing up. (And it's not like they need that, because beating up and/or disappearing any opponents doesn't necessarily need paperwork in a regime like this.) Thus it most likely one of those ideas that someone had to show how to "strengthen the unity of country and punish traitors", by which they ingratiated themselves with the supreme leader.

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    You say "Stalinist USSR", but then say the practice continued long after Stalin. "Pre-glasnost USSR" would be more accurate.
    – user76284
    Commented Jan 29 at 19:16

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