Philosophy & Practical Justice Initiative Seminar: ‘Compulsory Voting – A Defence’

When:20 Mar 2018, 12:30pm - 2pm
Venue:Room 310, Level 3, Morven Brown Building (C20 of campus map)
Who:Dr Lachlan Umbers (UNSW, Sydney)
Lachlan Umbers

Abstract: Turnout is in decline in established democracies around the world. Where, in the mid-1800s, 70%- 80% of eligible voters regularly participated in US Presidential elections, turnout has averaged just 56% since 1972. Average turnout in general elections in the UK has fallen from 76.64% during the period 1945-1992, to 64.68% since 1997. Average turnout in Canadian federal elections has fallen from 74.52% during the period 1940-1979, to 62.5% since 2000. For most democrats, these numbers are a cause for alarm. ‘Rule by the people’ looks far less attractive with an effective electorate of only 60% of the population. Compulsory voting is among the most effective means of raising turnout. However, compulsory voting is also controversial. Most of us think that coercion may only be employed against the citizenry if it is backed by a justification of the right kind. Opponents of compulsory voting charge that no such justification is available. This paper resists this line of argument in two ways. First, I offer an argument from free-riding which, though gestured towards by others, and widely criticised, has yet to be defended in any depth. Second, I consider a range of objections to compulsory voting as such, arguing that none succeeds.

Bio: Lachlan Umbers is a post-doctoral research fellow with the Climate Justice stream of the Practical Justice Initiative. He was awarded his doctorate in philosophy from the Australian National University in February 2018. His dissertation engaged in a series of debates concerning the justification of contemporary democratic institutions, including compulsory voting, bans on vote buying, majority rule, and universal suffrage. He has ongoing research interests in democratic theory, as well as distributive justice, moral philosophy, meta-ethics, and applied ethics – especially climate ethics.

More information can be found on his website, here.

Contact person: Heikki Ikaheimo: h.ikaheimo@unsw.edu.au

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