Compulsory voting in Egypt

Something I’ve heard surprisingly little about with all the election coverage is how Egyptians are responding to the High Election Commission’s (HEC) announcement  that the government fully plans on enforcing the country’s mandatory voting requirements. I did find this from the Daily News Egypt.

“We do not have a polling station specifically for senior citizens so we have to take permission from other voters in the queue to go to the front because we cannot stand for too long,” said a voter who preferred to remain anonymous at one of Tora’s polling stations.

Some of those senior citizens came to vote because they are afraid of the LE 500 fine if they fail to vote,” Fathy said, adding that they do not even know the candidates they will vote for and are asking others about their selected candidates.

The law requiring eligible voters to participate existed in the past, but was never enforced.   The HEC, however, has publicly stated that it intends to levy a LE 500 (Approximately 83 USD) fine on any eligible voter who does not cast a ballot.  (I can’t find out if this applies to both the first and second round). While LE 500 could be easily paid by richer Egyptians, it is the equivalent of many months’ salary for the large lower class. This raises serious concerns over the ethicacy of such a law that will disproportionately hurt lower economic classes.   Given the unconsolidated nature of the political party system, it seems unfair to force voters to choose somebody, when it is more than possible that nobody represents their views.   Turnout for the March referendum was only 41 percent of eligible voters, indicating a large number of Egyptians are not political engaged.

I could speculate on the effects of compulsorily voting in Egypt, but it wouldn’t be much more than that.  I do think the greatest threat it could pose to the election process would be dramatically increasing the number of invalid ballots.  From what I’ve gathered, both the ballots for the nominal and list tier of seats need to be filled out correctly for an elector’s votes to count.  Given the high illiteracy rate, confusing ballot design, and the fact that mandatory voting is most likely to bring out apathetic voters, I could see how this would cause problems.  Of course a well organized party could take advantage of this by providing voters with information on how to cast a ballot.  Anthony Downs’ model is put to the test.

Hopefully somebody did an exit poll and asked how big of a factor this was in turning out voters.  Until we have final turnout numbers, however, there isn’t much we can go on.

Posted on December 1, 2011, in Democracy, Elections, Middle East and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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