Considerations about mandatory voting



Optional voting expands the autonomy of citizens, who can learn by themselves to build their citizenship

Insofar as voting is sovereign, the phrase binding vote is a contradiction in terms. Indeed, if the vote is sovereign, it cannot be imposed. A vote cannot be free when one does not vote out of free choice, but out of fear of sanctions. When people show up to vote under these conditions, many decide to annul the vote, vote blank, or vote for a candidate without expression, as a form of protest. Or else, out of spite, they vote for fictitious candidates, such as Bode Cheiroso, Cacareco or others like that, or folkloric candidates, known to be incompetent, such as Tiririca. In none of these cases does compulsory voting function as a legitimate instrument of popular will.

It is argued that this type of vote should exist while part of the population is not endowed with “mature” political awareness. So thinks, for example, Pelé, who since the 1970s already stated, from the height of his political wisdom that "The people are not prepared to vote". But the brilliant Minister Luís Roberto Barroso adopts the same line of reasoning. He still does not defend voluntary voting because he thinks that “Brazilian democracy has been consolidating, but it is still young and, therefore, having some incentive (sic) for people to vote is positive” (BARROSO: 2021).

So the question is: have we voted countless times on the basis of mandatory voting, and we still haven't matured? The problem is that the conception espoused by the two illustrious characters mentioned above, which infantilizes the citizen, is also shared by not a few enlightened minds within the scope of the left,

In my view, she is shockingly paternalistic. What would be the criterion to be adopted to define who has political awareness or is deprived of it? Subaltern classes, even uneducated ones, are often more capable of better identifying their interests, and national interests, than a supposed economic, cultural or political elite, as, incidentally, the current elections for President of the Republic have left , again, patent. Therefore, it makes no sense for the State to treat the voter as a hypo-sufficient being.

It is worth reminding defenders of state coercion that compulsory voting works, especially in small towns and grottoes, as a traditional source of votes in favor of “colonels” and other bigwigs, who make the voter a mass of maneuver for the maintenance of their privileges (CONY: 2008).

Furthermore, “compulsory voting can contribute to the delay of development insofar as it relieves labor parties from captivating voters at all times and not just during the election period. This need to captivate the electorate could lead political parties to be more open, transparent and representative of society” (OLIVEIRA: 2022).

In countries with a consolidated democratic tradition, voting is optional: voting or not voting is a right that, as a general rule, is manifested massively when voters perceive that the best interests of the people are at stake, which seems to , incidentally, to have occurred in the second round of the 2022 presidential elections.

But when their perception is different, non-attendance may indicate, according to Norberto Bobbio, “legitimate refusal of consent” to governments. In this case, abstention may mean that whoever abstains may be convinced that the system is working properly, resulting in a “benevolent indifference” towards the candidates.

By contrast, in dictatorial countries that want to maintain a democratic facade, voting is always obligatory and, as a general rule, always favorable to those who impose it.

For the democratic left, the legitimate vote can only result from a process of becoming aware of its need, to be achieved in the dialectical confrontation between the social praxis of the voter and the political proposals under debate in the electoral process. an external, bureaucratic institutional imposition – which will provide citizens with the necessary and sufficient elements for their choice.

Compulsory voting, by contradicting the voter's freedom of choice, proves to be ontologically incompatible with the Democratic State of Law in force among us since the proclamation of the “Citizen Constitution”.

Even the most scathing critics of mandatory voting are unaware of the deleterious effects suffered by many who do not attend the polls to vote – especially the most vulnerable. They even consider, like the Public Prosecutor of the Ministry of Accounts, Júlio Marcelo Oliveira, “the virtual absence of any negative personal practical consequence for the citizen who abstains from the electoral process” (2022).

Big mistake! They do not realize that the authoritarianism embedded in compulsory voting is not limited to its imposing character, but has concrete material consequences, which are quite harmful. What happened in João Pessoa – and certainly in many other Brazilian cities – illustrates this statement well. In this city, the network TV Globo showed the long queue to which those who did not appear at the polls had to submit, in a recent election, to justify their absence. They remained for hours outside the Court, under the pouring rain, waiting, huddled together, for the moment to enter its premises to justify their abstention in the elections.

But the losses for workers do not stop there, as many lose a day's work to justify their default, in addition to bearing the costs of round trip transportation and any meals. Only an ingrained elitism explains why this issue goes unnoticed and why judicial authorities and the public solemnly ignore it. The perception of the suffering of the dispossessed by the bourgeoisie is reduced to its lowest expression by opaque lenses, which also contaminate that of the majority of the population. If the luckiest had to suffer these hardships, would we have compulsory voting?

In order to advance in the process of democratization of Brazilian institutions, it is necessary to extinguish it, as it impairs citizen behavior through the imposition of legal obligations incompatible with the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. There are much simpler, practical and democratic solutions to increase popular participation, such as the one adopted in the 2022 elections, consisting of ensuring free public transport for voters who need it.

We conclude that voluntary voting, in addition to getting rid of the bureaucratic and notary procedures that accompany the “justifications” that are imposed on us, embodies this inalienable value: that of citizen autonomy, who can learn by themselves to build their citizenship.

*Rubens Pinto Lyra He is Professor Emeritus at UFPB. Author, among other books, of Bolsonarism: ideology, psychology, politics and related topics (CCTA/UFPB).


BARROSO, Luiz Roberto. The country began the transition to voluntary voting. Folha de São Paulo, São Paulo, 19.6.2021.

CONY. Carlos Hector. Mandatory voting. Folha de São Paulo: São Paulo, 17.8.2008.

OLIVEIRA, Julio Marcelo. Is compulsory voting compatible with democracy? Congress in Focus, 20.10.2022.

SCHÜLER, Fernando (We've already voted 20 times and we're still not ripe for optional voting?


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