Ask any American what makes America great and there’s a good chance that they may say it’s our good old democracy. Then ask that same person when the next election is and they may look as lost as an abandoned five year old at Disneyland.
Actually, our next nationwide election is three weeks from today, Tuesday, November 4th (please mark your calendar and vote!).
In our last midterm election in 2010, less than 42% of eligible voters turned out to vote nationwide. So over 58% of Americans with the right to vote, really didn’t care much about having that right and perhaps spent their spare time that day choosing to catch up on their fantasy football team or binge watch The Walking Dead on Netflix (to be fair, some, especially the less-well-off, may be working two jobs that day or otherwise sidetracked by personal responsibilities).
There are a number of countries that make voting compulsory and their turnout percentage of eligible voters in their last election (h/t IDEA – http://www.idea.int/vt/) :
Argentina = 80%
Australia = 93%
Brazil = 82%
Ecuador = 81%
Liechtenstein = 80%
Luxembourg = 91%
Nauru = 97%
Peru = 84%
Singapore = 93%
Uruguay = 90%
Then there are nations that have compulsory voting laws but don’t enforce them (some less legit “democracies” have been omitted):
Belgium = 89%
Bolivia = 95%
Costa Rica = 68%
Dominican Republic = 70%
France = 80%
Guatemala = 69%
Honduras = 61%
Mexico = 63%
Panama = 76%
Paraguay = 68%
Turkey = 74%
For those who believe in American Exceptionalism and in America as being the world’s greatest democracy, how can that be the case when these countries have greater democratic participation?
The statutory penalty for not voting in these countries is typically a small fine. So what’s worse, making it mandatory to vote and minimally penalizing those who don’t (exceptions are always allowed) or having a kind of undemocratic government that’s not elected by a majority of citizens (and typically voters who are more middle and upper class)?
When one considers the nations where mandatory voting has existed for a period of time, it appears that it has made an impact on the culture, bringing citizens to accept that voting is something they need to do. And might not that sensibility, especially if it was infused into the poorer communities in the U.S. where voting percentages are at their lowest, actually empower them and pressure politicians to focus more on their needs and addressing poverty or be voted against? Not to mention focusing on the needs of the majority of the nation (and not on such things as repealing Obamacare for the 100th time or lowering the deficit when most people are struggling with employment and income).
One can imagine the arguments against compulsory voting on both sides of the fence. From Liberals, the complaint could be that it would penalize the poorest since they are more likely not to vote. From Conservatives, we’d probably hear about how it is a core freedom of Americans to choose not to vote, “Those who don’t vote are proof of how great our democracy is!” (or some twisted up logic like that).
Addressing the Liberal complaint, one could argue that if voting was made mandatory, then voting periods should be extended over weekends and for a longer time overall period and absentee ballots with postage paid should be provided to those who request them (making voting easy, without Voter ID laws in the way).
For the Conservative complaint which would likely be hollow and just an insistence to keep the poor and minority voting numbers down because they are less likely to vote for Republicans, one could argue that what should take precedence is the social responsibility all citizens have to the country and to all who gave their lives in our history so there would be a democracy and a right for all of us to vote. In essence, those who don’t vote weaken our democracy and undermine the sacrifices made to give us that right. So the argument could be made that as members of a democratic society, they have a necessary and minimal responsibility to the nation support its democracy and vote. And considering that most of these people expect 1% of our citizens to risk their lives fighting wars to protect them and the country’s interests, it literally is the least citizens can do to support the nation.
Those on either side of the fence are fine with requiring Americans to do something if they feel it is in line with their values. Most Democrats support the individual mandate on health insurance. Most Republicans support the mandate to provide proof of citizenship to use one’s right to vote.
Laws are generally made to protect the majority at the expense of the individual’s freedoms. A compulsory voting law in the U.S. would do just that while reinvigorating our democracy and making it more representative of and responsive to the will of the majority of the American people.