If conservatives want to suppress our right to vote, shouldn't progressives be promoting mandatory voting?
Mandatory voting isn’t talked about much inside the United States. A country where the freedom to cast a ballot seems to be on par with the freedom to stay home. Next month the country will go to the polls for the 2014 Midterm Elections and less than 40% of the voting population is expected to take part.
A Gallup poll last week found that only 33% of respondents said they were giving at least “some” thought to the upcoming midterms. This begs a simple question; how can you call it a democracy when close to two thirds of the people refuse to participate in it?
Voter turnout in Midterm Elections hasn’t risen above 50% since 1914, a hundred years. In addition, voter turnout in Presidential Elections has only broken the 65% barrier once in that same time span. Clearly something has been broken for a long time.
Now, since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act last year, Republican led states have gone into overdrive trying to make those voting numbers drop even further, particularly among minorities.
As religious conservative political activist Paul Weyrich famously said; “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
To their credit, progressives are fighting back hard, but is it enough? Strong voter turnout is fundamental to a healthy democracy. A low turnout is usually credited to political disengagement and the belief that voting for one party or another will do little to alter public policy. If this is held true, then Americans have been equally apathetic when it comes to politics for the better part of a century.
It is possible mandatory voting could turn things around, but before you dismiss this as just another liberal/socialist stunt, listen to the arguments. You can claim that no one should be required by law to vote. In a truly free country, no one should be required to do something against their will. Fair enough, if that’s your opinion, I respect it.
But at the same time, we are all required to pay taxes, we are all required to fill out the census and if we want to partake in certain activities, we are first required a licence. No country on earth will ever be truly free. So why not instead make our democracy as strong as it can be?
If mandatory voting was introduced across the country, voter suppression would, at least eventually, become a thing of the past. If abstaining from voting is against the law, suppressing the vote would surely be as well. You can’t force people to break the law.
Many of you are no doubt asking yourself why you would want everyone, including the average uninformed American, to vote. Guess what? Many of these ignorant people are already voting, have been since the beginning of time. It isn’t going to change anything.
What may change however, is the habits of the uninformed voter who has never voted before. They will suddenly be required to vote, and many of them will want to get up to speed on the issues before they do so. It’s just human nature. We can be lazy, uniformed, apolitical or all the above, but as humans we generally want to do the right thing when we are forced to make a choice.
We could very well see the emergence of a third or fourth party as a result. Many people don’t vote because of a lack of an alternative. Mandatory voting would almost insure more options are out there. At the very least it would force Democrats and Republicans to actually do their jobs.
As of last year, 22 countries were recorded as having compulsory voting. It is enforced in some of the world’s most well-established democracies such as Australia, Singapore and Peru. Voter turnout in these countries reach above 90%. Those who stay home on Election Day in these countries are usually issued a small fine. But even in countries where mandatory voting is law, but not enforced, voter turnout is still typically 20% higher than in the United States.
Due to the success of mandatory voting in some developed democracies, other nations are starting to look into the idea with optimism. Earlier this year, Canada’s Liberal Party (who are not in power) floated the idea.
Canadian participation in federal elections has been in steady decline, but experts believe the Liberals also want to eliminate a strategic advantage the Conservative Party has had in recent elections through the disproportionate weight of its loyal base, U.S. style campaign tactics, and negative attack ads.
As a progressive I suppose that is the end goal. We need to fight fire with fire. Whether you think voting should be required by law or not is obviously a matter of opinion. But if we introduce the possibility of mandatory voting to the American public, it will put Republicans and/or conservatives on the defensive for once.
Instead of passing endless amounts of voter suppression laws, Republicans will be too busy fighting off their biggest threat, mandatory voting. When the smoke clears, hopefully everyone will at the very least have a choice of whether to vote or not.