The U.S. should make it mandatory for citizens to vote in elections
Links to more PRO research:
Former Presidential Counsel John Dean argues that it may be time for mandatory voting. This article is useful and well written.
In an article in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's student newspaper, an editorial argues for compulsory voting.
This article gives a background on the topic and places where it has been implemented.
Reasoning: In all democracies around the world voter apathy is highest among the poorest and most excluded sectors of society. The reason why they are so underrepresented is because they don’t vote. Since they do not vote the political parties do not create policies for their needs, which leads to a vicious circle of increasing isolation. By making the most disenfranchised vote the major political parties are forced to take notice of them, therefore helping those in society who have come to believe that our political system was unfairly designed to keep them out of it.
Evidence: An example of this occured in the UK where the Labour party abandoned its core supporters to pursue ‘middle England’ and thus more people from England were represented after mandatory voting laws.
Reasoning: A high turnout is important for a proper democratic mandate and the functioning of democracy. In this sense voting is a civic duty like Jury service. Jury service is compulsory in order that the courts can function properly and is a strong precedent for making voting compulsory.
Reasoning: The right to vote in a democracy has been fought for throughout modern history. In the last century alone the soldiers of numerous wars and the suffragettes of many countries fought and died for enfranchisement. We should respect their sacrifice by voting.
Evidence: Could they speak, the 4,400 men who died fighting tyranny in the Revolutionary War that gave us our national identity would tell you those excuses are so very petty. Their voices would no doubt be joined by the half-million men who perished in our Civil War or the 116,000 American soldiers who died in the first World War or the 405,000 of the second or the 95,000 of the Korean and Vietnam campaigns or the 3,800 who have so far perished in the Iraq conflict. In total, almost 1.5 million military men and women have died while fighting America’s wars. Countless millions more were injured, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. Fighting, whether on American soil or overseas to give Americans the assurance of freedom, liberty, and a representative government.
Reasoning: People who know they will have to vote will take politics more seriously and start to take a more active role. The reason why many people don’t vote is because they feel that either there vote won’t mean much, they don’t know enough about the parties, or they don’t have time or are too lazy to vote. When voting is compulsory, this will force people to take up an interest in how their government is being run, for if they’re going to vote then they’ll have to know who they vote for. People will consider votes more carefully.
Evidence: Think about it. By not voting you are neither supporting nor negating someone in an election. So, when you don’t vote, you don’t feel as guilty, for you know that by refraining from voting your decision can’t affect the country’s results in either way. When you have to vote, however, you know that you have to vote for somebody, not just remain neutral. This adds that degree of; yes, this vote is much more important now and I have to consider who I’ll vote for now.
Reasoning: Just as fundamental as the right to vote in a democracy is the right not to vote. Every individual should be able to choose whether or not they want to vote. Some people are just not interested in politics and they should have the right to abstain from the political process. It can also be argued that it is right that voices of those who care enough about key issues to go and vote deserve to be heard above those who do not care so strongly. Any given election will function without an 100% turnout; a much smaller turnout will suffice. The same is not true of juries which do require an 100% turnout all of the time! However, we can take a more general view by noting that even in a healthy democracy it is not surprising people should not want to do jury service because of time it takes, therefore it is made compulsory. However, in a healthy democracy people should want to vote. If they are not voting it indicates there is a fundamental problem with that democracy; forcing people to vote cannot solve such a problem. It merely causes resentment.
Reasoning: People who are forced to vote will not make a proper considered decision. At best they will vote randomly which disrupts the proper course of voting. At worst they will vote for extreme parties as happened in Australia recently. Now, let’s say that everyone is forced to vote and even those people who normally don’t have time to vote have to vote. Well, the 43.2% of people who didn’t vote in 2008 would be forced into voting boxes even though they have no time to make an educated decision. Researching and learning in depth about each candidates policies takes much time that 40% of the population doesn’t have. And if 40% of the population makes uneducated decisions, then presidential elections will be skewered and poor choices for office will occur.
Evidence: National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections, Sydney Morning Herald
Reasoning: The idea is not feasible. If a large proportion of the population decided not to vote it would impossible to make every non-voter pay the fine. If just 10% of the UK voters failed to do so the government would have to chase up about 4 million fines. Even if they sent demand letters to all these people, they could not take all those who refused to pay to court. Ironically, this measure hurts most those who the proposition are trying to enfranchise because they are least able to pay.
Evidence: The Times
Reasoning: Many people don’t vote because they are busy and cannot take the time off. Making voting compulsory will not get these people to the ballot box if they are actually unable to do so.