The US Should Have Compulsory Voting in General Elections
PRO (3 arguments)
Compulsory voting - our compulsory voting system would reflect the Australian system, where all voters must attend the polling booth but have the option to vote “No decision” or “abstain”
General election- a national or state election
Weighing Mechanism: The judge should vote for whichever side best improves how the election process currently works, in terms of creating a more fair election.
In all democracies around the world voter apathy is highest among the poorest and most excluded sectors of society. 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 people vote, the major political parties are forced to take notice of them.
William Galston of the Brookings Institution argues that mandatory voting would temper the polarization of our politics. In today’s electorate he writes, “hardcore partisan believers are over-represented; independents and moderates are under-represented. If the full range of voters actually voted, our political leaders, who are exquisitely attuned followers, would go where the votes are: away from the extremes. And they would become more responsive to the younger, poorer and less educated Americans who don’t currently vote.” This idea was affirmed in a groundbreaking 2012 study by Professor Elizabeth Cascio of Dartmouth College. In her study, she found that the implementation of mandatory voting in nations in the past, saw an immediate increase in minority-favored legislation getting passed. Specifically, the study calculated that in the ten years after voting was made mandatory in Australia, Mexico, and Argentina, there was a 14% increase in minority-based legislation or reforms that favored minority groups than before mandatory voting. Furthermore, in a 2004 study of 15 countries where compulsory voting exists, by Dr. Lisa Hill of the University of Adelaide, the average turnout rate increased by 30.4% once a mandatory voting was implemented. This was especially seen in low-income, minority-based communities where the average voter turnout went from a 58.6% to an average of 93.7% in the studied countries. This enormous increase in turnout was directly caused by compulsory voting and helped to drastically increase representation for lower income, usually forgotten minority groups.
Brookings Institute, Dartmouth College
It will make people take elections as well as candidates more seriously. Compulsory voting would compel the people to be more proactive in building a government that will serve the majority, not only a few groups. This will lead to a better and more united nation.
Mandatory voting creates more economic reforms that favor and benefit minority groups. In a 2013 study by Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago, Vincent Mahler, concluded that a 1% increase in voter turnout led to a 3% reduction in income inequality since new legislation favored the poor. This is incredibly impactful, since reducing income inequality directly benefits minority groups who disproportionately earn less and are treated worse in the current system.
A democracy is government by the people, not just 50% of the people. If only half of eligible voters actually vote, this negates the purpose of our democracy and delegitimizes elections.
According to Pew Research Center, the US was 31st out of 34 industrialized countries in voter turnout in 2012 elections. Compulsory voting will drastically increase this number. In Australia, for example, which has had compulsory voting in federal elections since 1924, turnout soared to 91 percent in the first compulsory voting election. In recent elections, it has hovered around 95 percent. The law also changed civic norms. Australians are more likely than before to see voting as an obligation. The negative side effects many feared did not materialize. For example, the percentage of ballots intentionally spoiled or completed randomly as acts of resistance remained on the order of 2 to 3 percent. In recent decades, about 5% of voters are typically asked to explain their absence on polling day. Surveys consistently indicate that about 70% say they favor compulsory voting, and 80% say they would still vote even if voting was not compulsory.
CON (4 arguments)
Weighing Mechanism: This debate should be weighed on which side best encourages informed and educated votes in the election, since those who are voting should know information about the candidates and our political system.
In the only Supreme Court case that discussed mandatory voting, Kansas City v Whipple, the court ruled that forcing citizens to exercise their right to vote directly violated the Constitution. The SUPREME COURT, the highest court in the land that determines what IS constitutional and what IS NOT said: “it is NOT within the power of any legislative authority, national or state, to compel the citizen to exercise this sovereign right.” Additionally, the ruling found that any form of national mandatory voting laws would go against the Tenth Amendment, which states that any right not explicitly stated in any other prior amendment would be the power of the states, not the federal government. Moreover Congress lacks constitutional authority to pass a law mandating voting, particularly in presidential elections. Article II of the Constitution gives Congress limited powers over presidential elections. Congress only has power to determine "the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes.”
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. Any given election will function without an 100% turnout; a much smaller turnout will suffice. 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.
According to Rutgers School of Law Professor Frank Askin, “the right to free speech enjoyed by all Americans extend to making a constitutionally protected statement by NOT taking part in the election process. It would violate the First Amendment since people have a right to opt out of elections.” Since the First Amendment gives us the right to free speech, Professor Askin argues that voting is a form of speech, as it is our public statement of who we support. Therefore, forcing people to use this form of speech, even when not voting is a statement in itself, would violate their rights protected under the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects not just the right to speak, but the right to refrain from speaking.
In a utopian society, full voter turnout is ideal, since every voter would be positively contributing to society through their educated opinions. Sadly though, this is not the case in modern day America. More Americans are misinformed or uninformed about political candidates nowadays then Americans who are properly informed. Therefore, it makes no sense to increase turnout if the increased number of voters won’t be helping our election system.
According to Professor John Sides of George Washington University, “compulsory voting would change the outcome of very few elections. That is because non-voters aren’t that different than voters in their partisan outlook and because many elections aren’t that close and won’t be swayed by additional votes.” It is better to have a small percentage of our population vote if they all vote with informed, educated views, then have everyone vote with a majority of votes being random and meaningless. In fact, in Australia, where elections are mandatory, a huge problem exists with random votes. According to USA Today, between 5-10% of votes in the past election in Australia were what are called “donkey votes”. “Donkey votes” are where a voter simply checks the first box that appears on the ballot, resulting in useless votes. Those 5-10% of votes that were literally just someone randomly checking a box can have huge implications on elections, and can turn close elections to a candidate who either does not deserve to be elected or is unfit for the position. Theodore Roosevelt once stated, “ A vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.” If the citizen is uninterested and just voting because of a law, that would certainly deprive the candidates from having a fair and accurate election. In one Washington Post poll, only 36% could name the three branches of government. In another, 29% couldn't identify the current vice president. These people should not be forced to vote!
If you make voting mandatory, you need to put in place an expensive bureaucracy to find those people who didn’t vote and punish them. This is a significant burden on our already taxed criminal justice and courts systems. For example, in those countries where voting is compulsory in theory, but seldom or never enforced, voter turn-out is low.
In Mexico, for example, which is among the countries where abstaining is illegal, turnout in last year’s presidential election was only 63%. If the US is to have compulsory voting that works, there will need to be a whole new bureaucracy to track those who don’t vote and prosecute them. This will be very expensive and slow down our already slow criminal courts. According the Economist, compulsory voting will only work if there is a real consequence for not voting. Countries with limited budgets may not place the enforcement of mandatory voting laws as a high priority. Because of the high cost of prosecuting non-voters, many countries offer loopholes, intentionally and otherwise, which allow non-voters to go unpunished. For example, in many countries it is required to vote only if you are a registered voter, but it is not compulsory to register. People might then have incentives not to register. In many cases, like Australia, an acceptable excuse for absence on Election Day will avoid sanctions.