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What About Mandatory Voting?

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 02, 2010 6:48 AM

Americans are not fond of laws that tell us we "have to" do something. Take for instance the still constant fight over helmet laws. In this election season, could it be time to consider one of the biggest "have to" laws of all: compulsory voting? Does a high turnout generate a better political process? Some will remember that the former USSR had a "voter" turnout hovering around 99%, but little in the way of government reaction to the will of the actual voter in the booth. The Aussies do it, what about U.S.?

The arguments for and against compulsory voting or mandatory voting have been intelligently researched and re-hashed far beyond the scope of a blog post, so let us limit our discussion to this: what are some of the often mentioned arguments for and against a compulsory vote? In a mid-term election, whose turnout is historically far below that of a presidential year, should we put pressure on ourselves and our neighbors to get out the vote whether we want to or not?

Arguments in favor of a mandatory appearance at the polls might be that the government will truly reflect the will of the people when all the people vote. However, in June, a less obvious argument was made by William Galston of the Brookings Institution in a report by NPR. Galston argued that if all are required to vote, the result will be a less polarized government. Galston believes that now, only the angry and disaffected vote. However, if everyone, including those who are less committed to one ideology or another vote, it will result in a more centered government.

There are many reasons against mandatory voting. For instance, enforcing a mandatory vote without infringing on the freedom of that vote would be costly to a government already deeply in debt. In addition, some argue a "forced" vote would give too much power to the voice of those who don't know or don't care about the issues or the election. Finally, it just sounds wrong. A free people forced to vote -- it sure sounds like an infringement on liberty.

So what is the answer? Just because it works for Australia (to the tune of a 95% turnout, according to NPR) does not mean it will work for this country. In addition, NPR notes an ABC poll saying 72% percent of Americans are against compulsory voting. This sounds like the end of the conversation, but we have been known to change our minds. In fact, please remember there was a time when Americans believed African Americans and women shouldn't vote. Times change, maybe so will your reason to vote.

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