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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Mandatory voting not the worst idea ever

It’s the day after Election Day. The votes are in, the pundits are analyzing the results and there’s been near 100-percent voter turnout.

A fantasy? Maybe -— but the president thinks it might not be a bad idea to bring this about by making it mandatory to vote.

OK, perhaps that’s overstating it a bit. Rather, President Barack Obama was talking more about the role of money in politics and how compulsory voting — and the resulting higher voter turnout — could counteract big spenders. It was more of a hypothetical suggestion than an actual policy proposal.

But could it actually work?

There are other countries that have compulsory voting, such as Australia. Investor’s Business Daily ran an article asking if Obama was kidding “or just plain dumb.” The piece claimed that actual turnout in those countries varies widely, and voter turnout in general has been falling since the ’80s worldwide.

According to Vox, though, a 2001 study from Stanford University professor Simon Jackman found that enacting compulsory voting laws not only increases average turnout in countries that enact them but also “makes electorates more representative of the overall population.”

How? It reduces socioeconomic biases in voting — important in a country where, as Vox states, exit polls show that rich, educated white people vote disproportionately more than other groups. In other words, the people who are voting will be more representative of the people living in the U.S.

Another article from The Washington Post said mandatory voting laws “would change very little.” It argues that the non-voting population tends to be very similar in respect to political belief with the voting population; since many elections aren’t too close, more people voting won’t change results. In addition, the article says it won’t even necessarily help Obama’s own party.

But, the goal of compulsory voting is not to help the Democrats — it’s to increase voter turnout, to increase engagement with the political process and to make the government representative of the people. If it’s not, is it really by the people and for the people? When people don’t vote, the response shouldn’t be that they don’t matter. It should be to ask how we can get them to vote.

Another argument, one that IBD brings up, is that those who don’t vote are ignorant or indifferent and shouldn’t be voting. However, those who are ignorant still have issues that affect them, issues they care about, as do those who are indifferent. Ignoring them means parties can pander to their bases.

If those people had to vote, though, candidates would be required to ensure their policies appealed to a wider group of people, and this could help reduce extremism from people who are already geared up about politics. Some of those people still would not vote, but at least politicians will actually be opening dialogue with them instead of writing them off.

That claim also ignores potential reasons why people might not vote. Election Day is not a national holiday, and not every state mandates that employers give workers paid time off to vote. Some states don’t even mandate any time off at all. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 14 states do not have early voting, either. Non-voters in those states might not be voting out of ignorance or apathy but because they simply don’t have time.

This doesn’t mean compulsory voting is the way forward. Enacting it may be difficult, and levying a potential fine would hurt the people who are already not voting, which disproportionately are poorer people. There are other potential solutions to the problem of voter turnout, such as making Election Day a national holiday or otherwise making it easier for people to vote.

But if the question is whether we should care about non-voters, the answer is yes. To classify all non-voters as apathetic people who don’t matter is incredibly ignorant, completely wrong and not a good reason to write off compulsory voting entirely. Compulsory voting probably shouldn’t be the first step toward increasing turnout, but it is an option that merits consideration. Though, perhaps only after making it easier for people to vote without it being mandatory.

And if you’re mad that the government is forcing you to vote, well, that sucks, but if you’re a citizen of the U.S., it’s sort of your duty to do so. Just like it’s your duty to pay taxes or sit on a jury, because in order for a society to function properly, people sometimes have to make choices that benefit their society but not themselves.

Democracy only works when people are voting, even if they happen to need that extra push to do so.


Ashwin Mehra is a physiology major. Follow him on Twitter.

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