Tuesday night, when the election is called, whoever is elected by the next President of the United States, one thing is for sure: it won't be by majority. With a 63% voter turnout, in the 2008 election, only 33% of eligible voters voted for Barack Obama. Futhermore, according to the Pew Research Center anyone who cast a ballot is disproportionately likely to be white, over 45, and have a college education. The result? Americans voting are not representative of the demographics, and potentially opinions of the rest of America. The solution? Compulsory voting.
A Nation Divided
I know no one likes being told what to do, but put down your pitchforks and hear me out. The last 10 years have seen a dramatic change in campaigning strategies. The historic Downsian model (targeting centrist swing voters) has given way to the base mobilization strategy, which focuses on simply riling up existing supporters enough to turn out to the polls. This has led to hugely polarizing tactics, and enable political parties to completely ignoring certain demographics. House Speaker John Boehner, this year admitted, he doesn't not think the GOP can win over black and Latino voters, he simply hopes that "they won't show up."
Solutions from the Land Down Under
"But this is America! It's a free country! We can't force people to vote!" Tell that to Australia, a western democracy, culturally similar to our own, that has enforced compulsory voting for over 80 years. In the Australian system, individuals who do not vote are fined, and as a result, Australia's voter turnout hasn't dipped below 93% since 1925. Those individuals who don't like any candidate can fill in a "None of the Above" bubble. As far as violating our American freedoms, our government makes up pay taxes, serve on juries and educate our children, surely mandating participation in democracy is not so unthinkable.
Politically Engaging Citizens
Opponents dread the idea of encouraging every Joe Plumber to cast a vote, however, compulsory voting can also be viewed as a tool to combat political ignorance and apathy. By engaging citizens in the political system, and making voting into a civic responsibility, we increase involvement in all parts of the political machine, encouraging education and forcing politicians to focus on less partisan rhetoric, and more concrete solutions. In the words of Time Magazine, to reject the idea of including all fellow citizens in the voting process reflects "a lack of faith in democracy itself."
Worthy of Consideration
Compulsory voting is not without its obstacles, but don't be so quick to write it off. It could be just the dramatic change needed to alter divisive and polarizing U.S. politics. Eighty years after its implementation, 70-80% of Australians approve of compulsory voting. In a compulsory voting system, no party could afford to dismiss 47% of citizens, and the risk of disenfranchisement through Voter ID laws, would be eliminated. In their place, specific issues, policies, and solutions could dominate the political conversation. Bipartisanship would be more than a political buzzword, and our nation's leaders would be elected by a true majority.