Sunday, November 4, 2012

Compulsory Voting: A Solution to Polarization?

           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.


  1. I love this article a lot. I have (occasionally) thought that maybe if everyone was more involved in voting, they'd see the importance of understanding each candidate, and maybe this weird train of thought would drip all the way down to a child who would one day become the president.In a perfect utopia, I think compulsary voting is a wonderful idea. I like what you said about how denying it would show the lack of faith in the American people. I loved the organization, as well.

    However, playing devil's advocate, to implement compulsory voting that would require a lot of government money and management. Is our government really in a position to use money for compulsory voting when they are already in debt?

  2. That's a really valid obstacle to implemented mandatory voting, Lisa. So, I guess, the defense of the fiscal rationale behind this policy is that while there would probably be an initial shuffle in the bureaucracy, hypothetically, our government should already have the capacity to handle a vote from each eligible voter. Unlike Australia, we even have the early voting option, so in which voters pay postage, and since we would expect our government to handle a spike in voters in a normal election year, it should be able to adapt to a more widespread system without too much difficulty. Anyways, I think the most significant financial offset is that the government will make revenue off of those who don't vote. The fine for not voting is the equivalent of a parking ticket, that increases yearly for individuals who continually don't vote.

    The argument for mandatory voting is often an idealistic one, and with that in mind, at the end of the day, a small blow to the deficit would be justified, because it would be to realize our nation as true democracy.