Notes on Mandatory Voting
Updated: Jan 21
H. Gardner (School Submission)
(THE DAVINCI - CHARLOTTESVILLE) - Mandatory voting, also known as compulsory voting, is a practice that makes voting a civic duty rather than a civic responsibility. Civic duties are actions in the law that every citizen must do, such as serving on a jury or registering for the selective service. Civic responsibilities are actions that are encouraged but not required by law, such as doing volunteer work or staying informed about the issues in your community. In the United States, voting is seen as a responsibility, but in around 13% of countries around the world, voting is a civic duty enforced by law. The failure to vote may be punishable by fines and restricting your driver’s license.
Pros and Cons of Mandatory Voting:
Compulsory voting has many benefits, including increased political awareness and representation. Many people believe that their vote will not count because of the sheer amount of people in the United States, so they do not pay attention to national politics. Making voting mandatory encourages being actively engaged and aware of the current political climate in your country.
Mandatory voting would also broaden the representation included in our polls. The practice of voting is disproportionately more difficult for rural and blue-collar Americans for many reasons. Rural counties have less polling places due to the sparsity of the population, and this means that actually going to a polling station is more difficult and time-consuming. Along with this, taking time out of the workday for blue-collar workers to go to the polls shortens the paid hours they would work, which is a strong incentive not to vote. In a study done by Joshua J. Dyck and James G. Gimpel of the University of Maryland in 2002, it was found that distance did affect the likelihood of voter turnout. It found that for those living 5 miles from a polling place, nonvoting increased by 3.1%, and at locations 12 miles away the percentage of nonvoting increased by 4.5%. This shows that the farther away from the polling place people live, the less likely they are to vote. This may seem like a minute percentage, however, it gets proportionally larger the farther away people live from their polling place. Making voting mandatory would force the voting system to address these very real issues that face the rural and working-class population of the United States.
Another benefit of mandatory voting is that it would streamline the campaigning process in how politicians campaign. Almost all modern campaigns have one common goal, which is to convince voters to actually come to the polls. During the 2016 election, 42.3% of eligible voters did not vote. How can our country function as a democracy if almost half of its population does not participate in elections? By making voting mandatory, candidates can focus more on the policies they would support when in office, rather than just attempting to convince the population to even come vote.
However, there are many downsides to mandatory voting you must consider when forming an opinion on this issue. One con of mandatory voting is that by making it mandatory, it takes away one’s freedom of choice. Respecting the freedom of choice is a crucial part of a democratic society, so making voting compulsory may infringe on this right.
Another downside of mandatory voting is that it may not necessarily encourage voters to become more aware of the political climate, resulting in uninformed voting. This has the potential to disrupt the integrity of the campaigning process by allowing candidates to make large sweeping claims that they do not necessarily have to back up with evidence or uphold once in office. This is already a flaw in the current campaigning system, and forcing citizens to vote who may not be informed may exacerbate this practice.
The enforcement of mandatory voting is another problem to consider. Is it worth the government’s time and effort to find and fine every citizen who decides to vote? Where would the money for this task come from? After some amount of time the operation may be able to pay for itself through fines, however, the funds are still needed to begin the process. These are all important things to consider when forming an opinion on the practice of mandatory voting.
Mandatory voting is practiced in 22 countries as of 2014, including Belgium and Australia. In Australia, more than 96 percent of eligible citizens are registered to vote. This is much higher than the United States’ 70 percent who were registered in the 2016 presidential election. While mandatory voting is part of the reason for the higher voter turnout, other factors play a role as well. For one, elections always take place on a weekend in Australia, partially solving the problem mentioned earlier of taking time off of work to go to your polling place. In addition to this, the culture around voting day is different as well. Election day is something of a holiday, with small barbeques and celebrations marking the day as well. This creates a sense of community and is another factor that may encourage those who would not generally vote to do so.
In Belgium, the voter turnout is also remarkably high at 90 percent in 2014. Belgium has the longest history of mandatory voting in the world, with a voter enfranchisement law passed in 1893 that required all men over 21 to vote. This law is enforced with fines, which gradually increase each election you do not vote in, and by prohibiting non-voting citizens from receiving promotions if working for the government. These strict punishments help ensure that a large majority of citizens will vote.
As you can see, mandatory voting is working in modern countries now. The final question I will leave you with is this: is mandatory voting a worthwhile practice, and do you believe that the United States would be able to implement it?