Should voting become compulsory?
Low voter turnout is a consistent issue in the United States, leaving some to wonder whether one efficient way to address it wouldn’t be making voting compulsory
Rise of the Issue
Although turnout in the last presidential election of 2020 was at a record high, about 7 percentage points higher than four years before, this still only represents around six in ten people who are in the voting age category. This, in part, stems from the fact that voting is not compulsory in the United States, in stark contrast to other countries around the globe, like Australia or Belgium.
The main debate around compulsory voting revolves around whether voting should be seen as a right or a responsibility. Those who see it is a right believe that no one should be forced to vote if they do not want to or if it is against their beliefs to do so, while those who view it is a responsibility think it is of the utmost importance for a well-functioning democracy to have the opinion of all its citizens, not just the most convinced or motivated.
Founding Fathers Draft the Constitution
The Constitution set many limits on voting, which generally meant that at the time the only people allowed to vote were white Christian males who owned property.
Oldest Compulsory Voting System Enacted in Belgium
In Belgium, the oldest laws compelling citizens to vote was enacted for men, with women being required to vote 55 years later.
Women Earn the Right to Vote
After decades of organized activism for women’s voting rights, the 19th Amendment is ratified and ensures that women nationwide have the right to vote.
Voting Rights Act
President Lyndon Johnson signed a measure that barred states from using voter suppression practices that were targeting African Americans and other minority groups.
The Minimum Voting Age is Lowered
The 26th amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 years old nationwide.
Venezuela Ends Compulsory Voting
The compulsory voting system in Venezuela was officially ended and followed up with a 30% decrease in voting.
Proponents of compulsory voting believe that it is every citizen’s civic responsibility to participate in elections because it reinforces the democratic process. Opponents view voting as a right that every citizen must be free to take or abstain from because to them what defines democracy is respect of citizens’ freedom to choose.
Those against believe that making voting mandatory will force many uninformed citizens to the polls and negatively impact the elections’ results, while those in favor believe that every citizen’s opinion matters and should be reflected in election outcomes, however knowledgeable voters are.
Proponents of compulsory voting see it as an effective way to address low voter turnout, whereas opponents argue that it would not compel uninterested eligible voters to vote because the punishment cannot be too strong.
Those who believe in mandatory voting see it as a way to promote voter engagement, when its opponents do not believe it would make citizens more interested in politics.
Political legitimacy requires high levels of voters to turnout and vote.
Because a government requires the consent of the governed, some believe that it cannot truly represent the people unless enough citizens are voting.
Compulsory voting would make up for laws that suppress the vote in certain states.
Some states have laws that make voting difficult for certain communities; however, federal law could preempt those state laws and make up for historic voter suppression.
Political interest can be sparked if people are required to vote.
If people are required to vote, they are more likely to take an interest in public policy and become better educated.
Voting is a responsibility for all citizens.
Voting, like paying taxes or jury duty, is a part of living in a well-ordered society.
It could bring new important issues to the fore.
As more citizens would be required to vote, many of which currently do not feel compelled to do so, other important yet still invisible issues might arise or become prevalent as a result.
Voting is a right, not a duty.
Like speech or requesting an attorney in a criminal trial, voting should be treated as a right that can be exercised not a duty to be performed.
Compelled voting may violate the freedom of religion.
There are various religions and cultures that oppose voting in secular elections, and forcing them to vote would violate their First Amendment Rights.
Requirements to vote could violate citizens’ freedom of speech.
The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and compulsory voting would likely violate that, as the First Amendment includes the freedom not to speak.
Compulsory voting laws are all bark with no bite.
Laws that require voting often have a small monetary fine (around $20), reducing the likelihood of the punishment actually being effective in forcing uninterested citizens to vote.
People should not be forced to vote for people they do not want to.
Some people may look at the field of candidates and find that none of them resonate with them and desire not to vote. Abstention is also a way to express one’s political opinions.