Should Voting Be Mandatory?
June 1, 2002
I read with interest recently that the State Election Commission removed over 300,000 voters in South Carolina from the state’s list of active voters. This obviously caused a swell of angry criticism across the state.
What was most amazing to me was the fact that the State Election Commission only purged the names of voters who had not cast a single vote in any election in the past 8 years! Of the 2 million eligible voters in South Carolina, this action alone got rid of 15% of potential voters!
This led me on a mental journey about the issue of voting in America.
In the 2000 Presidential election, we all witnessed the closest election in the history of the United States. Over 100 million eligible citizens voted for George W. Bush, Al Gore and the other candidates in this historic race.
However, with over 200 million registered voters in America, this means that around half of the population decided who the leader of the free world would be. Do the other 100 million people or so who chose not to vote just not care?
The more important question to ask is this: Should voting be mandatory?
We are already required as citizens of the United States to pay taxes. So, why not require people to vote?
Since so many people complain about high taxes (especially the property tax as evidenced in this year’s South Carolina gubernatorial race), shouldn’t the idea of “no taxation without representation” be enough impetus for people to vote? Yet, the reality of the situation is that the statistics have bore out the fact that less than 15% of citizens regularly vote in elections in America.
Another crucial question to ask: Is voting a right or responsibility?
Is voting a fundamental right for Americans? Just as we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights enumerated to us in the U.S. Constitution, is it also our right to vote in every election? Should a constitutional amendment be added to force the citizenry to vote?
Or is voting a responsibility? Is voting the civic equivalent to taking care of your children? Should the government be obligated to ensure that all citizens participate in elections for the sake of their future?
What is amazing about today’s society is that we have unlimited information available to us in an instant via television, radio, newspapers and the Internet. People today are more able to be educated than any other generation before. So why don’t they vote? Some may feel guilty if the candidate they vote for is a failure. This should not be a hinderance to participation in the process, though.
A positive result of mandatory voting would be a large voter turnout. This has been well-documented in countries where voting is not an option. Plus, political parties will not have to spend as much money to convince people just to get out and vote since citizens will already be required to vote. Other positives include more legitimate elections, citizens get a sense of involvement in their government and a decrease in dirty election-year politics.
On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to compulsory voting. Some contend that it hinders with the basic freedoms our country was founded on. If a citizen chooses not to vote, then that should be their right. Some countries have laws that punish those who do not vote.
When I went on a summer mission trip to Chile, South America in 1992, the people there told me that if they did not vote, then their driver’s license was taken away from them for a year and they were forced to pay a fine. Needless to say, over 90% of the Chilean population votes! Other countries impose high monetary fines and/or imprisonment if people do not vote. Many of these countries are lax on enforcement of the law, though. However, the threat of punishment forces many to vote who would not otherwise do so.
Another problem with forcing people to vote is the inordinate number of blank or random votes. The uninformed voter who is forced to participate may vote for any old candidate just to fulfill their duty to vote. One other problem with mandatory voting is that some people are unable to vote because of work obligations. However, making Election Day a holiday from work or moving it to a Saturday would solve this dilemma.
Some may say they do not vote because of the lack of quality candidates to choose from. Some will argue that it goes against freedom to make people vote for a candidate they do not want. If either of these are true, then we should allow people to vote for “none of the above!” This would allow for people who are unsure who to vote for and would be a greater indication of the true sentiment of the people about the candidates who are running.
Wouldn’t it be great to have “none of the above” receive 20% or more of the vote in an election? That would force the political parties to reevaluate the candidates they present in the next elections. The result would be better candidates with each new election cycle! In fact, lesser-known candidates of political parties such as the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party would have a better chance to be heard and voted for under mandatory voting!
The main target of the mandatory voting movement is young people. With very few exceptions, either they could care less or they are extremely uneducated about the people who are running for political office and the issues. Young people surmise that voting under these pretenses is worse than not voting at all, which explains why the voting percentage of the 18-25 year old population is so miniscule.
Many of the problems with people in general not voting can be resolved, albeit temporarily, by teaching better civics classes at an early age, reforming how campaigns are financed by rich and influentual contributors or any of countless other measures which may or may not make a difference.
Or, we can make voting mandatory to force people to become better citizens. Young people would have to learn about the candidates and the issues. People of all ages would hold their elected officials to a higher standard. Even the politicians would change the way they do things if they were forced to be responsible for every voter that elected him, not just the few squeaky wheels. There would be no more political pandering because it would no longer work!
Have you stopped to wonder what would happen if every American voted? Can you imagine how radically changed this nation would become on a political, social and economic level? It could be one of the greatest moments in our nation’s history if it were to become a reality!
Many people understand the purpose of elections is a means to an end to get proper representation on every level of government. Unfortunately, many more would rather sit at home on Election Day and gripe about everything under the sun. They are perfectly fine exercising their freedom to abstain from voting. But with voter turnout for elections in a sixty year decline, the time has come for mandatory voting.
Do you agree?