The arrival of this column at the Los Angeles Times was probably inevitable. It promotes an idea that has been brought up many times over the years, either by supporters of a party that has just lost an election badly or one that fears they are about to be washed away in a “wave” election. We saw examples of this after the 2010 midterms and the project is now being batted around again. The idea in question is a proposal to make voting mandatory for all eligible people in America. (We used to say “citizens,” but it’s no longer limited to that because Democrats are already finding ways to allow illegal aliens to vote in places like New York City and they would love to extend it to everybody.) The column is from Mark Z. Barabak and he invokes the work of E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and other opinionators from the Brookings Institution. And what is the rationale for instituting such a mandate? Well… several other countries do it, so why not?
There are roughly two dozen countries requiring what is gently called “mandatory attendance at the polls” and two would-be reformers would like the United States to join those ranks, though they readily concede the odds of that happening are exceedingly steep.
“If it’s hard to get people vaccinated to save their lives, you might imagine it might be hard to get them to accept this,” said E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post columnist, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of several prescriptive books on politics. Still, he said, it’s well worth trying.
His partner in advocacy, Miles Rapoport, is a longtime promoter of good-government initiatives, a liberal activist and former Connecticut secretary of state.
The claim being made here is that mandatory voting would “strengthen our democracy and make our politics somewhat less awful.” That certainly sounds wonderful doesn’t it? If you don’t agree, you clearly want to destroy democracy. They also offer the baseless comparison to the fact that jury duty is mandatory. But we’ll deal with the baseless nature of that claim in a moment.
Under the current proposal, people who fail to vote would be subject to a $20 fine. They would also mandate a “none of the above” choice in all elections so those who truly do not wish to make a choice could still comply. (Keep the word “comply” in mind here, folks.) Also, rather than paying a fine, if you still refuse to vote you would be allowed to engage in some form of community service, allowing the world to witness your nonparticipatory shame without having to drain your wallet further than the current administration’s policies are already doing. How thoughtful of them.
Do we really need to pick this apart for you? Jury duty is a “duty” because it’s specified in the constitution. People who are put on trial must be judged by a jury of their peers, not elected officials or by royal decree. And in order to get people to show up and fulfill this duty, it needs to be mandatory. But there are so many ways to get out of jury duty without breaking any laws that it’s barely a requirement at all.
Also, how would the system be improved if everyone was required to vote, including those who had no desire, but also those who had no interest in the subject? The author argues that politicians would have to fight harder to reach out to everyone rather than just amping up their base. But the other half of the country that generally doesn’t vote undoubtedly consists of many people who are probably doing us a big favor by staying home.
Do you really want people who spend their time watching ESPN, DIY crafting shows or reruns of the X-Files (not that there’s anything wrong with any of that) showing up to scribble in some random ovals in races and ballot questions they know absolutely nothing about just to avoid a small fine? Is that a system that truly tests the waters of the desires and policy choices of the public? Is that a way to truly hear the voices of the people?
I would argue that such a system would turn our elections into something closer to a scratch-off lottery ticket system. If your party fears that not enough engaged Americans support your agenda, you get the chance to see if enough compliant but uninformed people will pick your Super-Ball number instead of your opponent’s. And that’s supposed to somehow save or “improve” our democracy? The Founders didn’t make voting mandatory. In fact, because of the nature of those times, they made it far too exclusive. (Aside from racial and gender limitations, you frequently couldn’t vote if you weren’t wealthy enough to own land.) But they also believed in free speech. Voting is a form of speech. And the freedom of speech also includes the right to remain silent if you wish. The question of voting is no different.