Should Voting Be Mandatory?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Few things in America are mandatory. It was once mandatory for young men to sign up for the draft, but there's no longer a draft in effect. Young Americans are required to get at least some level of schooling and in just a few years, health insurance will become mandatory, too. But there's something that's noticeably absent from the list of requirements for Americans: voting. 

It's not a secret that voter turnout in America is low, hovering around 50 percent. But Norman Ornstein is trying to change that. He's a columnist for Roll Call and wrote the article “The U.S. should require all citizens to vote” for the Atlantic’s “America the Fixable” series. 

What Orstein proposes is that attendance at the polls on voting day be mandatory, a policy that Australia uses. Citizens would not have to cast a vote, but they would be required (on penalty of a fine that would be easily excused) to head down to their local middle school, post office, or community center on election day. 

"This is not something where men and women in uniform come to your house and haul you off to the 'pokey' if you don't vote, Orstein says. "It's quite a bit less onerous for people, but it works." 

One of the most significant barriers to instituting some sort of penalty or incentive for voting is the argument that voting is a civic right, not a civic duty, and therefore should not be made compulsory. 

In order to get around this, Ornstein brings the idea of a positive incentive to the table. Instead of charging non-voters with a fine or community service, he would like to see people's voting stubs turned into lottery tickets. "My guess is if we do that, overnight we increase our turnout by 25-30 percent," Ornstein says.

One of the most appealing benefits of compulsory or incentivized voting is not simply high turnout numbers, but a critical game changer in the way that politics are conducted. Ornstein says that if politicians know that their bases will be mobilized and ready, they will not feel pressured to push divisive issues, such as gay, gun, and abortion rights. Instead of "firing up the base" with demagoguing, they'll be compelled to dial down their rhetoric and address broader concerns in order to attract moderate voters. 

"In Australia, what you find is, as politicians from all sides and all stripes will tell you, if you know that your base is going to be there and their base is going to be there, your incentive is to focus on the voters in the middle who might be persuadable," Ornstein says. "There, you don't use vitriolic rhetoric, because if you scare them, you might turn them off. There, you don't turn to wedge issues, which aren't going to help you very much. You focus on the big things — the economy, jobs, education, climate." 

"It alters the context of the campaign, and it alters the context of politicians when they serve in office," Orstein says. "That's what I'm aiming for, not just getting people to turn out because we like high turnouts." 

Guests:

Norman J. Ornstein

Produced by:

Robert Balint, Arwa Gunja and Paul R. Smith

Comments [18]

2 Chainz from Balling

My chain had another chian like it was preganant.

Feb. 26 2013 12:52 PM

I'd like to say yes, but my experience tells me that, currently, the answer is no because too many people vote who clearly do not know the issues or the candidates. I'd rather it be that everybody get informed and then make an informed vote, but if they are too apathetic to get the facts, then why would I want them to vote?

Jul. 31 2012 10:30 PM
Angel from Miami, FL

Invent a third guy. Invent a guy who's actually independent. A guy who is smart but not too smart so you can talk to him. A guy who can charm people but won't let them get away with stuff. A guy who cuts down the center. A guy who is not bipartisan, just human. A guy who doesn't know exactly what you're going through but he's got a smile and a 3-sec hug as a momentary patch. A guy that can get elected because he can talk to the people who aren't interested in elections - the folks cupping their ears when their left/right-winged relatives go on a rant.

What we need is a Ferris Bueller!

Somewhere on Venus there's a fry cook waiting for our phonecall.

Jul. 27 2012 09:47 AM
Mike from Puget Sound

Forcing people to have car insurance or wear seat belts ensures a better outcome.

Until we can prove that forcing people to vote ensures a better outcome than our current system, I think it's about as productive as getting married because it seemed like a good idea or preventing people from getting a divorce to preserve the sanctity of marriage.

Whether people in general are well informed or not, those who are inclined to vote will and MAY be more likely to make the most informed choice possible because it is of their own free will. Forcing people to vote, in a country that prides itself on "freedom" of expression seems more a formula guaranteed for revolt, rebellion, and willful disengagement from the process for, perhaps, no other reason than that they have been left with no choice.

Didn't we just get done deciding something similar in regards to Health care? The courts decided. Is EVERYONE happy?

How many minds have been changed as a result?

Roe v. Wade. That was decided law too.

Still hasn't been put to bed.

Naw, go with your gut on this.

"Good law endures."

Ignore history.

Jul. 27 2012 01:04 AM
Mike from Puget Sound

When intelligence is a given, voting should be mandatory.

At least when it's optional there's a better than average chance that
at least as many (or more) folks who have no idea what to vote for or
why, or those who don't know and don't care won't vote.

Why force them to?

Jul. 26 2012 06:05 PM
anna from new york

"the most informed people do not need proding"
Yeah, Carl, life is simple ... only in the eyes of uninformed and 'trivial."

Jul. 26 2012 03:36 PM
Kabir from New York

What about the idea that not voting is actually a vote, a vote of no confidence so to speak, just a vote that isn't counted and those in power should take the responsibility for not counting them.

Jul. 26 2012 03:14 PM
carl from queens n.y.

the most informed people do not need proding... why force people, who could name every player on their favorite team, but can't tell you who their council member, congress person, or who the v.p. is?... quality not quantity produces the best results...

Jul. 26 2012 12:32 PM
Joel from Boston

The greater problem is that the electorate is not smart about evaluating the candidates, or even interested in putting a lot of attention to it. Do we really need more people voting based on sound bites, attack ads, name recognition, and whom their neighbors are touting? Pushing more people to vote will just add volume and probably with some preference for the less-informed. Sure, let's have weekend voting with long or flexible voting time frames. Beyond that, let's teach how to evaluate candidates, how to identify your own self interest and the nation's, how the economy works, what's our national budget comprised of, what makes a good negotiation or a bad compromise. Of course putting this in our public schools would present controversy, but still, as a society we face lots of issues subject to good judgment and we should crunch down on this one. It would at least be a step in the right direction.

Jul. 26 2012 12:17 PM
anna from new york

earthcycles,
Are you suggesting that I vote for the party of Roseanne Barr? Are you serious? I firmly believe that illiterate bozos should be locked in some bozohouses.

Jul. 26 2012 11:53 AM
Adam from Norman, OK

Voting should not be required. In fact, fewer people should vote. When you vote you are essentially hiring someone to do a job. In most cases it is a job the majority of voters don't know enough about to make a real informed decision. Some level of competence in foreign policy and economics should be required. As it is right now, political races are won on clever marketing campaigns designed to elicit an emotional response from uneducated or uninformed voters.

Jul. 26 2012 10:33 AM
dlmc

This was a depressing piece. Gee, should non-voters be required to wear giant scarlet V's. The practice of publicly calling out private citizens over their political contributions and voting history is repulsive. A Wisconsin group has already sent out mailings letting people know if their neighbors have voted. This could very well have the opposite effect. Then the idea of luring people to the polls to win lottery. Please. What is the plan - get individuals with such low interest in politics they might not be able to name the current President, trick them into coming to the polls and then hope they vote for your candidate.

Weekend voting was the only sensible idea. It might actually have the opposite effect but is worth shot.

Jul. 26 2012 09:31 AM
earthcycles from Northern California

When only 535 folks of electorial college elect Pres, and how many millions spent on the smoke screen politics, i would say we need proportional representation, with true elections.... If you only needed to influence 535 folks, i wonder how the millions being spent is focused on their needs? I would suggest that everyone vote Green Party, and watch what would happen.

Jul. 26 2012 09:03 AM
listener

How about starting with the Democrat controlled US Senate which for over three years has failed to vote for a budget which IS required by law?!?

Who is more at fault? Senate Majority Leader Reid or an unserious media that ignores this failure while throwing up frivolous distractions?

Jul. 26 2012 08:58 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, NY

Eventually, we will be able to vote from our computers about every political topic on a daily basis... We will be able to get rid of The Senate because we at home will be the Senate.

Of course, to avoid voter fraud, voting will be done with fingerprints... and there will be people collecting fingers in order to get multiple lottery tickets based on Norman's idea.

It was great to hear Carlin this morning. The man insisted that you think while making you laugh at the same time. Thank You

Jul. 26 2012 08:52 AM
Ken from Brooklyn

If the point is to try and get people more interested in voting, try making it look like a vote actually counts. Get the money out of politics and get rid of the Electoral College. Get rid of the political hacks that participate in redistricting for political gain and those trying to make it more difficult to vote. Get my prospective congressional candidates to pay as much attention to my needs as they pay to the needs of corporate America. Stop trying to nullify my right to vote and then make it mandatory for me to participate in a rigged process.

Jul. 26 2012 08:29 AM
Kristen from New Jersey

Re: mandatory voting. I am an educated, middle-class 35-40 year old who has always taken the right to vote very seriously and have always felt a strong obligation to vote, and encouraged others to vote (especially in presidential elections). This year I plan on NOT voting in the presidential election. Neither candidate, and frankly neither party , represents me, nor is able to keep the interest of middle class america in focus (i.e. my single vote cannot compare to money from donors and lobbyists that drives policy). I am registered independent, living in a NON-swing state (NJ), with generally liberal views, but I don't think democrats are realistic about the fiscal situation in the US, and cannot vote for Romney (too conservative on most-to-all issues). I would vote "none-of-the-above" if I could, instead it looks like my vote will be to to "abstain".

Jul. 26 2012 07:19 AM
anna from new york

Norman is an idiot. I happen to be much better educated than he (formally and probably informally) and I do live in NYC, but nothing, nothing, nothing in the world can force me to vote for Obama (and I still don't vote for Republicans). Unlike Ornstein, I understand that the problem is somewhere else and my voting/non voting can't change a thing. This country at this point isn't reformable and it can only collapse. No amount of babbling can change this simple fact. Stop distracting, Norman.

Jul. 26 2012 07:00 AM

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