If voting became mandatory, my cousin would play "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" on the ballot just to avoid paying the fine. He is not alone.
In the article "Telling Americans to Vote, or Else," published by the New York Times, William A. Galston entertains the idea of compulsory voting, advocating a higher turnout. This is a highly idealistic policy. We don't need higher voter turnout. We need more highly educated voter turnout. People who are not informed enough to make quality decisions have no place at the polls and their lack of knowledge dooms our democracy.
Furthermore, voting is a right. Civic duties such as jury duty and paying taxes are not the same thing. During jury duty, a citizen is given two sides of an argument to make a decision. To pay taxes, a citizen sets aside some money. To vote, a citizen has to make the conscious choice to seek out facts in order to make an informed choice. Proponents of compulsory voting say that higher voter turnout will uphold the values of democracy, but forceful regulation to encourage liberty seems a little contradictory.
The fact that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 63 percent of all registered voters came out to the polls in the 2008 election is still alarming. However, we have to look into the problem to find a suitable solution instead of assuming that compulsory voting policies will do the job.
The Pew Research Center found that non voters are five times more likely to say that they are too busy to vote than regular voters. Seventy percent of unregistered citizens cite difficulty getting to the polls. Mandatory voting would not solve these problems. All it would do is put money into the hands of the government in order to finance the expenses of implementing and enforcing such a policy. In light of such economic disarray, I'd say it's a bad idea.
The same study also found that 14 percent of unregistered citizens don't vote because they don't care about politics. Perhaps mandated voting would improve this statistic, but people like my cousin do exist, and I just don't know how comfortable I would feel if my elected official came into power by the lucky outcome of a counting rhyme.
America is a highly individualized society. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, two-thirds of Latin American countries have compulsory voting policies. These countries are comprised of collectivist cultures in which commitment to a larger group trumps individual interest. While Brazilian citizens may feel a duty to cast a quality ballot, Americans aren't guaranteed to act in such a responsible manner. Randomly completed ballots could affect the electoral process in a detrimental way. Those not extremely invested in the electoral process might base their votes off of cleverly planned political campaigns displayed in cheesy, candidate-endorsed commercials that do nothing but attack competitors. Increased voter turnout means nothing if the voters are not educated in their decisions.
Not far behind lack of interest is a lack of confidence in the government among the top reasons citizens fail to register or vote, according to the same study. Some people choose not to vote because they feel like there is a lack of choice and a lack of weight behind their ballot. Is mandatory voting the solution to a quality government? No.
There are flaws in the current legal system that prevent voters from getting to the polls and these must be reformed before compulsory voting should even be considered.
Richard H. Pildes, the Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law at N.Y.U. School of Law, states that what voters need is political competition. It would keep elected officials more accountable to the voters, moderate extremist tendencies and pressure voters to stay more informed about issues and candidates.
For busy citizens, there need to be more convenient voting methods available, such as absentee ballots, early voting or same-day registration, that would ease the process for those who want to vote but do not have the time. Unaffiliated citizens should be allowed to participate in open primaries of their choice. Having the voice of independents heard at primaries would mediate the extremist views that advocates for compulsory voting believe the current system perpetuates. If smaller candidates were given public funding and district lines weren't drawn by biased legislators, they would be given the ability to challenge the already powerful parties and represent more voices.
Forcing Americans to vote is a superficial answer to a complex problem that does not tackle the actual issues behind low voter turnout. Mandatory voting would only force those who are uninterested and uneducated to potentially skew votes.
What America needs is to reform the institutions that keep the citizens who want to vote and who are well-informed enough to vote from getting to the polls. America needs more knowledgeable voters. As for those who don't care to vote, we should let them play "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" elsewhere.
This is the opinion of Kim Tran, a sophomore marketing and communication studies double major from San Jose, Calif. Please send comments to email@example.com.