President Obama Supports Mandatory Voting, And He’s Wrong To Do So

President Obama thinks that it would be a good idea if everyone were forced to vote. He's wrong, and his idea is most likely unconstitutional.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY: US-vote-balloting

Yesterday during a speech in Cleveland, President Obama suggested that the solution to America’s problems lied in forcing every American to vote whether they wanted to or not:

(CNN) The president whose major policy achievement is mandatory health insurance thinks maybe voting should be mandatory, too.
Asked how to offset the influence of big money in politics, President Barack Obama suggested it’s time to make voting a requirement.

“Other countries have mandatory voting,” Obama said Wednesday in Cleveland, where he spoke about the importance of middle class economics, and was asked about the issue during a town hall.

“It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything,” he said, adding it was the first time he had shared the idea publicly.

The clout of millionaires and billionaires in campaign funding has been enormous, and many claim the uber wealthy have undue leverage in politics.

“The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups,” Obama said. “There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.”

At least 26 countries have compulsory voting, according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Failure to vote is punishable by a fine in countries such as Australia and Belgium; if you fail to pay your fine in Belgium, you could go to prison.

Aside from campaign finance issues, the United States also grapples with one of the lowest voter turnout rates among developed countries.

Less than 37% of eligible voters actually voted in the 2014 midterm elections, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. That means about 144 million Americans — more than the population of Russia — skipped out.

President Obama isn’t the first person to suggest this idea, of course, and he likely won’t be the last. Whenever there are stories after any election about lower voter turnout, someone comes up with the idea of making it mandatory that people show up to the polls notwithstanding that the low turnout numbers themselves seem to be a fairly good indication of the fact that there is a large group of people out there who don’t want to vote for one reason or another. Five years ago, for example, the Brookings Institution’s William Galston proposed that the United States should adopt a mandatory voting system similar to the one that exists in Australia, where voters can be fined if they don’t at least come to the polls and mark a ballot although they are given the option of essentially voting “none of the above.” Former adviser to President Obama Peter Orszag made a similar proposal in 2012.  The idea has also been floated by political pundits and “serious” journalists every time they lament what is supposedly wrong with American politics in general, and voter turnout in particular. As with most such solutions, though, the idea of mandatory voting seems to create far more problems than it would supposedly solve.

Before we can even discuss the supposed voter turnout “problem,” it must be recognized that there are any umber of reasons why people don’t vote, either in general or in a particular election. Presidential elections tend to get higher voter turnout than any other year, for example, and that’s largely because these are seen as being the most “important” elections. Mid-term elections get lower turnout than Presidential elections historically, but still tend to get higher turnout than off year elections. Finally, primary elections tend to get the lowest turnout of all, in no small part because many states limit primary participation to voters registered as members of a particular political party. On some level, it’s perfectly understandable that people are more likely to vote in Presidential elections than other elections, and that off year elections and primaries tend to get lower turnout. While this obviously has some kind of impact on the results of the election I am not sure that it constitutes a “problem.” If people choose not to vote in a given election, then that should be their choice. Forcing them to go to the polls isn’t going to accomplish anything.

It’s also worth noting that these “non voters” come in different categories. In some cases, obviously, they consist of people who are so fed-up with the status quo in American politics, as represented by both major parties, that they don’t see any reason to participate. In other cases, there are no doubt a whole host of reasons why people don’t vote. Telling them that they have to come to the polls and choose between two candidates they already find unacceptable doesn’t strike me as being very productive. Some of these non-voters may live in areas where there isn’t really a contested election either because the outcome is obvious from the beginning or because the opposing party didn’t even bother putting up a candidate. Fixing the problems that are keeping them away from the polls are going to require something other than forcing people to vote. Other non-voters may not be able to get to the polls when they’re open on Election Day, although the availability of early voting in many states and absentee voting in every state makes that argument a difficult one to maintain. To some extent, though, these problems can be fixed through other, less intrusive changes to election law that make it easier to vote early, or via absentee. Finally, this group of non-voters also likely consist of a significant number of people who quite simply don’t pay much attention to the news, have no idea who’s running, and don’t particularly care who wins a given election. Why we would want these people to vote is quite honestly beyond me.

One final objection to the President’s idea is related to an argument I made in my response to Galston’s proposal five years ago. Unlike Australia and other nations where voting is mandatory, the United States has both a long tradition of protecting political speech, and not compelling that speech, and a specific Constitutional Amendment that protects that right. If the act of voting is anything, it is a specific act of political speech and compelling people to engage in such an act would seem to clearly be a violation of both the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment. Additionally, given the fact that, for at least some people, not voting is intended to be a political act in and of itself, making voting mandatory would deprive them of their right to make that statement in the manner that they choose. Even if the penalty for not voting is just a fine, it is still a penalty and no person should be penalized for refusing to engaged in compelled political speech.

As a practical matter, of course, mandatory voting is something that will likely never come to pass in the United States. There does not appear to be any basis in the Constitution for Congress to pass a law on the matter, for example, and even if it did it would not be able to compel participation in non-Federal elections. At the state level, the arguments against this idea would likely outweigh the arguments in favor of it no matter which party controlled the legislature. And, finally, the legal challenges that such laws would likely face would have a good chance of succeeding for the reasons discussed above. President Obama likely knows all of this, but it was nonetheless disconcerting to see him once again fall back on the idea that people should be forced to do something just because he thinks it would be a good idea.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. It’s also worth noting that these “non voters” come in different categories. In some cases, obviously, they consist of people who are so fed-up with the status quo in American politics, as represented by both major parties, that they don’t see any reason to participate.

    In the 2014 election, I decided to embrace my political alienation and decided to start blank voting and did a write in vote for “NO VOTE” for every single race.

  2. pylon says:

    Hmmmm – I think the reporting goes further than what Obama actually said.

  3. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @pylon: Care to elaborate?

  4. sam says:
  5. grumpy realist says:

    I’ll be charitable and assume that President Obama just was overly exhausted from dealing with that playpen of cranky toddlers called Congress and this was babbled out in a “if I were to recreate the US from the ground up” gedankenexperiment. I’m sure that President Obama realizes that mandatory voting isn’t possible under the Constitution.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    Well…if that is really what he meant…then, yes, it’s f’ing stupid. But Obama is not stupid…so I doubt it’s what he meant.
    What I read is:

    Other countries have mandatory voting

    which is true, and:

    It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything

    and it certainly would be, and it certainly would counteract money.
    The issue here is not that Obama thinks we need mandatory voting, but that money is corrupting our political system. We are no longer a Democracy; we are an Oligarchy.
    Let’s have a nat’l discussion about how to fix that without making stuff up about money earning you enhanced 1st Amendment rights..

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Constitutional arguments aside, given the abject stupidity of a large swath of the electorate, it’s probably better in the long run if they don’t vote.

    Know what would be fun though? Having to pass a test on economics, current events in the geopolitical realm, civics and geography in order to vote.

  8. Vast Variety says:

    I don’t think he was actually suggesting that the US adopt mandatory voting. I think he was just pointing out that other countries do have such a thing. It’s like he is expressing two separate thoughts there. There is a pause between the two comments.

  9. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @C. Clavin:

    We are no longer a Democracy; we are an Oligarchy.

    We have never been a democracy, and we were originally designed to be a benevolent oligarchy. Just saying …

  10. Vast Variety says:

    Two things that I think would improve voter turnout… 1) Everyone gets mailed a ballot prior to the election and you can either mail it in or take it to a polling place on election day. 2) Election day should be a paid Holiday.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Somewhere the “benevolent” got dropped.

  12. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I’m pretty sure that it should always have been in quotes from the beginning. People romanticize the founders into being many things that they decidedly were not – chief among those is egalitarian.

  13. James P says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Wow! I completely agree with you. Call it the broken clock theory.

    People should have to pass a test in economic literacy to vote. At a bare minimum they should know the difference between an actual cut in spending versus a reduction in the future rate of growth of a program.

  14. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Wow, Jenos leaves in a huff and “it” shows up shortly thereafter.

    Who could ever have seen that one coming? …

  15. James P says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Obama is not stupid

    Yes he is. He can’t form a coherent thought without the aid of a TelePrompter. People know he is stupid but they won’t say so because they’re afraid to be called a racist. Well, I’m not afraid so I can say he is a complete moron. Rush Limbaugh said that if it weren’t for affirmative action he’d be lucky to be a tour guide in Honolulu.

    We are no longer a Democracy;

    If you struck the words no longer you would be correct. Democracy is mob rule. The Founding Fathers opposed democracy – read Federalist papers #10 and #51. We are a federal republic with a Constitution which guarantees INDIVIDUAL rights.

  16. Steve Hynd says:

    I bet myself before I clicked through that this piece would be by Doug. Of course, he ignored the main reasons people don’t vote: disenfranchisement by dint of ID laws, roll purges and election day timing; and the important role poverty plays in keeping people away from the polls. The rest is red herring, especially the bit about voting being “individual free speech”. It cannot be speech when it is silent – in that it is individually secret. The whole point of speech is to communicate, and an individual vote is not divulged except by another act of individual free speech.

  17. C. Clavin says:

    @James P:

    Rush Limbaugh said that if it weren’t for affirmative action he’d be lucky to be a tour guide in Honolulu.

    You are quoting Fat Rush…your avatar is Sarah Palin…and you are calling anyone else stupid?
    Muhwahahahahahahhaha

  18. James P says:

    @Steve Hynd: [“and the important role poverty plays in keeping people away from the polls”]

    Bull crap! I’ve never been asked to show a pay sub at the polls. We did away with poll taxes 50 years ago. Although I personally support them as a matter of policy, they are clearly unconstitutional.

    Requiring ID does not disenfranchise anyone…………..except the core Democrat constituencies of dead voters and illegal aliens.

  19. James P says:

    @C. Clavin: Yes, I am calling the erstwhile leader of the Choom Gang stupid. Why am I calling him stupid? Because he is stupid, that’s why.

    To be clear I am NOT calling you stupid, but I am calling you wrong when you said we are NO LONGER a democracy. To infer that we have ever been a democracy reflects a certain level of ignorance of the Constitution.

  20. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    Doug :

    …. less intrusive changes to election law that make it easier to vote early, or via absentee.

    Now there is an idea that the Rs can really endorse!

  21. John425 says:

    @James P: James P–let me do the heavy lifting for you…Clavin IS stupid. Scroll around the various threads and note his obvious admiration for dictators.

  22. Gustopher says:

    @Steve Hynd:

    Of course, he ignored the main reasons people don’t vote: disenfranchisement by dint of ID laws, roll purges and election day timing; and the important role poverty plays in keeping people away from the polls.

    Nonsense. Less than half of all potential voters voted in the midterms, and voter suppression efforts remove far less than half the remainder. Can you seriously make a case that one on four potential votes are lost due to vote suppression? (that would be half or so of those who don’t vote)

    Voter suppression probably doesn’t even trim off more than 10% of the population.

  23. C. Clavin says:

    @John425:
    Please link to one instance of me admiring a dictator.

  24. Tyrell says:

    @C. Clavin: Didn’t. the president vote against some sort of campaign spending limits bill a few years ago? I might be wrong about that.

  25. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Constitutional arguments aside, given the abject stupidity of a large swath of the electorate, it’s probably better in the long run if they don’t vote.

    That’s just flat out stupid. But, cynicism and nihilism are generally flat out stupid.

    Ferguson is what happens when people don’t vote. And why don’t they vote? Because they think their vote doesn’t matter — because of cynicism and nihilism. If the citizens were dragged kicking and screaming to the polls, and then had to handle a ballot that asked whether so-and-so (incumbent) should be re-elected, even the lowest of the low information voters would be able to figure out if the status quo was good or bad.

  26. Pinky says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Where were you on the “Pre-1965 Literacy Tests” thread?

  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    It’s flat out realistic. Voters these days are being tasked with making decisions about policy statements that most of them do not understand well enough to form any sort of decision on them. They couldn’t find Iraq on a map if their lives depended on it.

    That said, I never espoused preventing them from voting. I said it is probably more beneficial for all of us in the long run if they decline to exercise the privilege of their own accord.

    Your premise is that things would be better if they did vote. I tend more towards believing they would just be a different flavor of bad.

    Quantity /= quality.

  28. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    Note: the broader, underlying argument that’s being made there is that the single largest problem with American politics isn’t politicians. They just reflect the electorate.

    Our single largest problem is societal. We’ve turned being unengaged and uninformed into a Zen-like thing – a mark of pride in some cases.

    Is that because those voters are just absolutely incapable of mastering the material? For a decidedly tiny fraction of the electorate, yes, but the simple truth IMO is that the vast majority of them just don’t care enough or give enough of a damn to do the heavy lifting that’s required. They would rather be entertained.

    And that’s what they’re given. More of them opting to vote doesn’t change a thing. It just underlines what already is.

  29. george says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Know what would be fun though? Having to pass a test on economics, current events in the geopolitical realm, civics and geography in order to vote.

    Sure, so long as people I agree with get to compose the questions and mark the answers.

  30. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @george:

    It was mostly tongue in cheek. I’d never support voting being conditioned in that way, but I would absolutely love to see how many people would actually pass.

    I’m betting not many.

  31. aFloridian says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I’m with him on this. I am against measures that unreasonably bar otherwise qualified people from voting (I’m still not sure who this mass of people are who have no form of ID yet want to vote, so ID restrictions in and of themselves don’t strike me as unreasonable, but it should be a wide variety of acceptable ID forms) and Republicans have definitely been playing that game lately. Even so, most of the folks we’d be forcing to vote are people who are already too stupid or disinterested or disaffected to vote as it is. And even in the small number of people who DO vote, the vast majority is way too uneducated and uninformed to vote in any intelligent way. That’s how you get people like Ted Cruz and the rest of the clowns that ignorant poor whites have been putting into power since desegregation, led to water by pied pipers like Limbaugh and Beck.

    But also, this:

    @James P:

    Bull crap! I’ve never been asked to show a pay sub at the polls. We did away with poll taxes 50 years ago. Although I personally support them as a matter of policy, they are clearly unconstitutional.

    How is creating an economic barrier to voting – and a TAX no less – at all in congruence with the small-government right-wing/libertarian philosophy? Unless it’s just “it’d keep poor people and brown people” from voting and therefore all pretense of small-government principles go out the window??

  32. gVOR08 says:

    @aFloridian:

    How is creating an economic barrier to voting … small-government right-wing/libertarian philosophy? … “it’d keep poor people and brown people” from voting … small-government principles go out the window??

    Ah, I see, rhetorical questions.

  33. James P says:

    @aFloridian: Referencing brown people is just a cheap pathetic attempt to play the race card.

    However, I will not deny that I would like fewer poor people to vote. Personally I believe only people who are vested in the system by paying taxes should be allowed to vote.

    Why should they be able to use the ballot box to vote themselves more of what I earn?

    I don’t want redistributionist programs like Food Stamps and the EITC. They do. They vote for candidates who will take money I earn to expropriate it to them in the form of “free” Obamaphones. That is legalized theft.

    I earned what I have and I want to keep it. I did build that.

  34. HarvardLaw92 says:

    D F T F T

    Thanks 😀

  35. aFloridian says:

    @James P:

    We know there’s ample evidence it’s not just a tactic on my part…there have been active efforts to suppress the black vote. Not hard to believe when it votes as a block for the opposition.

  36. Tyrell says:

    I have a better idea. Rather than fine people, why not offer some incentives. How about $100 in tax credit every time you vote. Or lottery tickets. Free flights on government planes.
    Incentives and rewards work better than negative consequences.

  37. Pinky says:

    President Obama’s statement was largely trolling. He knows that every time he says something that pushes the envelope, the right will explode. This comment will have an internet half-life of about two weeks, and will have some people spouting conspiracy theories for years. It costs him next to nothing, and distracts his opponents.

  38. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Money is the most overated part of politics. Only about 70 incumbent Congressmen are at any risk of losing their re-election bid. That means the rest of them have almost no need to raise money. Over 50% of Senators are at no risk of losing re-election. The Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson have spent fortuens and got nothing for their money.

    The real money is politics is the $3.8 trillion in federal government spending and the over $2 brillion in state and local spending. There is no way to get money out of politics when government has so much money to spend.

  39. Andre Kenji says:

    Brazil has mandatory voting. One can argue that ending mandatory voting would further empower the Evangelicals, one of the strongest caucuses in Congress. On the other hand, mandatory voting gives large power to a large bloc of unaffiliated voters with little access to information(That´s one of the reasons why there are large numbers of bizarre candidates in our elections. John Oliver talked about these candidates on his show).

  40. george says:

    @James P:

    However, I will not deny that I would like fewer poor people to vote. Personally I believe only people who are vested in the system by paying taxes should be allowed to vote.

    I’d argue that anyone following the laws is vested in the system. Though perhaps you’re suggesting only those vested in the system need to follow laws, since they’re the only ones with a say in what those laws will be.

    On the other hand, since just about everyone pays taxes (starting with sales tax), we’re pretty much talking about the empty set here anyway (ie the number of people who pay zero taxes is very small).

    The history of giving people the vote tends to be more about creating a stable society than about paying taxes. There’s a reason for that.

  41. Trumwill says:

    @Andre Kenji: Hey, could you send me an email? I have a couple of Brazil-related questions you might be able to help me with. My email address is my 8-letter handle followed by gmx.com (or gmail, they forward to each other).

    (I asked you before. Not sure if you saw it. If you saw that one and see this one and your answer is “no, dude, I value my privacy” that’s cool and I won’t ask you again.)

  42. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Voters these days are being tasked with making decisions about policy statements that most of them do not understand well enough to form any sort of decision on them. They couldn’t find Iraq on a map if their lives depended on it.

    And I can think of no election where the details are so fine grained that the electorate would need to know where Iraq is on a map. If someone thinks it is where Iran is, or even somehow starts putting it where France is and then vaguely recalling the names of some other Mideast countries and labels Belgium as Syria, England as Saudi Arabia and Italy as Ohio. They are electing people who can figure that stuff out for them.

    The basic questions — Do we invade another country while we are still at war with this one? Do we balance the budget by cutting services or raising taxes? Is my city more or less scary than it was four years ago? Is our children learning? — these don’t require a particularly deep understanding.

    Expanding the voter base, even if it means expanding it to the genuinely stupid people, helps. Most of our institutions have an approval rate of slightly below pond scum, and if incumbents faced the entire electorate — that angry electorate — they would have to give a reason to vote for them staying in office, rather than just frightening people away from voting for their opponent.

  43. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Our single largest problem is societal. We’ve turned being unengaged and uninformed into a Zen-like thing – a mark of pride in some cases.

    Cynicism, nihilism and apathy are not actually the core parts of Zen Buddhism.

  44. JKB says:

    Mandatory voting. Hey, let’s go. First we’ll need voter ID, nationally. Then, it’ll be like the combined federal campaign where they give you a ballot with your name on that you have to return no matter what, but it’s all voluntary.

    Then we get some fines for not voting. Those least like to vote are the young, the poor and minorities. So now they get fines, which maybe they don’t pay, so they get some court costs, which they don’t pay so then they get a warrant on them to appear in court. And along comes, say a traffic stop. The warrant comes up, the cops try to arrest, the person resists, and, boom, an Eric Garner type death. All for not voting.

    And given the amount of thought they’ve put into this, I’d expect that they’ll make not voting, perhaps a recidivist, a felony. Boom, no problem with not voting anymore.

  45. Gustopher says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    On the other hand, mandatory voting gives large power to a large bloc of unaffiliated voters with little access to information(That´s one of the reasons why there are large numbers of bizarre candidates in our elections. John Oliver talked about these candidates on his show).

    Well, how do you explain the Republican Presidential Primary here? Or the existence of Michelle Bachmann on any stage? Or Seattle’s fine perennial candidate Goodspaceguy?

  46. JKB says:

    When we’re saying “the government should intervene,” we’re saying “an organization with guns should threaten to lock people in cages if they don’t comply with its dictates.”
    –Art Carden, Econlog

  47. Mu says:

    Mandatory voting sounds like a stupid idea. Mandatory or automatic registration on the other hand would really help get people more involved.

  48. Gustopher says:

    @JKB: Use a carrot. Drop off your ballot, get $100. It comes from your taxes. Easy peasy.

    Also, it’s not that far from Election Day to Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and other traditional gift giving holidays. Retailers would love it.

  49. A cautionary tale says:

    Folks,

    James P. is a web troll. Don’t feed him.

    He’s thrown out a lot of comments like red meat taunting you to reply.

    Ignore the fool.

  50. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    While wandering through the forest, you seem to have missed the trees.

    You certainly missed the point, in any case …

  51. appleannie says:

    I didn’t hear him pushing mandatory voting here. Like Vast Variety, I heard it as two separate thoughts.

  52. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    Garbage in / garbage out. Expanding the number of clueless voters gets you nothing. The problem with the American electorate is – wait for it – the ignorance and apathy of the American electorate.

    You think that just by showing up, they’re somehow going to make good decision when they pull the lever? LOL, no. You’d probably achieve a similar result by polling a classroom of 5 year olds.

    Until they care enough to be engaged. Until they care enough to do the intellectual heavy lifting of factually educating themselves about issues enough to make an informed choice. Until they – in short – give a damn, they contribute nothing by showing up at the polls.

    Short version – from the perspective of the snake oil salesman, facing a crowd of 5,000 people who are stupid enough to buy the snake oil requires no change in pitch from the one he would use to sell it to a crowd of 50 who are stupid enough to buy it. The only difference is – he sells more product.

  53. Andre Kenji says:
  54. Andre Kenji says:

    @Trumwill: I didn´t see that. Sometimes I don´t read OTB comments threads, specially when I´m travelling or when my girlfriend is visiting me. You can reach me via facebook, here:

    https://www.facebook.com/andrekenji

    But I´ll send you an email. 😉

  55. michael reynolds says:

    I haven’t been reading the thread till now and I don’t want to scroll all the way back up, so just a quick question: Have we gotten to black helicopters and concentration camps for non-voters yet? Have we achieved maximum crazy?

  56. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Garbage in / garbage out. Expanding the number of clueless voters gets you nothing. The problem with the American electorate is – wait for it – the ignorance and apathy of the American electorate.

    You think that just by showing up, they’re somehow going to make good decision when they pull the lever?

    Compared to the motivated people “informed” by Fox News? I think they would do well enough.

  57. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: On a thread about Obama, you want to know about black helicopters? Everything is about race to you, isn’t it?

  58. Thomas Weaver says:

    Do I smell a retraction soon, very soon?

    This is one of those lovely, “mis-statements” that politician are apt to say…

  59. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    No, you hope that that would. In my experience, ignorance and apathy are not partisan afflictions. They are American afflictions.

  60. rodney dill says:

    I wouldn’t have so much problem with it as long as something like “No Vote”, “Abstain”, “Non of the Above”, or “Present” were allowed options.

  61. rodney dill says:

    @pylon: True, His comments were probably more along the line of a Gedanken experiment, rather than an actual proposal.

  62. sam says:

    @Pinky:

    It costs him next to nothing, and distracts his opponents.

    And God knows they are so easily distracted.

  63. superdestroyer says:

    @Gustopher:

    Mandatory voting would help incumbents because it would send more people to the polls who will vote for incumbents. Disinterested voters are going to vote for the name (or party) they recognize. Mandatory voting is massive incumbent protection.

  64. Tony W says:

    I’m a lot less interested in mandatory voting than I am in mandatory and automatic voter-registration. Let’s make the right to vote mandatory, and increase the ability to vote easily (easy access to mail-in ballots, minimum number of polling places per capita open on election day, limits on how far a voter must travel from home to vote, move election day to a weekend, etc.), and let the people decide if they wish to participate.

  65. Rafer Janders says:

    @Tony W:

    I’m a lot less interested in mandatory voting than I am in mandatory and automatic voter-registration.

    Yep. We already register all men for Selective Service when they turn 18. Should be relatively easy to use the same process to register everyone to vote, men and women, at the same age.

  66. Moderate Mom says:

    @michael reynolds: Not yet. It’s obviously a slow start to the day for some.

  67. lounsbury says:

    @C. Clavin: Eh stop whinging on. No longer a democracy, an oligarchy? Please. 18th c. England perhaps merits such a comment. You’re more democratic than you’ve been (in the 20th-21st centuries) than you were for most of your bloody country’s existence.

  68. Democracy! An idea so wonderful you have to force people to participate.

  69. Guarneri says:

    @rodney dill:

    Or, “pardon me, I’m going to be ill now.”

  70. Grewgills says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Despite all of that I think we’d be better off than what we have right now, particularly in off year elections. Systems like Fergusen would not happen if everyone there voted. We would likely have different problems, but giving the angry old and the evangelicals outsized power in every other election is a disaster.

  71. Andre Kenji says:

    @Tony W: Exactly. There are also issues with vote by felons and the fact that elections are held in working days.

  72. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Grewgills:

    We would likely have different problems

    Right, I agree. That’s why I characterized it as just being a different flavor of bad. Democratic forms of government are inherently, utterly dependent on the premise of an informed and incisive electorate in order to be viable. Until we have that, if we indeed ever do, it’ll just be more of the same, no matter what percentage of the population votes.

  73. michael reynolds says:

    The test would be whether Australia is getting better government post-mandatory voting compared with pre, and whether Australia is getting better government on balance than we are.

    I don’t know enough about Australian politics to have an opinion.

  74. pylon says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    Others have elaborated better than I already but, he never advocated anything – he noted that it exists elsewhere and said it would be transformative. Both are true statements.

  75. James P says:

    @michael reynolds: I know that I would trade Tony Abbott for B Hussein Obama in half a second.

    It’s still a bad idea. Compulsory voting isn’t enforced as tightly as it used to be. I have several Aussie friends who don’t vote because they don’t want to be bothered. THey usually just get a notice in the mail – which they disregard.

  76. Ben Wolf says:

    Given most economists would fail a test of basic economic knowledge, might be best to leave that bit out.

  77. Grewgills says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Still, I’d rather have the problems inherent with 90%+ of the population voting than giving outsized power to angry old white people and evangelicals.

  78. Grewgills says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Democratic forms of government are inherently, utterly dependent on the premise of an informed and incisive electorate in order to be viable. Until we have that, if we indeed ever do, it’ll just be more of the same, no matter what percentage of the population votes.

    Given that we’ll never realistically have that and remain at all democratic we need to choose least bad options. I have seen enough of Australian politics to know that Aussies aren’t particularly more engaged or informed than Americans, yet their politics aren’t held hostage to the fringe right*. In the US the fringe right controls the Republican primary and in all but presidential election years has enormous power in deciding elections. That gives us the broken system we have now. I’d much rather have our government chosen by the ill informed watchers of reality tv than one chosen mostly by the tea party.

    *angry old white folks and evangelicals, largely under the banner of the tea party

  79. Tony W says:

    @James P:

    I know that I would trade Tony Abbott for B Hussein Obama in half a second.

    Yeah, the president has a funny name, huh? Back in third grade I totally would have laughed at him.

  80. Stan says:

    @James P: “I know that I would trade Tony Abbott for B Hussein Obama in half a second.”

    I’m not religious, but I thank God that I’m not your parent, spouse, or child.

  81. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds: Why are we ONLY talking about Australia?There are 13 countries with Compulsory voting laws that are still enforced – with the exception of a some authoritarian regimes like North Korea or Egypt, most of them are countries in South America, like Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil.

    These are not exactly banana republics. Two of these countries have a Woman as President, Uruguay has had some interesting people as presidents.

  82. js4strings says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    i don’t vote, I’m in the camp that I’m disgusted with politics and politicians in general. But I would be ok with the voluntary voting if there was a none of the above vote and if the none of the above vote was the top vote getter, new candidates would have to be on the ballot.

  83. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: What I’ve heard (anecdotally, FWIW) is Australian voters aren’t appreciably more politically aware than American voters, and superdestroyer’s point that many people just end up voting based on name/party recognition is generally correct.

    But again, anecdotally, and I’m also not familiar enough with Australian politics to come down firmly on one side or the other.

  84. Andre Kenji says:

    @Mikey: That´s what I see in my country, Brazil. Polls show large number of apathy among voters.

  85. James P says:

    Voting is compulsory in Australia, but registering to vote is not compulsory. If you don’t want to vote, just don’t register.