Is Compulsory Voter Registration and Compulsory Election Participation a Good Idea for the U.S.?

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There has been a global trend for decades among free nations with representative government, a decline in voter turnout in elections.  In 31 nations, spread over every continent, the franchise – the right to vote – is treated as BOTH a right AND a civic duty. Right and duty are treated as two sides of the same coin, as well they should be, and as our own founding fathers (and mothers) strongly believed. The argument is reasoned that the greater the participation of the electorate, the more legitimate the resulting representative government – in the U.S., a hybrid democratic/republic in form.

Like serving jury duty, like paying taxes, like obeying laws, like males registering for the selective service at age 18, and now in many instances purchasing health insurance, performing one’s civic duty comes with modest appropriate penalties for failure to perform as required. In no instances of failure to comply with compulsory voting has anyone been incarcerated; the range of penalties are highly varied from one nation to another.

Belgium was the first country to try this, back in the 1890′s; it is far from an unproven experiment in practical civics. Other countries, like Australia, did this back in the 1920′s, coming up on 100 years ago. It’s been under discussion in the UK for a few years now, we would not be unique in considering this change. So far as I can find, there are no provisions of the U.S. Constitution, or my own state equivalent, that preclude this. I don’t claim to have read every state constitution of the nation’s 50 states, but in the course of research on various topics, I’ve probably read about a quarter of them, so based on the similarities between them I would be surprised to see that any state precludes this. The concept should not present a serious constitutional obstacle.

from the Skillet Creek Journal, Baraboo, WI

In addition to addressing a drop in voter participation with a proven solution that has worked in a variety of countries, we have the additional battleground of attempts at voter suppression in the enactment of laws that deny legal voters their right and reasonable opportunity to vote, as we have seen in a variety of states. If we have compulsory voting, states will be pushed to provide adequate polling opportunities, instead of those shameful locations where people waited in lines for hours, or had to come back multiple times to cast a ballot. While it is true that some people, immaturely, would cast blank ballots, in practice, this has not been a problem. Most people, once persuaded to go vote appear to do so with some degree of sincerity in their participation.

Personally, for those who insist that NOT voting sends a message, I would argue that the message is not so much disapproval, as it is that people have gotten lazy and apathetic. But to accommodate those who wish to express their disapproval, I think we should begin to include on all ballots the option to withhold one’s vote, or vote ‘none of the above’ in any race which also permits write-ins. To be affirmatively elected, a candidate running unopposed would have to receive more votes than ‘none of the above’. I think voters grudgingly dragging themselves to the polls might appreciate the opportunity to vote against a bad slate of candidates.

In the U.S., we average around 51% voter turnout in general elections (not just presidential elections, but averaging off-year elections as well); in my home state, we’ve had the highest turnout in 8 of the last 12 elections, around 75%. In other nations, especially those with compulsory voter participation in elections, the typical vote is in the 80% to 90+%.  Our turnout rate to the polls is remarkably poor, and getting worse, for the most part, not better.

In addressing mandatory voter registration, we could make registration easier, and make our voter rolls complete. Citizens with the legal right to vote would not be denied that right by attempts at voter suppression, in making elections fully inclusive of legal voters. At the same time, if we were to enact compulsory voter registration and compulsory voting, it would make sense to follow the suggestion of  “Why Tuesday.org”, and move voting to weekends, which also tends to increase voter participation.

Voting participation is good for the nation, and as participation declines, either through apathy or efforts at selective voter suppression, some form of mandating it as a requirement is sufficiently beneficial and far more fair to justify it not being left voluntary any longer.

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  1. Queen of England As the queen of England, I don't believe anything you say. You being someone who is part of a highly corrupt 'progressive' and freedom snatching party of the duopolist, American political system, your desire would of course be to spam the voter rolls with uneducated, party line votes, to continue your tyrade against liberty, ironically doing so by FORCING people to do yet another action, against their will. You don't seem to understand the concept of freedom of association, or that this country is not a "democracy", with which you can use tyranny of the majority to simply vote and oppress people's freedoms that you feel are "not acceptable". If you wish to play god and control everyones lives, simply say so, and we will label you as the authoritarian, collectivist, megolomaniac that you are, and therefore ignore anything you say that has to do with freedom, reality, or personal responsibility. I was also an election judge myself, and all the actions you claim are 'never exploited' is complete fabrication on your part, since there are no numbers or studies, due to the fact that they are rarely ever observed by an independent or uninterested party, to the election. You can claim to be whoever you desire, while being anonymous and trying to tout your arguments from authority, but that does make it fact, and you have provided no proof, merely anecdotal evidence to support your cause. Terrible arguments, poor writing, and false equivalencies galore. I wish IVN would stop publishing this garbage. People like you are the prime example of why it really is a shame survival of the fittest hasn't yet weeded out the weakest parts of our genetics. This is what happens when you coddle and continue to allow degenerate animals to breed.
  2. Dog Gone Hey there, your royal not-so-high-and-mightiness, I'm not part of a corrupt anything. I am, as a very well trained election official, in a state that is widely regarded as having some of the best election laws and most honest elections in the 50 states, one of those who KEEP elections honest. So, NO, I have NO desire to spam anything. As to who is the least educated and most ill-informed electorate, the facts do not support your side of the argument. Civic duty is civic duty, and conservatives, who so often give lip service to accountability and responsibility, should support this idea. By the way, Freedom of Association does not apply to voting, or not voting, any more than it applies to the legality of jury duty, or registering for selective service, or serving in the military when there is a draft in effect. There is ZERO Constitutional Liberty that guarantees a right NOT to vote. None of those instances listed above (among many that could be listed) is tyrannical or authoritarian. If you are an election judge, then you must be aware of the option for election observers. No investigation, and no accredited election observers have observed election fraud. There is ZERO proof that we have a problem with voter fraud. You cannot deny away that absence of voter fraud by claiming it exists undetected. That is bunk, and I'm sure you are well aware of that. And of course, you fail to address the most foundational argument to be made here, that not only is voting a civic duty that we should require, but that there is a commensurate benefit to be gained from it. The basis for the claim of a benefit to expanded participation comes not from assumptions - which is all you express in your comment - but from the documentation of decades of study on the results of implementing compulsory voting. Please, your majesty, DO try to restrict yourself to FACTS, for a change! There are no false equivalencies, and I am a very competent writer, thank you; you simply dislike what I write because it would mean that more voters would not favor your politics. As to survival of the fittest, thank you, I'm quite happy with my genetics, which testing has shown puts me above average in both physical and intellectual qualities, so I'm not sure where your understanding of eugenics and social darwinism come from, but it is typical of the failure to understand science and critical thinking that I expect from the anti-science and anti-intellectual demographic of our society. As wikipedia summed it up nicely: Social Darwinism is not any single well defined concept, but various ideologies that seek to apply biological concepts associated with Darwinism or other evolutionary theories to sociology, economics and politics, often with the assumption that conflict or cooperation between groups in society leads to social progress as superior groups outcompete inferior ones. The name social Darwinism is a modern name given to various theories of society that emerged in England and the United States in the 1870s, which, it is alleged, sought to apply biological concepts to sociology and politics.[1][2] The term social Darwinism gained widespread currency when used in 1944 to oppose these earlier concepts. Today, because of the negative connotations of the theory of social Darwinism, especially after the atrocities of the Second World War, few people would describe themselves as social Darwinists and the term is generally seen as pejorative.[3] The term social Darwinism is often used to describe the use of concepts of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest to justify social policies which make no distinction between those able to support themselves and those unable to support themselves. Many such views stress competition between individuals in laissez-faire capitalism; but similar concepts have motivated ideas of eugenics, racism, imperialism,[4] fascism, Nazism and struggle between national or racial groups. That kind of thinking reflects both an absence of understanding, simple ignorance, and a deplorable inability to engage in fundamental analysis.
  3. Jaochan All politician same. We combine to one group to make easy! It work well. Tank you. good idea. force vote.
  4. Dog Gone Compulsory is not forced voting, just as we do not round up kindergarteners at gun point for compulsory education. It does however mean that there is a penalty or consequence for failing to comply with a civic duty or requirement.
  5. Charlotte Dean political non-voters pat themselves on the back for literally doing nothing. they hold their nose and the system runs amok. I like this idea...would get any administration enacting it characterized as something between a fascist, socialist, communist, etc, and politicians would have to sacrifice their careers for the good of the nation, but its a simple solution to a big apathy problem. If we want to call ourselves a democracy, we have to stop setting up systems where a destructive hegemony encourages cynicism as a survival tactic.
  6. Dog Gone That conservatives right now would not do well with a larger voter turnout might be true --- but that could change in the future. That is not a reason for this; there are other benefits that are far more important.
  7. Dog Gone That would appear to be contrary to representative government.
  8. Dog Gone You can still choose not to participate - in paying your taxes, there are consequences; in not doing your civic jury duty, there are consequences; in not registering for selective service, there are consequences. So you can choose the consequences, or you can vote and register to vote. What is not fair is sticking everyone else with YOUR civic duty burden. There is no Right not to do your civic duty. But if you don't like any of the choice of candidates, I do advocate for 'vote withheld'.
  9. Dog Gone False analogy. If you have the option to vote none of the above, it is more comparable to cheeseburger, hamburger, or vegi-burger.
  10. Dog Gone Judy, you bring up a good point, indirectly. We can expect voting technology to continue to evolve along with other tech, and identification will be part of that.
115 comments
Queen of England
Queen of England

As the queen of England, I don't believe anything you say. You being someone who is part of a highly corrupt 'progressive' and freedom snatching party of the duopolist, American political system, your desire would of course be to spam the voter rolls with uneducated, party line votes, to continue your tyrade against liberty, ironically doing so by FORCING people to do yet another action, against their will. You don't seem to understand the concept of freedom of association, or that this country is not a "democracy", with which you can use tyranny of the majority to simply vote and oppress people's freedoms that you feel are "not acceptable". If you wish to play god and control everyones lives, simply say so, and we will label you as the authoritarian, collectivist, megolomaniac that you are, and therefore ignore anything you say that has to do with freedom, reality, or personal responsibility. I was also an election judge myself, and all the actions you claim are 'never exploited' is complete fabrication on your part, since there are no numbers or studies, due to the fact that they are rarely ever observed by an independent or uninterested party, to the election. You can claim to be whoever you desire, while being anonymous and trying to tout your arguments from authority, but that does make it fact, and you have provided no proof, merely anecdotal evidence to support your cause. Terrible arguments, poor writing, and false equivalencies galore. I wish IVN would stop publishing this garbage. People like you are the prime example of why it really is a shame survival of the fittest hasn't yet weeded out the weakest parts of our genetics. This is what happens when you coddle and continue to allow degenerate animals to breed.

Jaochan
Jaochan

All politician same. We combine to one group to make easy! It work well. Tank you. good idea. force vote.

Jaochan
Jaochan

I love idea! Here in China we force everyone vote. If no vote, police beats them. Work well and we have good democracy! You try! Go usa ^.^

Matthew Crockett
Matthew Crockett

I think people are less likely to vote as a side-effect of the toxic cynicism that has been spread around to perpetuate the Big Two. Forcing a mandatory inclusion on every ballot of a minimum number of parties (greater than two) would change a lot.

Bernie Valentine
Bernie Valentine

NO....It requires EDUCATION (at least some basic form), and proof of a legitimate eligibility (i.e. ID, citizenship, residency, etc.)

Judy Mccracken
Judy Mccracken

THUMB PRINT ID..... National ID.... State/Gov cost to provide.... simple..... then the Repubs only have to worry about their people participating in Voter Fraud......

Deanna Sy
Deanna Sy

If your only dinner choices include a hamburger or a cheeseburger and your a vegetarian, you might choose not to eat. Forcing the dead flesh down your throat isn't going to change into a carnivore.

Romeo Randolph Flores
Romeo Randolph Flores

NO because FREEDOM from X what this nation founded upon; and that includes freedom FROM EXPRESSING ONES-SELF and choosing NOT-TO-PARTICIPATE...although it a great process, our forefathers fought to be free for themselves and future generations make those determinations!

Sean Stromsten
Sean Stromsten

No. Voting should complicated and difficult. Also, elected officials should have almost no power to do anything. Lastly, those who vote republocrat should be mercilessly ridiculed.

G Bud Budlong
G Bud Budlong

compelled??....voting is a civic responsibility...the only voice you have short of violence...if you want to do ANYTHING that requires a license you should HAVE to PROVE YOU VOTED.

Voting should be MANDATORY. I don't even think proving who you are is necessary. If your here you need to do your duty and cast a vote. There is no voter fraud worth talking about. Everyone needs to vote.

There will never be another conservative politician elected again if everyone votes....they are outnumbered 4-1

Ben Hardin
Ben Hardin

This discussion has helped me modify my view about the question. Now, I say a law should not require voting but there should be a carrot and stick incentive to vote. Right and duty are two sides of the same coin. It’s shameful not to vote inasmuch as our military personnel throughout the history have put themselves in harms way to preserve our democratic republic. I think it best to encourage voting by adopting basic electoral reforms that will give voters a better sense of “owning the system.” One of nine such reforms I advocate is some matching private and public campaign financing. The public portion would be kept to a minimum based upon a formula that recognizes the amount of campaign funds spent in the last election by the average winning non-incumbent and it would be obtained through a small percentage surtax (a minimum of one dollar from each taxpayer) on all income tax with any surtax above two dollars partly reduced in response to voters exercising their right, even the right to mark their ballots to approve none of the candidates. Other elements of my reform plan would cut out advantages enjoyed by the unfair duopoly power structure to practically prevent competition from independent and third party candidates.

Peter Piper
Peter Piper

We need to educate our children in civics so that they will be more likely to develop a natural interest in voting.

Dan Ames
Dan Ames

Why not it's worked so well for our education system...(sarcasm)

Kate Swigonski
Kate Swigonski

Good God, no. I wish there was a way that you could only vote is you could name the current president and vice president and maybe tell how many states there are.

Kate Dufour
Kate Dufour

absolutely. i've been arguing for this for 15 years. the problem is making sure people are making informed decisions, which is why a test covering current candidates snd their platforms should also be required. voting should be a condition of citizenship. you don't participate, you don't get the benefits of streets and roads and schools. democracy doesnt work if people dont participate.

Douglas Tooley
Douglas Tooley

We should have a 'None of the Above' option - and add the no shows to that tally!

Pat Pardis
Pat Pardis

Just give us someone to vote for. The two party system has a strangle hold on our democracy.

Michael Snider
Michael Snider

The Constitution doesn't allow compulsory voting

Staci English
Staci English

Just sharing a vision for the future: Imagine a day when we walk into the booth and pick up a ballot that has no names. Instead the issues are clearly identified and possible solutions are offered. Everyone votes for the best option. Then, the candidate with a proven track record of accomplishments towards that solution is elected. No more hiding behind false pretenses and a butt load of lobby money.

Mark Olson
Mark Olson

No, to many uninformed vote now, compelling those who are not interested in doing so will only make it worse. Compelling voting is another step to tyranny, and were well down the that path already.

Janet Lynn
Janet Lynn

No I do not. Voting is a priviledge and if you choose NOT to participate that is your right. And Rodger I agree with you, there are many that I see that I am glad don;t vote.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Hey there, your royal not-so-high-and-mightiness, I'm not part of a corrupt anything. I am, as a very well trained election official, in a state that is widely regarded as having some of the best election laws and most honest elections in the 50 states, one of those who KEEP elections honest. So, NO, I have NO desire to spam anything. As to who is the least educated and most ill-informed electorate, the facts do not support your side of the argument. Civic duty is civic duty, and conservatives, who so often give lip service to accountability and responsibility, should support this idea.

By the way, Freedom of Association does not apply to voting, or not voting, any more than it applies to the legality of jury duty, or registering for selective service, or serving in the military when there is a draft in effect. There is ZERO Constitutional Liberty that guarantees a right NOT to vote. None of those instances listed above (among many that could be listed) is tyrannical or authoritarian.

If you are an election judge, then you must be aware of the option for election observers. No investigation, and no accredited election observers have observed election fraud. There is ZERO proof that we have a problem with voter fraud. You cannot deny away that absence of voter fraud by claiming it exists undetected. That is bunk, and I'm sure you are well aware of that.

And of course, you fail to address the most foundational argument to be made here, that not only is voting a civic duty that we should require, but that there is a commensurate benefit to be gained from it. The basis for the claim of a benefit to expanded participation comes not from assumptions - which is all you express in your comment - but from the documentation of decades of study on the results of implementing compulsory voting.

Please, your majesty, DO try to restrict yourself to FACTS, for a change!

There are no false equivalencies, and I am a very competent writer, thank you; you simply dislike what I write because it would mean that more voters would not favor your politics. As to survival of the fittest, thank you, I'm quite happy with my genetics, which testing has shown puts me above average in both physical and intellectual qualities, so I'm not sure where your understanding of eugenics and social darwinism come from, but it is typical of the failure to understand science and critical thinking that I expect from the anti-science and anti-intellectual demographic of our society.

As wikipedia summed it up nicely:

Social Darwinism is not any single well defined concept, but various ideologies that seek to apply biological concepts associated with Darwinism or other evolutionary theories to sociology, economics and politics, often with the assumption that conflict or cooperation between groups in society leads to social progress as superior groups outcompete inferior ones.

The name social Darwinism is a modern name given to various theories of society that emerged in England and the United States in the 1870s, which, it is alleged, sought to apply biological concepts to sociology and politics.[1][2] The term social Darwinism gained widespread currency when used in 1944 to oppose these earlier concepts. Today, because of the negative connotations of the theory of social Darwinism, especially after the atrocities of the Second World War, few people would describe themselves as social Darwinists and the term is generally seen as pejorative.[3]

The term social Darwinism is often used to describe the use of concepts of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest to justify social policies which make no distinction between those able to support themselves and those unable to support themselves. Many such views stress competition between individuals in laissez-faire capitalism; but similar concepts have motivated ideas of eugenics, racism, imperialism,[4] fascism, Nazism and struggle between national or racial groups.

That kind of thinking reflects both an absence of understanding, simple ignorance, and a deplorable inability to engage in fundamental analysis.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Compulsory is not forced voting, just as we do not round up kindergarteners at gun point for compulsory education.

It does however mean that there is a penalty or consequence for failing to comply with a civic duty or requirement.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

The difference is you have, in China, only one slate of candidates. In the rest of the world where there is compulsory voting, there are multiple choices from which to choose to cast a ballot, and the consequences are nothing like police hunting someone down and beating them.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

And yet that does not track with voting patterns anywhere else in the world, where there are frequently many parties on the ballot, and where the same low voter turnout was a problem without compulsory voting. This pattern has been around for a long time now. And if you take a good long look at our history, it is not really worse now in terms of partisan nastiness than it has been in the past -- for starters, go look at the background of the Hamilton / Burr duel.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

There is no education requirement in the Constitution, and such requirements have been found to be unconstitutional and a violation of voter rights, as have some ID requirements. We have no demonstrable voter fraud; that is a myth. We certainly don't have a problem with people voting as someone else. We can do more to keep elections honest with compulsory voter registration and consequences for not voting than we can under the current system -- it is highly cost effective as well where it is used.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Judy, you bring up a good point, indirectly. We can expect voting technology to continue to evolve along with other tech, and identification will be part of that.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

False analogy. If you have the option to vote none of the above, it is more comparable to cheeseburger, hamburger, or vegi-burger.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

You can still choose not to participate - in paying your taxes, there are consequences; in not doing your civic jury duty, there are consequences; in not registering for selective service, there are consequences. So you can choose the consequences, or you can vote and register to vote. What is not fair is sticking everyone else with YOUR civic duty burden.

There is no Right not to do your civic duty. But if you don't like any of the choice of candidates, I do advocate for 'vote withheld'.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

That would appear to be contrary to representative government.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

That conservatives right now would not do well with a larger voter turnout might be true --- but that could change in the future. That is not a reason for this; there are other benefits that are far more important.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

No, the penalties are much like those for failure to show up for jury duty, or failure by young men at 18 to register with selective service. We could as easily make the penalties the same as for failure to buy insurance under the ACA, a tax penalty.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

You object to performing the civic duties that are inherent in the right to vote? The benefits justify the compulsion.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Good suggestions, all, but they don't preclude compulsory voting. In every nation that has tried it, the voter participation has risen dramatically, with no apparent down side to the relatively minor penalties attached to not voting or voter registering. In the few countries that have tried it, and then stopped, voting participation has declined sharply, and fairly quickly. This suggests that other 'carrots' are ineffective without the compulsion stick to make them more frequently acted upon.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

That doesn't seem to be enough.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Compulsory education is better than no education. Perhaps a more salient observation is that both compulsory public education AND compulsory voting exist side by side in nations which outperform the U.S. in both. The problem then would appear not to be that something is compulsory, in the case of education, but other factors. So your sarcasm would appear to be misplaced.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Why stop at President and VP, and 50 states? Shouldn't you be able to also list who they defeated, dating back to whenever you were eligible to vote? And why stop at the 50 states, let's add all of the various protectorates and territories, etc. that exist as part of the country?

What you are suggesting is a variant of the bad old literacy tests that were part of voter suppression. Shame!

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Either we have everyone vote, or we don't. Literacy tests have a bad history. Let's focus first on just getting people registered and to the polls. How involved in preparing to vote or not involved should be more of a personal choice, in so far as some people don't test well, making it the case that tests such as you suggest might not be the best indicator of voter qualification.

The only requirements for voting are quite specific in both state and federal constitutions; conforming to those is sufficient.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

No it doesn't. Do you opt out of jury duty, without penalty? NO. Can men at age 18 simply opt out of registering with selective service? No. Can you simply opt out of paying taxes or obeying other laws? No. I'd like to see freedom to vote, but withhold the vote for certain candidates, as an affirmative choice though.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

I don't know that we can make the assumption fairly that no-shows are added in; but the no-shows should have some other recognition ---- perhaps be published in the newspapers the way they do 'dead beat' dads? Or Johns in prostitution sweeps?

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

I suppose it varies state by state, but there are successful independent candidates -- in my home state of MN, we had Jesse Ventura, who did a fair job as governor, although he is something of an embarrassment since then. Historically we have had successful third and fourth parties, from time to time. This idea might help that.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Yes, it does.

If you believe that there is any part of the constitution which precludes it, please cite it.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

We can hope for that happening, but so far, my suggestion seems the more proven and successful one in terms of something we can do now, to make a positive difference.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Being an uninformed voter does not stop many people from voting now - and we have many of them. The ONLY criteria which should apply to voting are those specified in state and federal constitutions. Nothing else is legitimate. There is nothing tyrannical about compelling voting, any more than compelling paying taxes of serving on jury d uty, or requiring someone to have a drivers license to legally drive, or having compulsory public education, where children are required to be educated.

To suggest any of the 31 countries that have tried and used compulsory voting and voter registration are tyrannies is ludicrous, and simply factually inaccurate. The argument could better be made that because more people participate, they are BETTER democracies than the U.S. or others where fewer people participate.

Dog Gone
Dog Gone

Voting is as much a civic duty as it is a privilege. Serving on a jury is both a duty and a privilege. Children attending school, as required by law, is a duty and a privilege.