Why not Mandatory Voting and Registration?

Set up and interview on voting rights and access with Fox News Eric Shawn for upcoming special

New Orleans   The interview with Eric Shawn, a Fox News anchor and senior correspondent, went OK as those things go, though of course who knows what they might edit and how little they might use by the time the special report comes out in a couple of months.

It is interesting to me that we spent so much time on the issue of mandatory voting and registration.  I’m not sure why those concepts seem so radical in the context of protecting and advancing democracy?

There are 25 or more countries around the world that have compulsory voting.  10 of the 30 countries in the European Union (Greece, Luxembourg, Italy, and Belgium for example) have such procedures so this is not some kind of imposed developing world situation.  10 countries enforce mandatory voting with real penalties like proof of voting in order to renew passports or drivers licenses.  These countries include Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Peru for example.  In fact more than half of the countries where ACORN International organizes have mandatory voting, which may be one of the reasons I have become more comfortable with the procedures not only in theory, but also in practice.  Where it is not seriously enforced it still achieves a democratic gain in participation because it is exists as a compelling social and cultural support.  Studies indicate participation goes up between 6 and 17% in such countries.

In Italy where it is not seriously enforced the penalties include putting you lower on the list for government sponsored daycare.  Nonetheless when I was there, the whole notion of universal registration and mandatory voting was simply seen as commonplace.  It took a lot of explanation for my friends there to understand how voting could be suppressed by ID requirements, because they were used to everyone having a governmental ID as a matter of course.  In the USA the Supreme Court has ruled that the IDs, if required, have to be free, but in places like Wisconsin you have to ask for a free ID before they will volunteer that they will provide one for you.  In several other states you have to sign an affidavit that you cannot afford the ID. 

We have other mandatory requirements for citizenship like paying taxes, jury duty, school attendance, and even in the past, military service.  Why not automatic registration and lower access to voting to ensure confidence and participation in a democracy?

Other good reasons include the assurance that a winning candidate actually represents a real majority of the citizens, rather than just becoming the last person standing.  For our constituency of low-and-moderate income voters, it would ensure more participation and full representation, long a cherished goal.  All of these measures would eliminate any problems with third party or partisan registration efforts, so the problem of suppression and inaccuracies disappears as well.  Opponents sometimes argue that it would restrict their freedom of speech to have to vote, but they could vote a blank ballot or spoil their ballot which many compulsory voting countries allow.

The system in the United States is totally broken.  Why not a fix that actually increases democracy rather than the current proposals and programs which reduce it?


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