Editorial: Vote or else?
A country where every man and woman is required to vote? While it may sound like something from a totalitarian regime, think again, mate.
Australia, another former English colony with a history of elected representative government that rivals our own, has been requiring its citizens to vote in federal elections since 1924 … and it’s been working pretty well ever since.
What are the advantages of compulsory voting? Well, there’s the philosophical argument that every citizen should participate in the electoral process to demonstrate that they have a stake in their government.
But the real reason is one that American voters see all too often—the pernicious influence of special interests. With low overall participation, any group that can rally its members in support of a particular candidate or ballot initiative can exert an undue influence on the entire process.
Those groups are often found at the polar ends of the political spectrum, and their efforts tend to exaggerate the divide seen in the American public. The wedge issues they introduce tend to drive political debate, instead of highlighting areas of general agreement.
Rather than worrying about having to "energize his base" to turn out on Election Day, a candidate would be able to reflect the hopes and desires of a broad section of the voting public—left, right and center.
Critics may bristle at the idea of being coerced into voting, but there are many instances where the government imposes mandates on its citizens—such as paying taxes, serving on juries, and attending school. And while we may grumble about having to pay taxes, most of us do it anyway.
And, in Australia, the voter isn’t forced to cast a ballot for a particular person. If he or she so chooses, one may simply vote "none of the above" or even draw a pretty picture on the ballot. What is done behind the curtain is the voter’s own choice—but the voter just has to step into that booth. Also, the penalty for not voting isn’t much different than a parking ticket, about $20. To avoid that fine, the voter can fill out a form pleading illness or giving some other valid excuse … no doctor’s note needed.
The result of all of this is about a 95 percent voter turnout, on average. Quite impressive.
Will the U.S. ever adopt such a system? Probably not. But it’s an intriguing idea nonetheless. Insuring everyone has a say in our government is a laudable goal; and, to make that happen, no idea is too far out there not to consider. Even if that idea comes from the other side of the world.