<< The Body Politic

More on mandatory voting

Friday, August 24th, 2012

We’ve covered before some recent arguments for and against the idea of making voting in some way mandatory for American citizens. Joining the debate now is Eric Liu, author of The Gardens of Democracy, who wrote earlier this week in his Time Ideas column in favor of mandatory voting.

Liu writes:

Eleven weeks before Election Day we can’t know who will win the presidency. But we can know with near certainty that voter turnout will be abysmal and that the results will be not so much a mandate as a skewed sampling of about half the electorate.

Many reforms could increase turnout, from same-day registration to voting on weekends. But the most basic is also the most appropriate: making voting mandatory. Here’s why.

Mandatory voting would make elections truly valid. [… If] we truly cared about the integrity of elections, we should ensure that they reflect the will of all eligible voters. […]Mandatory voting would [also] prompt more Americans to pay attention to the choices. Those of us who lament the decline of civic knowledge generally focus on the supply side of the equation: more civics education. A mandate would stimulate the demand side, motivating more voters to learn what they were voting on (just as a draft makes the drafted motivated to learn what they’d fight for).


The most visceral critique [against making voting mandatory] is that mandating voting is just un-American. Yet jury duty, the draft, going to school, and taxpaying all have been compulsory without being called communist […]. At issue is what makes something American–and what makes liberty liberty. The Revolution and the framing of the Constitution were not about the right merely to be let alone or to do whatever one pleased. They were about our liberty to govern and represent ourselves. Core to that liberty is electing representatives and voting on public issues.

That is why the best reason for mandatory voting has nothing to do with today’s politics. It’s about redeeming the central promise of American citizenship. Generations marched, fought and died for the right to vote. The least we can do now is treat that right like a responsibility.

Read the whole thing here.