Compulsory voting: Obligation or Privilege
By: Duncan McArthur
Voter turnout in the United States is low. According to the Washington Post, just 132 of 232 million Americans who could vote, casted a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. Pew Research Center provides slightly different numbers with 136.8 out of 157.6 million registered voters participated in the last election. Pew ranks voter turnout shows the United States ranking 25th out of a total of 34 countries across the world.
Many solutions have been suggested as a means of resolving the problem with one controversial solution being compulsory - or mandatory - voting.
“There’s a couple of places in the world where they have Compulsory voting and normally it’s an issue if you pay a fine if you don’t vote,” said Liam Anderson, a political science professor at Wright State University. “Belgium’s one, Italy kind of has it, Australia has it, and voter turnout is much higher there.”
Belgium’s voter turnout is among the highest in the world with 87 percent of its population going to the polls every election. The British Broadcasting Company reported that Australia also has a compulsory voting system and with a similar percentage of its population (80 percent) turning out to vote.
Despite the success of compulsory voting in increasing citizen turnout, many people oppose it. A survey of 30 people conducted on the campus of Wright State University found that around 73 percent of the respondents were against compulsory voting.
“The question boils down to if you think have a constitutional right to not vote,” Anderson said. “I think you do have the right not to vote if you don’t want to.”
The main concern expressed by those surveyed was that forcing people to vote infringes on people’s freedom.
“I am not in favor of compulsory voting because it feels undemocratic to me. I just feel like voting is a freedom and it’s a personal freedom,” said Megan Henry, a social science student at Wright State.
Data from the Public Radio International (PRI) shows that Australians who fail to vote are slapped with a fine up to $44. The penalty is even more extreme in countries like Bolivia where people who do not vote receive pay freezes.
People also expressed other reasons why they oppose compulsory voting. In particular, they felt that people shouldn’t be forced to vote if the candidates didn’t represent them and their interests. The Guardian cited a 2016 poll which found that more than half of all Americans said that neither party stands up for them and addresses their needs. This perceived lack of representation is also a reason why some individuals support the idea of compulsory voting.
“There could be benefits to that like the people who don’t go but still have an opinion,” said Wright State junior and mechanical engineering major Samantha Jobe. “If you get them to vote it could make a huge difference.” I know a lot of them, especially our age because 18 to 29 year olds are the biggest group but some chose to not vote. So compulsory voting would change that.”
Her statement about millennials is a reflection of a greater demographic trend happening in the United States. Millennials are projected to surpass baby boomers as the largest generation in 2019, but are also much less likely to vote than people from older generations. Only 51 percent of eligible millennial voters turned out in the 2016 election which is 10 points lower than the national average.
Anderson provides another reason that people might support compulsory voting.
“I can also see you could classify this as a civic duty in the same way I don’t have the right to not be on a jury when I’m assigned,” Anderson said.
This is why freshman Emily Gray said she supports compulsory voting.
“It is a civil duty type of deal. People complain about the outcome of elections but don’t vote,” she said.
According to an independent survey, 22 percent of those against compulsory voting thought that it would result in a drastic increase in uninformed voters, but the data shows otherwise. Countries with a compulsory voting system were more likely to have more politically educated citizens and a greater degree of income equality. The United States income inequality is one of the most severe in the developed world.
The United Nations published a report which showed 40 million Americans impoverished with millennials being hit especially hard. In 2016, millennial households were the most impoverished. Millennials will be the largest voting bloc in the United States in 2019, but have a much lower voter turnout than older generations. During the last presidential election, only 51 percent of millennials voted versus 70 percent of the Silent Generation, 69 percent of baby boomers, and 63 percent of Generation X.
Should voting be mandatory?
Yes - 27%
No - 73%
For this section of the survey the 30 survey participants were asked to circle yes or no if they believed voting should be mandatory.
Why people support it
More accurately represents the general population
Everyone’s voice should be heard
Voting should be seen as an obligation
Why people were against it
The candidates don’t represent me
There are too many uninformed voters
It would violate my personal freedom
It is a person’s own responsibility to vote
Too many people face voter disenfranchisement
No answer provided
The 30 surveys also included a section where people could write why they believed that voting should or should not be mandatory. The categories provided in this list were based on the answers provided by each person who took the survey.
Note 1: No answer is when someone circled if they were for or against Compulsory voting but gave no reason why.