Will voting be needed by statute in the United States?

Senior (College 4th year) ・Political Science ・MLA ・7 Sources


 Every citizen of age in the U.S. has a fundamental right to vote, but very many people fail to vote in the country. For instance, the voter turnout was at just 64% for the 2008 presidential election in the United States, and there has been a further steady decrease in the voter turnout rates in most democratic states. The 2012 presidential election reported just 57.5 percent of the eligible electorate cast their ballots, and also, the 2014 midterm election had the lowest voter turnout in the U.S. history with only 35.4 percent of the electorate voting  (Berlatsky). With such figures, it is evident that almost two-thirds of the Americans did not bother to go out and cast their vote in the polls. The U.S government has put various measures in the attempt to encourage and increase voter turnout, but most of them have been largely ineffective. Some of the strategies employed by the government include early voting which has evidently failed to increase the number of voters going to the polls. Besides there are measures to move elections to weekends and also making registration easier for the electorate, with both showing no positive impact on the voter turnout. People fought so hard to get equal and fair voting rights for all Americans; thus it should be a legal requirement that every citizen turns out on the day of the election and goes to the polls.


 According to Lijphart, voter turnout is not just low, but it is also declining in most democracies (p.210). The participation in the presidential elections in the United States has dropped to 50-55 percent in the 1980s and 1990s from 60-65 percent in the 1950s and 1960s (Lijphart 210). There is the need to note that in other industrialized democracies, there is also a reported low voter turnout but it is not as dramatic as it is in the United States. As further explained by Lijphart, the average turnout in twenty of the advanced democracies dropped from 83 percent in the 1950s to 78 percent in the  1990s, and there were seventeen democracies that showed a lower turnout, with only three having a reported higher turnout in the subsequent period (p.210).

 Among the significant challenges contributing to the extraordinary ineffectiveness of the American political system is the complicated series of voting processes that further gives influences to the uttermost, ideologically founded bases of the two major political parties in the United States (Ornstein). In the current base-driven elections, each party employs any means possible to encourage electorates of their own base to turn out and vote. The most common way party strategists maximize such turnout is instilling fear to their own base that there would be dire consequences if the "enemy" win, and also minimizing the turnout of the other party’s base by use of any means possible and available (Ornstein). My opinion is that the best way to mend this malign party dynamic is to come up with measures that enlarge the number of voters in primaries as well as general elections. Such a move will be aimed at moving the nation’s politics to the ground where persuadable electorates in the middle have more influence in the election results. The most effective way to counter our political dysfunction and further increase the voter turnout would be to adopt a system that requires every eligible voter to go to the polls. Among the nations that have adopted compulsory voting include Australian, Belgium, Cyprus, Singapore, and also Austria (Magstadt 333).

 For over seven decades in Australia, registered voters have been required by law to turn out and vote on the Election Day (Ornstein). Even though those eligible voters do not necessarily have to vote, they are allowed to cast ballots for the "none of the above" option, as a failure to show up at the polls incurs a penalty of about $15 (Santos). However, the mandatory required and the penalty can be avoided via writing a letter the underlying and legitimate reason for not showing up, i.e. travel or illness or such other reasonable claim. The strategy in Australia has proved useful in every election since the system was implemented recorded a turnout of over 90 percent. Besides, the Australian government has encouraged its citizens to vote by enlightening that voting is their civic responsibility.

 However, there arises the question of whether increasing voter turnout would make a difference in the political system of a country. The question is based on the fact that high turnout is not a surefire or core indicator of democratic values or civil strength, as the former Soviet Union surely boasted of a 98 percent voter turnout (Ornstein). There is the need to know that the greater impact is on politicians’ culture i.e. whatever the means the politicians strive to achieve. For instance, Australian politicians assert that since they know that the bases for both parties will vote, they have the motivation to focus on voters in the middle who are considered persuadable. The Australian politicians address the core issues directly affecting the middle voters, and they disregard the kind of wedge issues such as gays, abortion, or even the controversial issue of guns that dominates the American political talks. The Australian politicians on the contrary focus on the society’s bigger questions such as jobs, education, and the economy, which are the issues that drive the voters in the middle (Magstadt 333). Besides, the politicians in the Australia are keen not to turn off the persuadable voters by avoiding the kind of vitriolic or vicious campaign rhetoric which the electorate doesn’t like.

Reasons for Compulsory Voting

 Compulsory voting has various versions such as that which advocates for restrictive/harsh penalties when electorates fail to vote and that which supports less strict penalties such as light fines for those who do not turn out (Brennan and Hill 19). The kind of compulsory voting that should be implemented in the U.S. to increase voter turnout is the one that with claims abstention as a minor infraction that incurs a small financial penalty, as opposed to that considering non-voting as a felony that is associated with a penalty of jail term (Brennan and Hill 19). Besides, citizens should have some form of legal ways to opt out of voting.

 Failure to vote when one has the right to is a show of disrespect to many people. When eligible voters fail to turn out on Election Day, they are actually disrespecting those people that struggled and fought for the basic right to vote and not being discriminated against. In other words, to not vote is a sign of failure to value the sacrifice and contribution made by those who fought for the equal and fair right to vote. However, there is an underlying factor that dissuades individuals from voting as the movements that fought for the right to vote are ignored from the American history. Therefore, there should be an implementation of a school system that acknowledges and values the significant suffragettes in a similar way that presidents are honored. The move would make people more aware of the suffrage, and most likely motivate them to vote. Besides, failure to vote is unjust to many underprivileged individuals across the world that are still fighting for the right to vote and have their political voice heard, but are rather denied the essential opportunity that most Americans readily throw away.

 Another reason as to why voting should be a legal requirement is that otherwise, they should not have the right to complain about the ineffectiveness of the government. Many people in the United States have the claim of detesting the government and the entire package that comes with it, but they do not take the responsibility of voting on Election Day. By not voting, the eligible voters fail to try to influence policy in the possible way. My argument is that it would be reasonable when the voters do all they can but fail to influence the government policies through voting, and further be critical of the government rather than complaining knowing very well that they did not participate in voting.

 As Brennan explains in the book The ethics of voting when citizens vote, they either make the government better or worse and thus, it is their votes that hold power to make the lives of people better or worse (p.1). Making bad choices at the polls translates to getting sexist, racist, and also homophobic laws. Besides, economic opportunities fail to materialize or vanish altogether, and the country is coerced to fight unjust and unnecessary wars (Brennan, The ethics of voting 1). Also, citizens enable the government to spend large amounts of money on poor stimulus plans and entitlement programs that fail to stimulate economies, hence there is widespread poverty. All these negative implications of poor decisions at the poll are similar and result when individuals fail to vote. The citizens end up losing their influence on the government; thus they regularly complain about the ineffectiveness of the government.

 Among the major institutional deterrents to voting in the United States is the burdensome registration requirements (Lijphart 212). As further explained by Lijphart, voting brings forward the problem of collective action that tends to be more severe once the associated costs rise, making the costs of registration higher compared to the cost of voting. Therefore, if the government and all states implemented fully liberalized registration rules, turnout would increase significantly. Besides, voter turnout can be raised to commendable levels if the U.S. government adopted a European-style of automatic registration, or making it the responsibility of the government (Lijphart 212).

 However, Magstadt explains that participation is not usually a good thing in voting, and neither is apathy. Magstadt fights back the concept of participation claiming that if the only time citizens take a keen interest in politics is when they are personally affected, and if their only aim is to meet personal gains or for self-interest at the expense of the common/greater good or public interest, there would be serious problems in the national character of the people. Such selfish interest in participation in politics is bound to produce serious problems over time and will manifest itself in negative ways. Magstadt provides an analogy of self-interest in political participation by comparing it with what went wrong in August 2008 on Waal Street. According to Magstadt, a steady interest in public affairs sprouting from a reasonable sense of civic duty offers a solution to excessive individualism in the society, and it is a promising solution to apathy as compared to a majority that is not only aroused but also ignorant (p.334). Therefore, even though Americans should be legally required to vote, there is the need to enlighten them of the need essence of public interest instead of participating in elections for selfish gains.

 Among the arguments raised against compulsory voting include the belief that turning out to cast a vote that would make no difference is a waste of time. Such citizens with such conviction forget that if there are hundreds or thousands of others feeling the same (of course there are), then there would be a lot of votes that would not count. The other claim is the fact that the general public is not educated enough to make informed choices that will translate to the greater good of the country. However, the claim is unreasonable since a lot of high schools require their senior classes to take government and economic classes as a graduation requirement. The classes are essential to enlighten the students (they are almost eligible to vote) about how the economy works, and also the beliefs and differences in the political parties, hence they are better placed to make sound judgments of the candidate of their choice. Also, some citizens feel that compulsory voting is a violation of the 13th amendment that says there should be no involuntary servitude. However, the citizens forget that voting that is required by law does not violate freedom or liberty as it is the only action that strengthens it. In conclusion, the United States should implement the legislation that requires its citizens to vote on a mandatory basis to counter the gradually declining voter turnout, and also ensure that every citizen participates in their civic duty.

Works Cited

Berlatsky, Noah. "Why you should be legally required to vote." The Week. 2016. Web. 12 April 2017

Brennan, Jason and Lisa Hill. Compulsory Voting: For and Against. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Print.

Brennan, Jason. The ethics of voting. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. Print.

Lijphart, Arend. Thinking about Democracy: Power Sharing and Majority Rule in Theory and Practice. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Magstadt, Thomas M. Understanding politics: ideas, institutions, and issues. Australia: Wadsworth, 2016. Print.

Ornstein, Norm. "The U.S. Should Require All Citizens to Vote." The Atlantic. 2012. Web. 12 April 2017

Santos, Adolfo. American government and politics today. 15. Belmont, Calif.: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

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