Should the government force us to vote?

The rise of extremism in American politics, while truly terrifying, is not without positive opportunities. It gives us the space to reconsider some of our most ingrained assumptions, including the rules of elections.

Until recently, there wasn’t much reason for introspection. America’s two-party system had generally exerted a moderating influence, inducing candidates to lean toward the center—at least during the general election.

Innovative outsiders could reform the system by having their best ideas co-opted and assimilated by one of the two major parties. Tweaking the system (however arbitrary some rules may be) seemed unnecessary and potentially harmful. The idea of ​​looking abroad for better ideas seemed unpatriotic and counterproductive.

Today, however, US policy is broken. While Chesterton’s Fence suggests that we should not lightly abandon inherited norms and institutions, concepts that once seemed sacrosanct are no longer beyond reproach, while reforms that would have been knee-jerkly rejected can now get a fair hearing.

One such idea is ranking choice voting, which has gained popularity in parts of America.

Another idea that’s gaining traction – albeit harder to sell – is compulsory voting.

registered mail The Australianargued Claire Lehmann (founder of the right-wing online magazine Quillette) recently Compulsory voting has had a moderating influence on Australia. The reason? “When the indifferent voter is forced to vote,” she writes, “the votes of the fanatics are diluted.”

This makes sense, especially given that a problem for at least two decades has been US politicians who have focused almost exclusively on wooing and persuading their base (at the expense of persuading swing voters).

But there is more. Compulsory voting, Lehmann continued, “bakes in popular politics and precludes the need for populist revolts.” As such, “it creates an egalitarian and conservative society.”

Like many Americans, I was repelled by the idea until recently. In 2016, my philosophy could have been best described by PJ O’Rourke’s book title: Don’t vote, it only encourages the bastards. Don’t vote was the best way for me to definitively prove that I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. (As I promised HBO’s Bill Maher, I didn’t feel compelled to respect the “don’t vote, don’t complain” cliché.)

Also, my way of working, like many conservatives, has always been that if a person didn’t care enough to go to the trouble of registering and voting, their vote probably wouldn’t be an informed vote anyway.

For that reason, I assumed non-voters would swing disproportionately to Democrats (yes, there is some cognitive dissonance for social conservatives who claim there is a “moral majority” or “silent majority” out there).

The problem? “That’s just not true,” Chuck Warren, a data-driven Republican strategist, told Liberal columnist Bill Scher last year.

To support his findings, Warren cited a 2020 Knight Foundation study that found, “If all abstainers were to vote in 2020, the preferences of abstainers show that they would add nearly equal proportions to Democratic and Republican candidates.” (33 percent versus 30 percent, respectively), while 18 percent said they would vote for a third party.”

This is not an entirely new concept. A few years ago, conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg floated the idea that compulsory voting could sometimes benefit conservatives. “Turnout for school board elections is usually woefully low,” Goldberg wrote, “but not among union members and allied bureaucrats. Think of it this way: if everyone voted in a local election, the proportion of the electorate that was made up of teachers and civil servants would represent a rounding error. But with, say, only 10 percent turnout, they suddenly become a crucial voting bloc that protects its own interests.”

Of course, it would be both easy and wrong to say that general voting automatically helps Republicans. The Knight Foundation study found that “absent voters are skewed centre-left on some key issues such as health care, but are slightly more conservative than active voters on immigration and abortion.”

Still, this result seems to suggest that universal voting may have prevented some of the populist convulsions that, if left to smolder, ultimately produced President Donald J. Trump. This would confirm Claire Lehmann’s contention that compulsory voting “precludes the need for populist revolts”.

To be fair, there’s a major objection to compulsory voting that’s hard to get around: To a conservative or libertarian, the idea feels ponderous, un-American, and bordering on authoritarian.

To be honest, I can identify with and respect this view, although I am increasingly convinced that mandatory voting would achieve the intended goal (moderation of our policies).

Of course, introducing such a regime would likely require constitutional amendment, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be championed.

Fixing our toxic and broken political system is of paramount importance, and while I understand and appreciate the concerns about possible slippery slopes, mandatory voting doesn’t seem like a particularly egregious, harmful, or dangerous mandate.

In fact, the pros seem to outweigh the cons. Should the government force us to vote?


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