Voter turnout is down again; it’s time to consider compulsory voting

December 5, 2016 — by Alex Yang

Voting should be made mandatory in the US

Fifty seven percent is an embarrassingly low turnout for a modern democratic nation’s presidential election, and yet that’s the rate that the U.S. was able to muster in November.

This number is not only low in the sense that the U.S. is ranked 31st out of 35 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of voter turnout; it’s also a 20-year low.

Not even an exciting election like this year’s could get America’s blood boiling enough to vote.

The fact is that 57 percent simply isn’t an accurate enough representation of the United States’ voting-age population. In fact, more than 100 million eligible citizens didn’t make the effort to mark ballots, according to political analysis website FiveThirtyEight.

Midterm elections are even worse. In the 2014 elections for state and congressional elections, a measly 36.6 percent of Americans went out to the polls, according to The Washington Post.

The good news is that there’s a possible solution: compulsory voting.

Now, this might sound like a military draft, but the truth is that compulsory voting is the best way the U.S. is going to be able to hit over 70 or even 80 percent voter turnout. Forcing people to vote shouldn’t be thought of as dangerous. The danger of ignorance can be solved within a few years, but disinterest is much harder to change.

Even if some people are not yet interested in politics, it still should be their obligation as an American citizen to go to the polls and decide the leaders of the free world.

In fact, many other developed nations like Australia, Belgium and Turkey have decided to implement this system. In Belgium, for example, voter turnout was the highest in the world at 87 percent of the population voting.

However, there are undoubtedly some issues with installing such a restrictive system in such a “free” nation. Anything with the word “compulsory” scares the American public, and even something like this would be no less opposed.  

But still, there are things like mandatory education. Similar to compulsory education, compulsory voting will surely increase the number of Americans that are politically knowledgeable.

A lot of Americans these days think that, because they do not plan to vote anyway, they shouldn’t get involved at all with politics. Perhaps forcing as many people as possible to go vote would change this.

The question remains of how what the punishment is for not voting.

In Australia, the law states that a fine will be given to any citizens absent to the polls on election day, but that law hasn’t been enforced for years. Still, a huge majority of the Australian population still goes to vote. Perhaps a similar system could be introduced in America.

Increasing the number of politically involved Americans may even increase political enthusiasm to a similar fervor as when our founding fathers fought for the right that many choose to opt-out of today.

While billions of people across the world suffer from corrupt, dynastic one-party systems in countries like China, Russia and North Korea, we here in the U.S. should at least be making an effort to use our hard-earned right to vote as much as we can.

However, it’s difficult to just enforce compulsory voting without tweaking our elections at least a little bit.

A lot of states don’t allow absentee ballots to those who technically have the ability to go to the polls on the day of the election. For this to work, we will have to give mail-in ballots to any and all takers.

Second, the reason many don’t have the ability to make it to the polls is their work situation. Tuesday elections aren’t really helping any of the voters who are swamped with work. The solution to this is simple: Make election day a national holiday. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, India and New Zealand hold their national elections on either a holiday or a weekend. The U.S. should, too.

With so many people complaining about the results of this election, it’s surprising that there aren’t already larger movements to make these ideas into reality. If we don’t find a way to get people to use their right to vote, the government will continue to represent a minority of eligible citizens.

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