Saturday, November 6, 2010

Is mandatory voting "un-American"?

It's November, a non-presidential election year, and turnout numbers are rolling in, meaning the inevitable question must be raised: should the United States have mandatory voting?

This CNN spot below discusses the issue and features William Galston of the Brookings Institution, one proponent of mandatory voting (watch for his nice comparison of the civic duty of voting and the civic duty of jury duty).

Others say that those who are too "lazy", either to get to the polls on Election Day or to "get informed" on the issues, should not be compelled to include themselves in America's electorate, lest that electorate become less informed, and thus less powerful and effective.

However, are either of these premises correct? Are people who don't get to the polls on Election Day really just "lazy", when so many disproportionate barriers are erected to registration and Election Day participation? Moreover, do we really think potential voters need to learn how to apply an accurate cost-benefit analysis to their vote, or learn how to predict the future decisions of their chosen leaders, to clearly and accurately express their current choices? Can anyone other than mind-readers and political theorists ever cast that elusive, so-called "informed vote"? Finally, as the video points it really "un-American" to require complete participation in one of the most fundamental founding notions of the United States - democracy?

The real question to be answered before we think about applying a mandatory voting scheme is whether it can implemented effectively. Until we have a system that allows all voters to easily register and cast a ballot on Election Day, mandatory voting will fail and be unfair...but that failure will not be a result of including more people in our democracy.

Check out the video and decide for yourself.

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