By ARUSH MEHROTRA
Shortly after the 2014 elections, Senator Bernie Sanders admonished the country, saying “Americans should be embarrassed.” The low voter turnout, he wrote in The Guardian, “was an international disgrace.” Indeed, it is a disgrace.
The fact that only about 36.4% of the American electorate took the time to go and vote during this election is astonishing. A democracy is built upon the idea of representing the voices of every American citizen. Not half of the citizens. Every single one. Therefore, it is not surprising when the validity of America as a viable democracy is called into question.
Many have proposed solutions to increase voter turnout: offering a small reward for voting, allowing for more flexibility in the times that the polls are open, digitalizing the voting process. However, the most simple yet effective solution lies in the idea of mandatory voting.
The concept of mandatory voting requires eligible citizens to vote on Election Day and penalizes them if they do not. Some may argue that voting is infeasible for people whose employers would not allow them to take a day off. However, the implementation of this mandatory voting bill could include requiring all employers to compensate workers for the time spent voting.
Furthermore, if jury duty is mandatory for every American citizen, why is voting not? Jury duty serves as a reminder to the civic responsibilities we all have as citizens of this democracy. I would argue that voting for our representatives, whose job it is to uphold democracy, is more important.
Now let’s examine the key reasons why mandatory voting should be enforced in America.
First, mandatory voting will ensure a more representative voting body and thereby a better-elected representative. According to EconoFact, a non-partisan publication designed to bring key facts and incisive analysis to the national debate on economic and social policies, there was a 48 percent voter participation rate for families in the lowest income category in 2016. This was a bit more than half of the 86 percent rate for families in the highest income category.
This same pattern can be found when you examine voter turnout based on race. According to a poll conducted in 2018 by The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute, nine percent of black respondents and nine percent of Hispanic respondents indicated that, in the 2016 elections, they (or someone in their household) were told that they lacked the proper identification to vote. Just three percent of whites said the same.
Ten percent of black respondents and eleven percent of Hispanic respondents reported that they were incorrectly told that they weren’t listed on voter rolls, as opposed to five percent of white respondents. In all, across just about every issue identified as a common barrier to voting, black and Hispanic respondents were twice as likely, or more, to have experienced those barriers as white respondents.
Mandatory voting would undeniably lessen this margin and make it so that the officials we elect and the ballot measures we pass are more representatives of the larger population. In collaboration with these mandatory voting laws, we must recognize how voter suppression is fundamentally a repetition of the poll taxes and literacy tests during the era of Jim Crow.
During the 2018 elections, this modern-era voter suppression was on full display. In Georgia, according to APM Reports, a law prevented 87,000 people from being able to vote, most of whom were minorities. The lack of voter representation we see in America has drawn criticism and threatened America’s standing as a democracy.
In fact, according to the Democracy Index compiled by the UK-based Economic Intelligence Unit, America is categorized as a flawed democracy. This puts America behind twenty-two other countries that are categorized as full democracies including the United Kingdom and Australia.
Second, a common argument many make is that mandatory voting violates the first amendment as it denies the ideals of free speech, which includes the right to silence. However, this argument is easily debunked because mandatory voting does not force someone to pick a candidate. Voters can leave the ballots blank and not support any candidate. The only obligation they have is to show up to the polls. This can, in turn, also help more effectively track protest votes to gauge voter dissatisfaction, as there will be a larger and more representative population.
In America, the right to vote for many marginalized populations took decades upon decades of protest and struggle. It took a Civil War costing 620,000 American lives to pass the 15th Amendment in 1870 and fifty more years to pass the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote for minorities and women respectively. We have a responsibility and moral obligation to honor those that dedicated their lives to that struggle. Mandatory voting will ensure that we make true of this responsibility.