Is Mandatory Voting the Solution to Low Voter Turnout?


A blog post published recently on the Brookings Institute website poses an interesting question: Is mandatory voting the answer to the question so many election experts have been discussing this year – How do we as a nation increase voter turnout?

For those who aren’t aware, the 2014 midterm elections saw the lowest turnout since 1942, with a dismal 36 percent of eligible voters casting ballots.

Fred Dews asks in the piece:

Some observers of U.S. politics make the case that low voter turnout results in more polarization and less legislative compromise. Is compulsory, or mandatory, voting the answer?

One expert quoted in the blog post hypothesizes that it will get to the point where all Americans must vote or pay a small fee, and said when that happens, the country will experience political campaigns that are more centric and centered on compromise.

Another expert calls mandatory (or otherwise known as compulsory) voting the most promising of the election reforms that have been posed.

“It means,” (the expert) said in a recent Brookings Cafeteria podcast, that “political parties and candidates have no incentive to spend huge amounts of money trying to turn out their voters and to demobilize the opposition’s voters.”

You can read the entire blog post here.

Haven’t been following the discussion on compulsory voting (which has been instituted in as many as 20 countries around the world)? Here are the two main arguments, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance:

The argument FOR mandatory voting:

Advocates of compulsory voting argue that decisions made by democratically elected governments are more legitimate when higher proportions of the population participate. They argue further that voting, voluntarily or otherwise, has an educational effect upon the citizens. Political parties can derive financial benefits from compulsory voting, since they do not have to spend resources convincing the electorate that it should in general turn out to vote. Lastly, if democracy is government by the people, presumably this includes all people, then it is every citizen’s responsibility to elect their representatives.

The argument AGAINST mandatory voting:

The leading argument against compulsory voting is that it is not consistent with the freedom associated with democracy. Voting is not an intrinsic obligation and the enforcement of the law would be an infringement of the citizens’ freedom associated with democratic elections. It may discourage the political education of the electorate because people forced to participate will react against the perceived source of oppression. Is a government really more legitimate if the high voter turnout is against the will of the voters? Many countries with limited financial capacity may not be able to justify the expenditures of maintaining and enforcing compulsory voting laws. It has been proved that forcing the population to vote results in an increased number of invalid and blank votes compared to countries that have no compulsory voting laws.



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