Up for Debate: Compulsory Voting – No, voting should not be mandatory

The United States is known for its generally apathetic electorate and low voter turnout. Compared to other democracies, we just don’t seem to care all that much about self-governance. To counteract this, some advocate compulsory voting.

Some countries, like Australia, have compulsory voting and supposedly have more satisfaction with their elected officials. Setting aside the fact that Australians most likely become just as annoyed with their leaders as Americans do, forcing every eligible voter to vote wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing. It’s downright un-American, and not just because it infringes on our right not to vote.

It has been said many times that you get what you pay for, or in this case, what you vote for. Americans elect leaders who by and large represent them, albeit not in the way they think. Politics in the United States has become increasingly juvenile and nonsensical. Only in America is it a virtue to be a complete idiot when running for the highest office in the land (a virtue that most Republican candidates possess in spades).

Ignorance is bliss, which must be why so many who decide not to vote become disappointed once faced with the reality of who was chosen to represent them on any level of government (doesn’t matter which level, they’re all generally disappointing). I used to hear people say of former President Bush that he was the kind of guy they’d like to get a beer with– the fun president, not the smart president. Boring, stuffy intellectuals (descriptions that were actually used) like Al Gore and John Kerry didn’t stand a chance against the lovable, “just-like-us” George W. Bush.

When Americans vote, bad things follow. Congress is continually ridiculed and the mood of the country seems to become more bitter with every cycle. Those who do vote can’t seem to make up their mind, flip-flopping between left and right, especially in the last few election cycles. If everyone had to vote, why would the results change? If anything, the trend would be accelerated, and more stupid candidates would come out of the woodwork to take advantage of the millions of idiots who would now be forced to vote.

And all of those people who would not have voted before but are now forced to vote could do anything: vote for joke candidates out of protest (Justin Huff’s example of “spoil” voting would apply here), flip a coin, mark the first name they see, or vote for the last guy they saw on TV. Americans tend to be mindless lemmings more often than not, so why encourage them?

I’m not sure why Justin believes that poor and minority voters are the only people voting, because otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing as many Republicans as there are in government. Perhaps this is a result of the Republican strategy of making it harder for people to vote. The richest people in this country are, after all, a minority, so for Republicans to do better, they need to lower the number of those pesky Americans whose interests they have no interest in pursuing.

Republicans couldn’t get elected at all with their own large number of misinformed, lazy white people who are largely not that different from the rest of the population that the Republicans are trying to block from voting, so perhaps it is actually in their interest to open the floodgates for more of the mediocre majority that is currently watching reality TV and working on winning the lottery so they can join the one percent too.

But as hard as it is to admit, the get-rid-of-the-vote campaign championed by Republicans across the country has some logic. The Founding Fathers did not trust the mob to vote, and as we have expanded voting rights, turnout has continued to drop and the politicians we elect have become more stupid and less statesmen-like. Limiting the vote would only codify the apathy that already exists. Not voting is as American as apple pie. The vast majority of the country doesn’t bother with it and then gets to complain about the results of the last election. It is true that a minority of the country engages in this time-honored tradition of diminishing returns, and there are upstanding citizens who take it seriously and do their homework. Obviously their effort is not enough.

Every attempt to increase turnout and educate the public has largely failed. Compulsory voting would not be any different. The responsible voters would be a minority of the greater number of people who are just going through the motions, dragging their feet into voting booths.

If they don’t really care what results they get, why should the politicians? At least as things are right now, people running for office have to cater to the small segment of the population that actually cares, but if everyone voted, they could relax their standards accordingly.

Perhaps the problem isn’t that we’re not forcing everyone to vote, but that the voting process is not worth our time. There are dozens of possible reforms available without resorting to one this heavy-handed.

Rather than force everyone to play by the existing rules, why don’t we try tweaking the system some more? We’ve unlocked voting for more groups of people, and even made it easier and more accessible to citizens. These types of changes will improve turnout and the quality of voters, and are worth our time.

Kerry Wakely is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at kwakely@uci.edu.