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January 22, 2017 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Voting Should Be Mandatory "The evidence is mixed on whether compulsory voting favors parties of the right or the left and some studies suggest that most United States federal election results would be unchanged. But all that misses the point because it overlooks that compulsory voting changes more than the number of voters: It changes who runs for office and the policy proposals they support." - Waleed Aly, New York Times

What is compulsory voting
"Advocates of compulsory voting argue that decisions made by democratically elected governments are more legitimate when higher proportions of the population participate. ... The leading argument against compulsory voting is that it is not consistent with the freedom associated with democracy."

After the Brexit vote, Britain must introduce compulsory voting, The Telegraph.
"Voter turnout for the EU referendum was higher, at 72.2 per cent, but still more than 20 per cent shy of Australian turnout. Most worryingly, just 36 per cent of people aged 18-24 are estimated to have voted. We can spend all day chastising young people for failing to vote in a referendum considered more important to them than to anyone else, given that they will live with the result for the longest. Or we can accept that young people sometimes need an extra shove when it comes to stepping into politics for the first time. The threat of fines - and, in extreme cases, jail - should do the trick."

Compuslory Voting - for and against, NSW Govt.
1. Citizenship, duties and rights
2. Legitimate representation
3. Political education
4. Choice
5. Bias
6. Responsiveness.

The government could make Americans vote, Business Insider.
"In the US, compulsory voting has started to enter the mainstream conversation. In May of last year, Obama publicly endorsed compulsory voting for the first time, telling a crowd in Cleveland that "it would be transformative if everybody voted" specifically because of the class-bias effect. "The people who tend not to vote are young, they're lower income, they're skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups," Obama said. "There's a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls."

Make me, The Economist.
"Voters in Britain and America are disproportionately rich, well-educated and old. That, studies suggest, skews policymaking."

Previously
Previously
posted by Thella (192 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
I fully agree. ... But who's gonna do it? *crickets*

In all honesty, it would change "U.S. politics" for the better forever. That might be why neither party has any interest in it.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:11 PM on January 22, 2017 [30 favorites]


I still remember the shock on my Canadian, American and British friends' faces when I talked about compulsory voting in Australia. In turn I was amazed they thought it was a bad thing.

In the end compulsory voting means neither left nor right - look at Australian political history and you will find plenty of conservative governments and plenty of Labor govts.
posted by awfurby at 11:19 PM on January 22, 2017 [14 favorites]


One structural consequence of compulsory voting in Australia is the Australian Electoral Commission and its state counterparts. These fiercely apolitical commissions oversee the operations of all elections across the three tiers of government - federal, state, and local council - ensuring uniformity and integrity of practice. They are the sole employer of all polling staff across the nation, the producer of all polling materials used inside the polling station, and, IIRC, the determiners of electoral boundaries. Australians have a great deal of trust in the AEC. It is just possible, that without the AEC and compulsory voting, Australia would be bereft of the democracy sausage.
posted by Thella at 11:34 PM on January 22, 2017 [53 favorites]


I've always been curious about how this would change political identity. Voting seems to lock in political identity, with very few voters genuinely shifting from their preferred party even when if they identify as an Independent. Voters are also flexible in their viewpoints until roughly age 25. So those 7 years are pretty instrumental in shifting them from accepting their political identity of their parents in lockstep.

Obviously it would be instrumental in guaranteeing marginalized voices are heard for any given moment in time. But so much social change is generational. Would we see a smaller cultural between generations with compulsory voting?

I'm genuinely curious about the answer. But I'm not sure if it's a genuine cause for concern or a Change is Hard thing that besets the Olds.
posted by politikitty at 11:40 PM on January 22, 2017


The leading argument against compulsory voting is that it is not consistent with the freedom associated with democracy.

This isn't even an argument. It's just a wordier way of saying 'Nuh uh you can't make me!' Try it with taxes and see how far you get.

Voting isn't a freedom. It isn't a right - in the 'you can't tell me what to do' sense that word is used, anyway. It's a duty that safeguards you having those other two things.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:49 PM on January 22, 2017 [84 favorites]


There are still people that don't vote in Australia. There's no fine if you're not enrolled to vote with the AEC. I know people who aren't, including a veteran.

One difference that may seem counter-intuitive is that I've never experienced a queue. When I hear about people in the States getting up early and standing in line for hours, well, first I wonder what the fuck takes you so long*. Then I think if it were that onerous to vote, of course we couldn't have compulsory voting. No one would tolerate standing in line for hours under threat of a fine.

Also we do it on Saturday mornings, and there's a barbecue!

We still elect toxic idiots like Pauline Hanson though.

*Going to guess it's voter suppression tactics at work.
posted by adept256 at 11:50 PM on January 22, 2017 [35 favorites]


It's a duty

That's kinda how I feel, too. As citizens, we draw such tremendous advantage and benefit from the state - it has helped make modern life immeasurably, almost incomprehensibly better.

Is it too much a burden to rock up to a school once every couple of years - you can just put a blank piece of paper in if you want! - and cast a vote. Think, however briefly or infinitesimally, about the direction we want the country to move in, and then having a say.

We have a right and a responsibility to vote - just like how being a citizen is both right and responsibility.

Arguments for democracy hold no water with me: just look at how doesn't vote in the US - overwhelmingly the most powerless, disenfranchised and disadvantaged by society.
posted by smoke at 11:58 PM on January 22, 2017 [13 favorites]


As an Australian I'm a big fan of compulsory voting. However there are probably some things that could do more to fix the US's election system; dealing with those gerrymandered districts that look like twisted fractals would be a start, as would an alternative to first-past-the-post voting.
posted by Jimbob at 12:04 AM on January 23, 2017 [35 favorites]


I'll play a bit of devil's advocate here; I want educated voters. I don't mean traditionally academically educated, I just feel there should be some check that you know what you're voting for.

In my bizarroworld, you'd have each candidate on a range of issues quantify their platform on a binary scale, call it 1-10. They're free to publicise their answers, etc.

I am for unrestricted trade - - X - - - - - - - I am against unrestricted trade
I am for state-sponsored health care - - - - X - - - - I am against state-sponsored health care
I believe our nation should militarily intervene in Syria - - - - - - X - - - I believe our nation should not militarily intervene in Syria.

that sort of thing. Ten issues, five issues, twenty, whatever matters to the candidate.
Then, if a voter can't get half of them correct within a margin of error, then the vote for that candidate would be invalidated.

I get that there are huge practical difficulties to implementing something like this, and that's before we get to the political issues, or the earned historical stigma that poll testing has in the USA. It would help cut down though both on buyer's remorse and, hopefully, focus candidates on their own platforms instead of stunts, character attacks, and theatrics.
posted by Seeba at 12:13 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


Not sure I agree about mandatory voting. Forcing people who may have no knowledge of issues or the sophistication to identify empty promises might just give votes to the loudest. The US certainly knows the damage that can cause.
posted by Cranberry at 12:13 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


As, or if, we emerge from the rubble of the current presidential term, I'd like to see all kinds of failsafes: compulsory voting; elimination of gerrymandering; legally required tax return disclosure; mandatory blind trusts; National Popular Vote.
posted by zompist at 12:14 AM on January 23, 2017 [17 favorites]


I also completely agree with the elimination of gerrymandering. That should be, practically, a more or less straightforward matter - take census data, plot it on a GIS map, write an algorithm to draw borders around equally populated areas with a focus on smallest exterior perimeter...

I'm not trivialising the programming aspect, but once you have it, you have it. Rerun every time you take a census, new effective boundaries the year thereafter.
posted by Seeba at 12:17 AM on January 23, 2017 [14 favorites]


"That might be why neither party has any interest in it."

The Republican Party has actively been trying to disenfranchise people, as Zachary Roth points out in his recent book The Great Suppression. On page 21, he writes, "In all, since 2006, 21 states have passed laws – voter ID measures, cuts to early voting, strict registration rules, and a host of other devices – that have made it harder for millions of Americans to cast a ballot. All these laws disproportionately affect racial minorities, the poor, or the young. Most have been justified by citing the threat of voter fraud, despite no evidence whatsoever that such fraud exists on a significant level or could be stopped by the laws at issue."

“The people who tend not to vote are young...”


Roth also points out, on page 164, that “The Twenty-sixth Amendment bars disenfranchising anyone 18 or older on account of age but says nothing about those under 18 – meaning there’s nothing in the Constitution that prevents allowing teenagers to vote. Since 2013 Takoma Park and Hyattsville, both Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., have done just that, empowering 16- and 17-year-olds to take part in municipal elections. (In Takoma Park they voted at twice the rate of everyone else.) San Francisco is exploring doing the same...”
posted by LeLiLo at 12:28 AM on January 23, 2017 [22 favorites]


' Forcing people who may have no knowledge of issues or the sophistication to identify empty promises might just give votes to the loudest'

That's already happening in the US. The advantage of compulsory voting is that the rest of the people will be voting against it. If you want to get voted in, then what you're shouting has to be attractive to a majority of the population, not just those who vote. If the US had compulsory voting, Trump would not be president.

It doesn't prevent lies, but it does make it hard to have a big swing (right or left) to the extreme ends of the spectrum.
posted by twirlypen at 12:29 AM on January 23, 2017 [25 favorites]


I don't mean traditionally academically educated, I just feel there should be some check that you know what you're voting for.

The way you get that, though, has nothing to do with whether you require voting or not. If you don't require voting, you don't get a more informed electorate, you get an electorate where certain people show up because they've been convinced to care about a particular issue--accurate or otherwise--and certain people stay home because they've been convinced that their participation is unwanted or useless.

The way you get a more informed electorate, I'm becoming convinced, starts with good public education and media that emphasizes the value of staying informed and involved in the process. We don't have that right now, but without that, we're not getting an informed electorate. But we're also not getting elections that actually reflect the whole population; we're getting elections where one party is actively trying to get people to stay home because it's cheaper and easier than convincing them to vote. And that's the dangerous thing about this. When you take "don't vote" off the table, then people actually have some motivation to get informed, and I think that's the best we're even theoretically looking at for generations yet.

Not that I think this is going to happen, either, but that's why increasing turnout matters so much. I wouldn't mind a conservative party in the US that had to actually convince voters half as much as I mind one that doesn't even have to try. We're getting the really scary stuff because voter suppression and gerrymandering means they're not even bothering to have a platform that considers minorities. They don't have to do any coalition-building. They just have to do the bare minimum to convince white voters that they aren't literally as bad as the KKK for voting for Trump, and keep as many people as possible away from the polls.
posted by Sequence at 12:33 AM on January 23, 2017 [12 favorites]


I'm all for compulsory voting, as long as one of the things I can vote for is 'none of the above'.

And if that gets enough votes, we get a new election.
posted by leibniz at 12:40 AM on January 23, 2017 [18 favorites]


you can just put a blank piece of paper in if you want!

I believe the correct and traditional approach is to draw a penis on your voting paper. Get it right, Smoke.
posted by lollusc at 12:41 AM on January 23, 2017 [14 favorites]


Is it too much a burden...
More of a burden for some people than it is for you.

A good start would be to apply roughly the same rules as jury duty, and for the same reasons. Employer is disallowed from penalizing you for taking time to do it, must pay you for the time under most circumstances, etc. If for whatever reason an employer isn't paying your for the time, the state pays you at least a token amount, since by serving on a jury or voting you're doing a real service to the community.

Of course, what jury duty pays is a bit of a joke -- the panhandlers I know do a lot better in a day than that -- but the precise amount is a separate issue from the general principle. It doesn't' matter much to those of us for whom taking a couple hours in the middle of the day is inconsequential, and for whom the $40 is just a really nice lunch, but makes a real difference to precisely those least likely to vote.

Might be worth considering that the amount should be proportional to the amount of time people in the district spent in line the last few elections, as an incentive towards more and better polling places for disadvantaged communities.
posted by dirge at 12:44 AM on January 23, 2017 [11 favorites]


must pay you for the time under most circumstances

Unless I've had incredibly unusual jobs my whole life, it's quite unusual for employers to actually cover this. Maybe large corporations do, for more professional-level employees? And most states doing this, it's clearly not intended to be a wage to live on, it's intended to cover things like travel expenses. (Even where they include mileage, it's usually much, much lower than the actual IRS mileage rates.) I'm pretty sure that much like conservatives want to reduce turnout among the lower classes, the lack of jury pay is similarly intended to stack juries in a certain way from the beginning.

That said, voting has one out for this that jury duty doesn't: We totally could have a system where you could do it anytime in the preceding 30 days, and while that still makes it difficult for people without transportation, then we get into just paying postage for people to vote by mail? There's definitely easier solutions for this than for the jury problem, which really does require that people make themselves available for days or even months at a stretch.
posted by Sequence at 12:53 AM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]


It warms my heart seeing other australians be pro compulsory voting. I once mentioned it to some American friends and from their reaction you'd think I'd suggested pouring honey on kittens or something equally horrifying.
posted by kitten magic at 12:56 AM on January 23, 2017 [14 favorites]


I just feel there should be some check that you know what you're voting for.
Hmm... Some sort of literacy test, perhaps?

Given recent events, I'm rather more sympathetic than I'd previously been towards the idea of barriers against idiots voting. On the other hand, as a practical matter, who decides who gets to vote, and how do they decide? If the people currently in charge of the Federal Election Commission are administering the "voter qualification test", are you satisfied that the outcome will be fair and reasonable?
posted by dirge at 12:59 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


doesn't' matter much to those of us for whom taking a couple hours in the middle of the day is inconsequential, and for whom the $40 is just a really nice lunch, but makes a real difference to precisely those least likely to vote.

Ah, but that's another difference with Australia - the AEC ensures booths are appropriately staffed. I've never in my voting life waited more than ten minutes to vote, and you can pre-poll for weeks before hand, and also do mail in votes. Truly, it doesn't have to be like it is in the US.
posted by smoke at 12:59 AM on January 23, 2017 [32 favorites]


Regarding a "no idiots" rule - I understand about Trump, but that's really the most awful elitism. Are less intelligent people less deserving of rights? Do they pay less tax? Deserve less representation? Are they less affected by laws?

If the problem is voter education, then educate the fricking voters; don't treat them like animals.
posted by smoke at 1:01 AM on January 23, 2017 [69 favorites]


My employer pays our usual wage during jury duty. We have to hand over the money we get for attending.

I like the idea of being able to vote at any time during the preceding 30 days or whatever like sequence suggests. I like to pre poll vote but I feel a bit guilty since it's supposed to be for those who can't vote on the day. I'm free on Saturdays, I just like to reserve the right to stay home in my jammies all day. Which is why it has to be compulsory because if I'm going to get dressed in real clothes (and, God forbid, wear a bra), then dammit, everyone else has to go out to vote too.

Also no one ever has gluten free democracy sausages and that's taken all the thrill out of it.
posted by kitten magic at 1:02 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Requiring "educated" voters means "more white" voters. This is a bad idea morally, and it means more Trumpism not less.
posted by zompist at 1:03 AM on January 23, 2017 [19 favorites]


smoke, there's a lower north shore Sydney polling place that always has big lines but that's because it's close to the cafes and supermarkets and everyone is already nearby for other reasons and votes while they are there in nice flat walking distance. On the map there is another nearby but it is at the bottom of a bloody great hill no one could be arsed walking down and up again. So we wait because standing in the shade for 45 mins is still preferable to that hill.

But in non-geographically challenged locales, yes, ten mins.
posted by kitten magic at 1:06 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Abstain from Beans
posted by chavenet at 1:06 AM on January 23, 2017


lack of jury pay is similarly intended to stack juries in a certain way from the beginning.

Yeah, that's quite obviously the case. Tempted to go on about my jury duty experiences, but it'd be a bit of a derail.

Regarding a "no idiots" rule - I understand about Trump, but that's really the most awful elitism.

Precisely my point, actually. A "no idiots" rule would be awesome if it could be administered by perfectly dispassionate omniscient angels. In practice it's horrifying because it'd be enforced by idiots like us.
posted by dirge at 1:07 AM on January 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


I disagree: I think it's awful no matter what. Paternalism like that is effectively practiced through parliaments/congresses etc to a degree, anyway. Formalising it - however perfectly - creates and enforces a caste system. People deserve a vote, regardless of intelligence/understanding.
posted by smoke at 1:12 AM on January 23, 2017 [12 favorites]


Also feeling all warm and fuzzy about Waleed Aly having a piece in the NYT. My mother absolutely adores him. I can't quite describe him as her celebrity crush, but we'd be VERY welcome to bring him home as a son in law. Though I fear she'd be all giggly.
posted by kitten magic at 1:14 AM on January 23, 2017 [8 favorites]


A "no idiots" rule would be awesome if it could be administered by perfectly dispassionate omniscient angels. In practice it's horrifying because it'd be enforced by idiots like us.

You know, I'd never made this association before, and pardon because it's 3am and my sleep schedule is stupid off and I still have to work in the morning so I'm not sure I'm at my most sensible, but--this seems to precisely explain why Republicans in the US--and I mean the electorate, not just the people in power--are okay with the system as it is. They're okay with people being disenfranchised precisely because they believe that the system is ultimately in God's hands as long as it's in the hands of Republicans, and that paternalism is okay because of this.

Not that I'm saying they aren't also pretty racist, but they think that racism is justified because that hypothetical omniscient paternal force isn't hypothetical as far as they're concerned. Which is why talking about the hypothetical paternalism is a problem, because then you have to persuade people that either a) God is not running this country, or b) God is not making good decisions.
posted by Sequence at 1:25 AM on January 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


People deserve a vote, regardless of intelligence/understanding

Well, in principle that gets pretty deeply into what the purpose of voting is, I guess. If it's first and foremost an affirmation of human dignity and free will, then of course anything human (for your given definition of human) should get a vote. If it's primarily aimed at achieving a functioning socio-economic order of some sort, then anything intelligent (for your given definition of intelligent) should get a vote.

In practice, those things are largely indistinguishable, given the slipperiness of the definitions involved.

In any case, I have yet to encounter a voter qualification test that I'd consider legitimate grounds for disqualifying anybody, not because I think everybody's qualified, but because I think we're terrible at judging each others qualifications.
posted by dirge at 1:28 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


I find the idea of mandatory voting appalling.
It's anti-American on the face of it, democracy includes the right not to participate.

My state managed almost 80% voter participation on this past election, with a record number of votes cast.
This is actually slightly down from previous years as it is the first year of automatic voter registration and, despite it being a Presidential election, the state/local ballots were underwhelming.

We achieve this by making it easy to vote, not by threatening you if you don't.
Vote by mail, online (and now automatic) voter registration, a (mostly) impartial ballot pamphlet that arrives at least a week before the election.
No standing in line, no one shouting at you, no taking time off of work.
If you don't vote in Oregon, it's because you really don't want to.

Could we do better? Probably.
A tax credit if you vote, more competitive races, pre-paid postage, we could likely get up to 90%.
But that other 10%?
They're going to be voting for SpongeBob or their cat anyway, so what's the reason for making them do it?

The point is, make partipation easier, don't punish the non-participant.
posted by madajb at 1:30 AM on January 23, 2017 [19 favorites]


I find the idea of mandatory voting appalling.

How about incentivized voting? Can I get you on board for that?
posted by dirge at 1:32 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've never understood why voting isn't mandatory but jury duty is. If one is essential to our government functioning, shouldn't the other also be?
posted by Beholder at 1:50 AM on January 23, 2017 [15 favorites]


Don't care was made to care.
posted by Segundus at 1:54 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


As I once said to an ex during a disagreement over voting, "You know, if you don't vote, you completely forfeit the right to bitch about the government for the next four years..."

Go ahead and write in Cthulhu if you want. Because, even if you did, you still took the time and effort to exert your right of choice, instead of shrugging and letting others do it for you.
posted by Samizdata at 1:54 AM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


justified because that hypothetical omniscient paternal force isn't hypothetical as far as they're concerned

I'd go a step further, though I hesitate to pretend I can read minds, and say it's simply that they feel they're personally fully qualified to judge you, me, anybody. I personally know people for whom that omniscient paternal force is very, very, real, but who are very aware of their limited comprehension of it, and therefor withhold judgement of others. I also know people that don't habitually appeal to any higher power, but who will dismiss the perspective of entire populations without hesitation.

The problem isn't that they're hearing God speak to them, it's that they think they fully understand him, and can't allow that others perceive the world differently. I think in some way it's a bit like the rage you feel upon encountering "someone wrong on the internet" but amped up to 11 by conviction and insecurity.
posted by dirge at 1:55 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


First time Australian voter here - I happily voted for the Green party, because, due to preferential voting, I knew my vote would never be "wasted" on marginal parties and it would flow onto my next preferences even if they didn't win (Greens won in my electorate anyway)

The voting system itself was also absurdly efficient. You'd think that a country with mandatory voting would be overwhelmed by voters but no - I had the option of 4 voting centers nearest to me. Voting was held on Saturday. I walked up to one over lunch time, and was surprised to see no queue at all. The EC had constructed about 50 voting bays out of cardboard (literally) which gave you some privacy to fill in your preferences, and then big voting boxes (also out of cardboard) to accept the vote papers, so there was always more voting bays than people trying to vote.

I was in and out of there in 5 minutes. I don't know anyone who complains about having to vote. In many places you get a free hot dog out of it. And everyone enjoys a bit of competition, having a go at ribbing your mates who lost this time. I think it helps that both sides of politics aren't particularly different to each other... sure the partisan news characterizes each other side as the worst disaster to befall the nation ever, and the squabbling in parliament is just ridiculous, but I think everyone knows there are certain crucial values that both parties have to align to (due to the compulsory voting) because neither side can be captured by the fringe so both parties are very centrist.

On a side topic, there have been a few people wearing blue MAGA caps... Make Australia Great Again... (and blue is our flag color)... and I think, no, Australia is already ahead of the US in many regards, if people think Trump was doing bad things electing ex Goldman Sachs employees to positions of power in government, well we've just DIRECTLY elected the director of Goldman Sachs to the Prime Minister position here. And if people think Trump's "build a wall" position on immigration is extreme, they haven't seen Australia's Border Force / Offshore detention policies where we literally torture asylum seekers as a warning for others to stay away (I wish I were joking).
posted by xdvesper at 1:59 AM on January 23, 2017 [16 favorites]


As an Australian who also thinks compulsory voting (or compulsory showing up) is a very good thing, I genuinely believe the Brexit result would have been different if people were required to vote here in the UK.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:08 AM on January 23, 2017 [13 favorites]


The point is, make participation easier, don't punish the non-participant.

Pay for participation then. For people on the lowest socio-economic rungs, you're taking time away from their daily struggle with their boss, landlord, grey-market side businesses, and various kafkaesque bureaucracies with which they're obligated to engage. Requiring participation in the absence of compensation is, for practical purposes, punishment. Treating non-participation as normal is undemocratic.
posted by dirge at 2:10 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Ah, but that's another difference with Australia - the AEC ensures booths are appropriately staffed. I've never in my voting life waited more than ten minutes to vote, and you can pre-poll for weeks before hand, and also do mail in votes. Truly, it doesn't have to be like it is in the US.

Yep. This is what I found most frustrating watching the US election. Elections should not be a burden to participate in. I live abroad so I either postal or pre-poll at a high commission. When I worked Saturdays I would do a postal vote then too. Too easy.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:14 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Another Australian here, and a political scientist, who sees compulsory voting as a key feature of a smoothly functioning representative democracy.

They're going to be voting for SpongeBob or their cat anyway, so what's the reason for making them do it?

You completely remove the massive waste of time, money and energy that is "getting out the vote" and all that it entails. Political parties can direct their campaign resources to arguing policies, rather than wheedling people to turn up in the first place. Campaigns become more focussed on the centre rather than the base.

It encourages voters to push past the inconveniences of going along to vote. It does need, though, to be accompanied by systems like postal voting to help overcome other barriers certain groups might face in getting to the polls. A more sensible polling day helps.

Also, no more worrying about whether it will be raining (or worse) on polling day, and how random weather events might shape the entire government for the next X years.

Nobody is forced to mark their ballot paper - Australia has what's known as the "informal vote", which varies between 2% and 6% in federal elections, where people turn in a blank ballot or write Mickey Mouse on it or whatever - so really we just have "compulsory turning up". Given that I've been asked to turn up for jury selection more times than I've voted in UK elections since moving here in 2001, which has far more serious implications for eating into one's time, I don't see why compulsory voting is a bridge too far.
posted by rory at 2:26 AM on January 23, 2017 [54 favorites]


Campaigns become more focussed on the centre rather than the base.

Continuing this thought: it's an incentive to parties to attempt to educate everyone about the issues, not just speak to their own side, because you can't take any comfort in the idea that the apathetic just won't show up. (Not that that's very comforting - but if you know that everyone will be there, you'll be trying to reach everyone.)
posted by rory at 2:31 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


dirge: "The point is, make participation easier, don't punish the non-participant.

Pay for participation then. For people on the lowest socio-economic rungs, you're taking time away from their daily struggle with their boss, landlord, grey-market side businesses, and various kafkaesque bureaucracies with which they're obligated to engage. Requiring participation in the absence of compensation is, for practical purposes, punishment. Treating non-participation as normal is undemocratic.
"

Not only that but as a mass transit user, it cost me two dollars to attend my local voting location, as well as an extra two hours of my day due to quirks in the bus routes. And we won't mention standing in the rain waiting for buses.

A free hot dog (or even a cup of something hot) would have been lovely.
posted by Samizdata at 2:34 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


There are also 23 million or so residents in the United States who are prohibited from voting. 12 million are lawful permanent residents.

That's an awful lot of people to exclude.

Before worrying about compulsory voting America might want to consider extending the franchise to everyone who lives in America.
posted by srboisvert at 2:49 AM on January 23, 2017 [16 favorites]


I don't think mandatory voting is the answer. I think making voting easier is the answer. Stop gerrymandering, stop voter suppression, stop trying to exclude people. I think it would achieve much the same thing with the added benefit of improving the quality of the elections.

Seriously, some of the stories about voter suppression that come out of the States sound a lot like Mugabe got paid by the GOP to do a series of lectures on "How To Fix An Election"
posted by trif at 2:59 AM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


> "Before worrying about compulsory voting America might want to consider extending the franchise to everyone who lives in America."

Why not both?
posted by kyrademon at 3:04 AM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]


It's anti-American on the face of it, democracy includes the right not to participate.

You still have the Sartrean radical freedom to not participate. You can go in and spoil your ballot paper, or write in Harambe or whoever, or you can refuse to go in and pay the fine. (Or if you want to be peculiarly American about it, refuse to pay the fine, holing yourself up in an armed compound with several years' supply of ammo and canned rations; if people do that over taxes and grazing rights, they'll do so over the freedom to not vote.)

Ultimately, pure philosophical ideas of freedom are a distraction from the dynamics of real-world systems and their emergent consequences. Should the right to not participate in the democratic process be any more of a given than the “right” to not pay taxes (for which one can find endless amounts of philosophical argument)?
posted by acb at 3:06 AM on January 23, 2017 [14 favorites]


The "right" to not pay taxes is a particularly bitter fight in the US, is it not? If that is the comparison used to encourage the adoption of mandatory voting I think we're onto a loser.
posted by trif at 3:11 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


If compulsory voting was a way to end targeted disenfranchisement, then I'd be for it, absent that, I don't see it as anywhere near as important as gerrymandering, the electoral college, and the effects of money and celebrity on the system here in the US, and I don't see mandatory voting being a cure for any of those issues in itself. As a general principle I'm opposed to the idea of forcing people who do not want to participate to do so especially given the minimal likelihood of there being radical change in the US's binary process of selection.

Demanding participation from people who, one presumes, are less educated about politics and policy, given their lack of participation where interest in the process and ideas being debated strongly leads to voting, doesn't strike me as a way to end up with better results as a necessary outcome. And it certainly doesn't make me think a Trump wouldn't win in an election where less knowledge and more celebrity is involved.

Perhaps the idea that the parties would change the people who run and the policies they support, I'm not sure of that or of how much or in which direction those changes would come, but judging from people who do lack knowledge or interest in politics or almost any subject and then make choices on things that subject controls or contains, I'm not really all hopeful the decisions made would be better, and they may end up being more simplified and mob based than the system we have now. Or not, I won't write off the idea under guise of a possibility I can't possibly defend as true any more than I believe supporters can defend some of the positive claims as true either, it's just educated guesswork at this point and would need a lot more fleshing out in detail to come close to convince me of supporting the idea enthusiastically.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:15 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


The "right" to not pay taxes is a particularly bitter fight in the US, is it not?

I don't really think so.
The amount, and the ways taxes are spent, yes.

But I think the vast majority of people in the U.S. agree that (some) taxes are a necessary evil.
Those who do not believe in taxes at all are definitely fringe, but they get headlines for sure.

(Which is not to say that minimizing the number and amount of tax you pay is not a national sport...)
posted by madajb at 3:22 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


Related: in most of Europe voter registration is automatic. The British/American system of making people jump through bureaucratic hoops to be able to vote, and then having governments arrange the hoops so as to choose the right voters, is not universal...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:25 AM on January 23, 2017 [12 favorites]


I don't think mandatory voting is the answer. I think making voting easier is the answer. Stop gerrymandering, stop voter suppression, stop trying to exclude people. I think it would achieve much the same thing with the added benefit of improving the quality of the elections.

As other people have said, in Australia ease of voting really comes with the mandatory package. Because our civic establishment decided that voting is actually a priority for citizens to engage with such that everyone should show up, the act of voting is facilitated rather than discouraged by government entities. It's a fundamental difference in the value that is placed on the vote of each citizen.

Another Aussie who believes passionately in mandatory voting / mandatory show up and draw a dragon on your ballot time.
posted by chiquitita at 3:27 AM on January 23, 2017 [14 favorites]


Or to personalize it a little more. There have been times where I've chosen not to vote. For example, after moving to a new town where I wasn't sure of how long I was going to stay, I chose not to vote because I was not informed enough about the town itself, the people running, and felt it would be wrong to impose my choice on a place I might not be staying in for long. If I lack knowledge about something, demanding I make a decision about that thing runs counter to my beliefs and I would desire to refuse. I also would take offense at being demanded to waste my time in providing proof of my lack of interest or knowledge by submitting blank or otherwise marred ballots. If wish not to be involved, that is my wish, not to play make believe or satisfy the values of others against my will.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:30 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I also would take offense at being demanded to waste my time in providing proof of my lack of interest or knowledge by submitting blank or otherwise marred ballots. If wish not to be involved, that is my wish, not to play make believe or satisfy the values of others against my will.

While you were in those towns did you make use of the roads, public parks, and other amenities? If so, the community has provided you with services that require the smooth functioning of government. It doesn't seem too much to ask to that it be able to inconvenience you for an hour 1 day a year so that you can note your lack of interest in making that government work.
posted by nangua at 3:42 AM on January 23, 2017 [33 favorites]


I suppose making it mandatory to turn up and put a piece of paper in a box would remove a lot of the impediments that prevent people from voting.

"i'm here now, so i might as well cast an opinion" isn't such a bad thing. If you still didn't want to vote then you can always void your ballot.

I'm a bit more on board with this idea now.
posted by trif at 3:44 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Universal automatic voter registration would probably be a less offensive first step - along with all the other necessary measures to stop disenfranchisement.

Here in Denmark, voter participation at elections is generally in the 80s - mostly the high 80s. Most people see it as a duty to vote, and government makes an effort to get new citizens (immigrants) to vote. And even our current right wing government is forced to moderate its ideological fervor.
Referendums are a different matter, and I see them as inherently undemocratic. Last time we had a referendum, it was impossible, even for politicians, to figure out what we were supposed to vote for or against. That was the first time I didn't vote, ever, and I still regret it (though I still haven't really figured out what the question was). When the participation comes down to 60-70%, the populists almost always win, sometimes the left, sometimes the right, and it is always bad for society and for democracy. This leads me to think high participation leads to more moderation as stated in TFA, even if this participation is not achieved through mandatory voting.
posted by mumimor at 3:54 AM on January 23, 2017 [8 favorites]


It doesn't seem too much to ask to that it be able to inconvenience you for an hour 1 day a year so that you can note your lack of interest in making that government work.

Also, once it's the law that everyone, without exception, must show up to vote, the resources will be made available to streamline the process. Voting will no longer be a matter of personal choice and personal responsibility, with the proviso that if you have a precarious job and live miles away from your booth which is understaffed, it's your responsibility to negotiate with your employer to take leave to vote, and save up beforehand to accommodate the hit in pay (which, of course, makes not voting a rational choice for those for whom it's either vote or put food on the table and perhaps also keep one's job). If everybody has to vote, employers can't compel their employees to break the law by not showing up; whether you can afford to vote stops being your problem.

Ideally, this would be achieved with an Australian-style apolitical electoral commission standardising the process, and making sure that sufficient resources are made available to allow everybody to vote efficiently. In the US, there's a likelihood that Koch-affiliated local legislatures would resist this and fight like devils to keep poor/black booths understaffed and underfunded, but at least, if the voters are compelled to queue, they can't be sacked for exercising their democratic rights.
posted by acb at 4:07 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


Referendums are a different matter, and I see them as inherently undemocratic.

The referendum is a bastard child of the election and the fascist torchlight rally.
posted by acb at 4:08 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


It doesn't seem too much to ask to that it be able to inconvenience you for an hour 1 day a year so that you can note your lack of interest in making that government work.

Well, it's my hour and my life so I'd prefer that being my evaluation, but even were it the case, as you have it, my choice over who is best able to serve the needs of the people of whatever community I happen to find myself in may not be the way that community would, on their own, choose representation. So, if we enter the pretense of any one vote mattering in any election, my vote could shift the representation of a community from that which the majority wanted to one which an uninformed and non-representative voter wanted due to being forced to participate. Were I then to leave the community a short time later, my choice would still stand and the community would have to live with the result. Why would I wish to do that to others who may have much more involvement the issues at hand and more permanence in the community? If they wish to add toll roads or add levies for funding, or to decide not to increase funding via toll or levy why should I change their decision given I won't be there to benefit or pay for the choice?

It seems to me that these sorts of discussions tend to revolve around ideas of politics themselves as a binary, with one's preferred party carrying values that "should" be implemented in all areas. So any one might assume agrees, in general, with that party and one's own values should seek to impose that party's rule everywhere one can even if that person is not going to be directly involved in that community afterward. I can't agree with that, and think that attitude is anti-democratic, which may be true of the entirety of the US political system, but that doesn't make me want to also then join in the adversarialism for the sake of it. At that point you may as well get rid of elections all together and simply require people at 18 to register with one party or the other and rely on census results to determine officials. Any place with more Democrats than Republicans is a Democratic area, and with more Republicans a Republican one and we can end all the other pretense over democracy in action.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:22 AM on January 23, 2017


Demanding participation from people who, one presumes, are less educated about politics and policy, given their lack of participation where interest in the process and ideas being debated strongly leads to voting, doesn't strike me as a way to end up with better results as a necessary outcome.

It's pretty clear that literally everyone who believed in rich asshole's campaign claims either couldn't give a shit about or understood nothing about politics and policy. Could the outcome actually have been worse?

Whereas, with compulsory voting, an independent electoral commission (which draws up the electorates, so no gerrymandering), voting on a Saturday, plentiful and efficient voting stations, early voting, an easy-to-use postal voting system... let's put it this way, Australia didn't have a massive protest after the Federal election last year. No one questioned the legitimacy of the result.

Did I mention that our campaigns usually last less than 2 months? Our governments spend the majority of their terms actually governing.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:30 AM on January 23, 2017 [17 favorites]


Well, it's my hour and my life so I'd prefer that being my evaluation

How do you feel about jury duty?
posted by acb at 4:47 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Incidentally, I love that all the aussies have showed up to defend compulsory voting. Nice to see you all.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:04 AM on January 23, 2017 [17 favorites]


I keep wondering what it would take to have elections happen on a federal holiday — moving Veteran's Day a few days seems especially appropriate given how widespread the “they died to protect our freedom” sentiment is across party lines. It seems like it'd be a lot easier than having to the arguments about mandatory voting, figuring out how to deal with the people who have very strong religious objections, etc.
posted by adamsc at 5:05 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm Nthing all the other Aussies who have expressed satisfaction with voting over here. Yes really, it works that well.

Here's a bunch of things I think we're doing right and why they're a good idea. I'd be very happy if the US would just liberally steal and implement as many ideas as possible from this list:
  • Mandatory voting. I think it helps to make voting a legal requirement, because it deals with issues of disenfranchisement. It's funny how quickly employers change their opinion when employees are complying with the law rather than just taking time off.
  • Vote on Saturday. This is the ideal day of the week for Western countries, I think: a) it's not a work day for most people b) there's no conflict with the majority of religious services. Of course, in other countries the weekends don't span Saturday and Sunday so you choose the day appropriately.
  • Ease of postal voting. Aus has plenty of remote citizens who may not appreciate a several hour drive on voting day, but if you give them a month's advance notice to do a postal vote, they don't complain.
  • Food incentives. It's worth explaining the role of the sausage (by which we mean a sausage, a piece of cheap white bread, ketchup and maybe fried onions) in Australian culture to understand why it's such a good idea: a) it's the go-to easy meal associated with events, often sporting events, but also civic events of all sorts - community things at libraries and such b) the food isn't Michelin-starred but is rarely terrible c) anyone can cook sausages for the public without needing to be a professional chef d) it's a meal that has happy associations with other things for lots of people, those things being friends and beer e) almost everyone is culturally attuned to the public "sausage sizzle" being an acceptable way of feeding lots of people, because everyone grew up with it. And so on. So to take that and associate it with voting is utter brilliance. In a previous derail about all this I polled five or six commenters before the mods killed the derail, and the consensus seemed to be that the closest thing Americans have is donuts. (Interesting thought experiment: see what food satisfies my criteria a)-e) in the context of American culture rather than Australian.)
  • Paper. By which I mean a) paper voting, not electronic b) the ubiquitous cardboard voting booths. Electronic voting is still disastrously insecure and the best option AFAICT is still paper voting with both automated scanning and human counting. Cardboard voting booths are great because they scale easily - if you have high turnout at one location, you have options to a) redirect people b) better, unfold a few pieces of cardboard and you can instantly handle higher throughput. Yay!
  • High public confidence in the AEC. I think Thella above is correct: having a neutral vote-administering body helps with both gerrymandering and public trust in election results. Also, having an organisation that administers voting nationally means it's easier to implement clever things like the democracy sausage, because the food providers are not organising food around something that's already chaotic.
  • Nationally trusted figures like Antony Green, an election/political analyst who pops up at federal election time. In US terms, think maybe a trusted journalist like Walter Cronkite but with a statistics obsession? In any case, he helps strengthen trust in institutions and the democratic process.
Some of those points are sort of a synthesis of comments from other Aussies in-thread, so credit to them.
posted by iffthen at 5:13 AM on January 23, 2017 [35 favorites]


I have two questions:
1. How many questions/positions are on your ballot? Two? Three? Is it 1 member of each house of parliament, or are there also local elections and/or questions? How many of them? This last November, there were only about 6 or 7 things I had to vote for, but we didn't have either Senator up for re-election. By comparison, I think California is still printing out all their state questions from last November.
2. How often do you have to vote? Here in Tennessee, we have 3 elections every even-numbered year (Presidential primary/regular primary/general, and I think sometimes another one for a primary runoff), and typically 2 special elections or municipal/county elections in odd-numbered years, sometimes on unusual days (the last Memphis municipal elections were on a Thursday).
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:22 AM on January 23, 2017


Nthing compulsory voting wouldn't change much if the underlying problems aren't fixed too. Districts would continue to be gerrymandered, election cycles would still take two years because there's too much money too burn starting from the primaries and people are still voting on a workday, and I'm guessing not everyone can afford to take half a day (if they're lucky and there are no block-long queues).
Start by making districts roundish (or squarish or any sort of somewhat regular polygon shape depending on the geographical limitations of the area), limiting the duration of the campaign for no longer than a few months instead of two freakin' years of circus, and either allow everyone to mail-in their votes, or move elections from Friday to Sunday so everyone gets a fair shot at voting.

I don't agree or disagree with the idea of mandatory voting, even if I missed just one referendum in the past 17 years of calls to vote (including European) and that was because I could barely walk to the toilet. I have made my protest votes (either by leaving the ballot blank, voting on the Maoists because I find their complete lack of restraint on their outdoors charming - you don't see "death to traitors" that often anymore, or something still on my bucketlist, voting on the "Guy Fawkes Party for Parliamentary Renovation"), and if it was mandatory and for some reason I felt I couldn't vote on the two parties I'm mostly aligned with, I could still do it. Of course, for electronic voting, a "Marshawn Lynch" button would be more or less required.
posted by lmfsilva at 5:33 AM on January 23, 2017


Is there a group advocating for a US federal holiday on election day, or moving it to a Saturday? That, plus a requirement that employees who don't have that day off for whatever reason must be given leave to vote on that day or early, would make it much easier for people to vote, especially working people with less flexible schedules.

(e.g. in Vermont you have the right to leave [vacation or unpaid] from your employer on "town meeting day", when local elections and town meetings [everyone in a small town who wants to votes directly on things like town budget.] https://www.sec.state.vt.us/elections/town-meeting-local-elections.aspx. State employees have the day off and some or all schools I think?)

Don't forget that in the US, elections are essentially run locally (between local towns/districts and state government). We live in a more complex federal system of jurisdictions (and more populous) country than e.g. Australia. So the only way for a national effort to get everyone to vote is indirectly -- make it easier for people to take time off work, to investigate and enforce voting rights, and try to ensure that local election comissions have the resources and pressure to give everyone reasonable access (including enough polling places with enough staff and equipment.)
posted by thefool at 5:35 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


The whole "it's a duty to participate" thing is deeply flawed, and I don't see people arguing for bringing back the draft on similar grounds. Let people vote or not, as they please. Democracy does not require unwilling participants.

I've always gotten four hours to go vote, even at all civilian jobs, but I understand that's not the rule. Let's work on having no willing voter penalized for voting and move from there, not just force people to do it.
posted by corb at 5:45 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


It's pretty clear that literally everyone who believed in rich asshole's campaign claims either couldn't give a shit about or understood nothing about politics and policy. Could the outcome actually have been worse?

Framing things in a post hoc manner makes it seem like a good argument, but in future occurrences it could turn out in the opposite manner. Looking backwards, at worst, we'd still have Trump but with the popular vote too, since we already know he won, but looking forward we could end up with someone like him in place of another were things to change in a way to demand more unknowledgable voters to participate. It may be that these hordes of new voters would mostly vote in ways that align with our values, but I see no reason to believe that's the case as things stand. It more seems like you're just adding a few million coin flips to the proceedings or possibly pushing people who wouldn't otherwise declare a party preference to align themselves to one or the other and harden their belief sets along party lines.

How do you feel about jury duty?

I feel the US judicial system suffers from many similar problems to its political system, too strong an adversarial system, money can essentially buy outcome in many cases, and the jury system is a mess, among others. I don't really trust the idea of "peers" by the selection process used, and as a night worker, it would be a huge problem for me to be called to serve in more ways than just the financial burden it would place on me and the difficulties it would cause my place of employment. I'm not sure what the best alternative would be, but I don't see things the way they are as all that effective. If one wants to speak of compulsory we might then want to also revisit the draft, since the armed services are also an essential element of society.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:51 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


The problem with compulsory voting is that it doesn't close the education gap. Forcing people who are intentionally under-educated to vote, as in a system like the US', where education is underfunded, makes it even more vulnerable to demagogues.

There's also the fundamental problem of expertise and abstraction. A lot of the things we vote over now are so complex. Here in Canada plenty were peeved about the F-35, however few would be able to ring off to you about how it fits in with other government spending and projects at large. It was one highlighted case of many other occurrences of mismanagement and waste. It's hard to be informed on all pertinent issues of government for each election. Some guy who makes 100k a year wants his taxes lower, and votes to cripple services he doesn't realize he uses.

Abstraction is the other roadblock, where most people cannot draw connecions between policy and their hearts. It's very difficult to have raw feelings about extremely complex, distant decisions.
posted by constantinescharity at 5:57 AM on January 23, 2017


  Democracy does not require unwilling participants

No, but it does drag them along as victims, like the majority who didn't vote for Trump in the USA, or the Scots pulled along into Brexit despite majority opposition.
posted by scruss at 6:03 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Huffy Puffy:

Australia has 3 levels of government

Federal – An election at most 3 years since previous election (government chooses when). 2 houses, so 2 ballot papers.

State – I live in Victoria. Election at most 4 years since previous election. Again government decides, but expectation is will ensure 'clear air' for a federal election. 2 houses, so 2 ballots in most states.

Local – In Victoria at least all held on same day. I think held every three years. In my electorate (Melbourne - major city) separate ballot for council and mayor, but pretty sure that's atypical.

No other questions. We don't vote for judges, prosecutors, etc. They are all appointed by government.
posted by puffmoike at 6:06 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


As I once said to an ex during a disagreement over voting, "You know, if you don't vote, you completely forfeit the right to bitch about the government for the next four years..."

Are you not aware that anarchism exists as a political philosophy, or have you just not considered why an anarchist would feel they have the right to bitch about the government even if they didn't vote?
posted by layceepee at 6:10 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Maybe their ex wasn't an anarchist, though.
posted by Panthalassa at 6:15 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


And not to derail, but it's important to note that in addition to compulsory voting, a truly independent electoral commission, Saturday elections, many well-staffed places to vote, postal voting, etc most of our elections use preferential voting methods.

It's seems bizarre to me (and probably most Australians on this thread, and in the general populace) that the self-proclaimed greatest democracy (and most other countries) uses first-past-the-post counting. In Australia we can vote for who we'd like to win regardless of whether we think they have any chance of doing so, safe in the knowledge that our vote will not be wasted, but redistributed to our next preferred candidate who remains in the race.

That seems like a fundamental aspect of a democracy to me…
posted by puffmoike at 6:18 AM on January 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


It's pretty clear that literally everyone who believed in rich asshole's campaign claims either couldn't give a shit about or understood nothing about politics and policy. Could the outcome actually have been worse?

I suspect, though obviously can't prove, that there were plenty of rust belt supporters who disagree with Trump on pretty much everything except his position on free trade, the same position that Bernie Sanders has. These voters (as Michael Moore points out) are from states that voted for Obama twice. These rust belt voters aren't deluded. They're desperate, though you might consider that the same thing, but isn't it establishment Democrats who helped make them desperate by supporting horribly one side trade agreements?

Trump is also almost certainly going to renegotiate trade deals in a way that gives birth to a sort of economic renaissance for American blue collar workers. If this happens, those single issue voters will be vindicated in supporting him. You might not agree, but they won't care. They just want their way of life back, if only partially.

So it's important, I think, to differentiate between his Confederate support in the South, his evangelical support in both the Mid West and suburbs, and - lastly - the usually Democrat voting rust belt supporters who pushed Trump over the finish line. It's important to do this, because the Democratic party can't write off these voters. They must re-evaluate their party support for free trade as it exist today. It's corporate welfare. Everyone hates it. It's the only issue that pretty much every American, from both major parties, believes is horribly unfair and corrupt to the bone. Democrats absolutely positively must have a come to Jesus moment on this issue if they want to guarantee a Trump defeat in four years.

Sorry my post is so long. I didn't expect it to be when I began writing it. : )
posted by Beholder at 6:22 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


The whole "it's a duty to participate" thing is deeply flawed, and I don't see people arguing for bringing back the draft on similar grounds. Let people vote or not, as they please. Democracy does not require unwilling participants.

Except that you don't really get to opt out of democracy (unless you go Kaczynski and live in a shack in the woods, and even then, only until you draw attention to yourself). One has to pay taxes and be bound by laws, and gets services as part of being in a society (even if these are only those of a minimal “nightwatchman state”). And given that government is a democracy, having a formalised ritual in which everybody is strongly encouraged to vote, and legally cannot be stopped from voting (“the deadline's in two days time, we need everyone to stay back and work overtime. Yes, I know there's an election, but you are a team player, aren't you?”) strengthens this. Otherwise, elections are conceded to whomever can get out the vote, or suppress their opponents' votes.
posted by acb at 6:25 AM on January 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


Maybe as a goal to work towards, but I would much rather make voting easier in the short term. Or at least keep it from getting more difficult.

More than anything, this seems remarkably tone deaf and ignorant right now. One of the biggest fights we have right now is against voter suppression, and a great number of Americans are think that minorities voting constitutes voter fraud. People are terrified of same day voter registration. I sat through a joke from my boss this past Friday that was 'lol, liberals vote twice'. Let's make it so everyone who wants to vote can vote first, and then we can worry about those who don't want to vote at all.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:28 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've never understood why voting isn't mandatory but jury duty is. If one is essential to our government functioning, shouldn't the other also be?


Just pointing out jury duty isn't mandatory because it is essential to government function; it's mandatory to help preserve the constitutional rights of the accused. Apples to oranges.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 6:29 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Personally, I would like to see:

Compulsory voting
An end to gerrymandering
The Senate proportioned by state population
An end to first-past-the-post
Either instant run-off voting or proportional representation
An end to the Electoral College
Election day made a national holiday
Election "day" extended to at least a full four-day weekend
Automatic voter registration
A requirement that all voting methods have a verifiable paper trail checkable by both the voter and those counting the votes
No revocation of voting rights for, at the very least, felons who have served their time (none for anyone at all but those actually convicted of treason might be better)
A completely nonpartisan commission in charge of all of this
The idea of someone who wants to legally vote not being able to considered a shameful national disgrace

I'll be pleasantly surprised if even the simplest of these happens before hell freezes over.
posted by kyrademon at 6:33 AM on January 23, 2017 [12 favorites]


In all honesty, it would change "U.S. politics" for the better forever. That might be why neither party has any interest in it.

It seems that every change to the way voting works is opposed by whoever is in power at the moment because, "well, the status quo got us here, so maybe it is not so bad..." Here in Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau was adamant in his campaigning that 2015 would be the last federal election with first part the post. In power, he seems not so sure of that view anymore.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:33 AM on January 23, 2017


I wish this quote were in the FPP:

"In a compulsory election, it does not pay to energize your base to the exclusion of all other voters. Since elections cannot be determined by turnout, they are decided by swing voters and won in the center."

Maybe both major parties would find this appealing.
posted by amtho at 6:38 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


Just pointing out jury duty isn't mandatory because it is essential to government function; it's mandatory to help preserve the constitutional rights of the accused.

In either case, it's to prevent the outcome from being disproportionately decided by a subgroup of the population with an interest in a specific type of outcome. Were jury registration voluntary, the jury pool would be disproportionately stacked by people with an interest in sitting on duties, who are exactly the wrong people to sit on duties. (Some will be people who dislike a specific group and put their name in just so they can make one of them go down, for example, and others to protect members of some group from being convicted.) Drawing in the disinterested majority dilutes the possibility for such attacks against the trial-by-jury system.

In the case of elections, voluntary voting puts the election (i.e., the decision for whom everybody will be governed by) in the hands of enthusiasts and fanatics, by allowing people who aren't particularly partisan on, say, free trade or social justice or taxation levels get out of making an effort and having a say. So compulsory voting could be seen as a mechanism to dilute the possibility of the electoral process being disproportionately driven by extremists of one side or another.
posted by acb at 7:05 AM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


Right at the moment, in the USA, we have policies dedicated to preventing people from voting. (The rigmarole of registering, voter ID laws, closing polling places in targeted areas, etc.) Much as mandatory voting is an interesting idea to debate, I'd place priority one on making it possible for everyone to vote, and then move on to seeing whether it needs to be mandatory.

As far as moving voting to Saturday, isn't Saturday the Sabbath for part of the population?
posted by Karmakaze at 7:14 AM on January 23, 2017


The republicans don't want this because it means the people they've been actively disenfranchising, get to vote. Guess who's in charge of the courts, congress and the executive branch?
I remember wistfully when we were told the Republican Party was going to go away.
Oh those social science cut ups.
posted by evilDoug at 7:16 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


As far as moving voting to Saturday, isn't Saturday the Sabbath for part of the population?

There is pre-poll voting, if one can't make it to the polls for one reason or another.
posted by acb at 7:33 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the persistence of "conservative" (in other words, radically unrepresentative and unfair) electoral systems in both the US and UK is inextricable from the history of democracy in each country. In both cases, the electoral system has been used historically to disenfranchise certain groups while enabling the economically powerful to buy political influence. The current shapes of each system simply don't make sense until you remember what the historical uses of the electoral system have been (and to a large extent, still are) in each locale.

A movement towards compulsory voting, proportional representation, and a lack of "moral" restrictions on voting (felon disqualification, for instance), on the other hand, would send a powerful message of equality and egalitarianism—that everyone's vote mattered, and mattered equally. The fact that reform is apparently off the cards is a simple reflection of the deeply hierarchical and unequal distribution of economic and social capital in both countries.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:41 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Put me down for the opposition to this, for a variety of reasons. To address various points made above...

1. Why should we require people who don't care about politics to go in? I've met plenty who don't vote for that reason, and some of them only come out when it really matters to them (e.g. the so-called "garden centre unionists" who voted no in the Scottish independence referendum. Surely, as many have said, we should just make it much much easier for people who do care to get in and vote. And we should protect rigorously against anti-minority election registration scams (which have happened in the UK too, albeit in a less glaring way than in the states.
2. People really think there should be qualifications to vote? Seriously? The most notorious were part of the Jim Crow laws. Once you've accepted the principle that only some people over the relevant age (and I'd remove the age requirement: I've met 14-yr-olds who would love to cast a smart vote, so long as you could be sure the parents weren't misusing it), then it's only a short hop over to "was grandpa registered?"
3. The idea that the Brexit vote would have gone differently? Well, much as I wish it would have, a) there's no evidence for that, and b) you shouldn't pick electoral systems because they give you the result you wanted. No - again, let younger people vote, as they did in Scotland, and EU citizens resident here - who can already vote in local elections. Sure, that would have helped the Remain side, but from a point of principle (promise) in both cases.
4. Similarly, would Trump have won? Quite possibly. Hillary's strengths were with high-info, high-income voters. They tend to turn out anyway. Not that I think we should decide on that basis, as above.
5. We're told it is a "push to the centre" - is that really helpful? Why not "push towards where the voters are"? Personally I'm sick of the kind of bland centrist liberal rhetoric that facilitates parties and politicians further to their right, whether it's from Labour, the SNP, or indeed some Tories. Again, not that I think compulsory voting would deliver that. I'd rather a fully proportional system so all voices are heard and where minority and coalition governments are the norm.
posted by imperium at 7:51 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Just pointing out jury duty isn't mandatory because it is essential to government function; it's mandatory to help preserve the constitutional rights of the accused. Apples to oranges.

How about preserving people's constitutional right to vote? Is that not worth an occasional dutiful trudge to the polls? We've just seen how vulnerable a non-compulsory-voting system can be to attempts to erode that right.

Much as mandatory voting is an interesting idea to debate, I'd place priority one on making it possible for everyone to vote

But this is the point (acb's point, for one): compulsory voting (/turning up) makes that possible. Everyone has to enroll, everyone has to turn up to vote, and as a result the whole system is geared towards making that happen rather than devising new obstacles to voting.

"In a compulsory election, it does not pay to energize your base to the exclusion of all other voters. Since elections cannot be determined by turnout, they are decided by swing voters and won in the center."

Over the years I've seen Australian federal politics swing further right than I would have liked more than once, but because of compulsory voting and other features of our system I've accepted that this represents the collective view of the nation, and because our elections are fought in the centre I've always been reassured that a right-wing government won't be too extreme; the battle is for the Overton window, not against Nazis. I've never had that same confidence in the UK electoral system, because of first-past-the-post and non-compulsory voting, which leaves every election result feeling vaguely illegitimate, as much a product of chance as a measure of people's actual will.
posted by rory at 7:51 AM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]


If losing my freedom to avoid the polls means an end to voter suppression and engineered long lines at the polls, I'm willing to pay that price.
posted by ocschwar at 8:03 AM on January 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


We're told it is a "push to the centre" - is that really helpful? Why not "push towards where the voters are"?

The spectrum of political opinion isn't a flat line, it's a bell curve. The centre is where most of the voters are. So of course it's helpful, if you don't want to end up with Donald Trump as president and emboldened Nazis strutting around Washington like they own the place.

This is why UK Labour have saddled themselves with an unelectable leader. If you get the rank and file of the party to elect the leader, you'll end up with someone to the left of most people in the country, who'll have a harder time getting elected. If you get the party's MPs to choose one, the people whose political futures depend on it, they'll be more likely to go for someone who will appeal to the middle ground, who might actually win. And when you win, you get to strut around Westminster like you own the place.
posted by rory at 8:07 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


I also completely agree with the elimination of gerrymandering. That should be, practically, a more or less straightforward matter - take census data, plot it on a GIS map, write an algorithm to draw borders around equally populated areas with a focus on smallest exterior perimeter...

I'm not trivialising the programming aspect, but once you have it, you have it. Rerun every time you take a census, new effective boundaries the year thereafter.


Fun fact: the Census folks already update population-based maps with GIS every 10 years, but specifically for urban areas. The resulting boundaries are pretty jagged, which is why state (and local?) agencies can "smooth" the boundaries for their (planning and funding allocation) purposes, which can expand but not reduce the boundaries.

This is all to say, drawing such boundaries, even simplified boundaries, isn't the issue.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:17 AM on January 23, 2017


Everyone has to enroll

Nope. I know people in their thirties that still haven't enrolled and don't intend to. For a variety of reasons.

I enrolled in a shopping mall, long ago. I was just wandering about window shopping as kids do, and someone from the AEC asked me if I was enrolled. I could have said 'yes' or 'get stuffed'. There was no pressure. I filled out the form anyhow and I've been on the electoral roll ever since. I remember the guy I was with calling me an idiot because now I'll get fined if I don't vote.
posted by adept256 at 8:18 AM on January 23, 2017


Funny... I was reading an old history book the other day - written in the 1920s or thereabouts - in which the secret ballot was still described as the "Australian system". Australia, leading the world in electoral reform one century at a time...
posted by clawsoon at 8:21 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Only if I can write in my own name.
posted by jonmc at 8:29 AM on January 23, 2017


But this is the point (acb's point, for one): compulsory voting (/turning up) makes that possible. Everyone has to enroll, everyone has to turn up to vote, and as a result the whole system is geared towards making that happen rather than devising new obstacles to voting.

No it does not. Even if we have automatic registration (which would be a huge improvement, not a politically difficult one), if the actual act of voting takes half a day in the middle of a workday, with no compensation for childcare or anything else, a great many people will just take the fine and not vote. Hell, if the fine is less than half a day's wages, many people will take the fine simply from a economic perspective.

And you're assuming that there would be automatic registration. Compulsory voting doesn't require that - it can say that you get a fine if you don't register to vote six weeks before the election. Yes, it is unreasonable, but I could easily see that being the compromise that would have to happen in order to make this politically viable in the US. Otherwise, who knows what sort of voter fraud may happen?
posted by dinty_moore at 8:36 AM on January 23, 2017


Nope. I know people in their thirties that still haven't enrolled and don't intend to. For a variety of reasons.

"Has to" in the sense of "it's compulsory by law". The fine for failing to enrol is currently $180.
posted by rory at 8:40 AM on January 23, 2017


As an anarchist, I deprecate this idea in the strongest terms. If you don't like forcing people to go to an official church, you should also not approve of forcing them to follow the rituals of the civic religion.
posted by languagehat at 8:42 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


This is why UK Labour have saddled themselves with an unelectable leader. If you get the rank and file of the party to elect the leader, you'll end up with someone to the left of most people in the country, who'll have a harder time getting elected. If you get the party's MPs to choose one, the people whose political futures depend on it, they'll be more likely to go for someone who will appeal to the middle ground, who might actually win

Except that after the Thatcher-era collapse of the industrial working class and a decade of coasting on Tony Blair's charisma, celebrity endorsements and Scottish antipathy to the Tories as its formal raison d'être further decayed, Labour had by then degenerated to a series of focus groups desperately scrambling for some content-free Blairoid spin to throw to the punters in the hope of shifting the polls. They actually went out and said that they had the value of “having strong values”. As abysmal as Corbyn has been as a leader, he was the least-worst choice because he actually stood for something, even if the content of that something was a 1970s-vintage shop-steward socialism that translates poorly to the current environment.

If the UK didn't have first-past-the-post, the problem could be solved with a few rounds of parties fissioning and fusing. In a proportional system, there'd be the option of German/Icelandic-style coalitions of the interests who won enough votes and are the most mutually reconcilable. Though I suspect that the Labour Party's days are numbered, especially if the Lib Dems come back to take the metropolitan liberal vote and UKIP take the social-conservative/resentment side of the vote.
posted by acb at 8:42 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


As an anarchist, I deprecate this idea in the strongest terms. If you don't like forcing people to go to an official church, you should also not approve of forcing them to follow the rituals of the civic religion.

Your metaphor falls down because governments and laws provably exist and affect people.
posted by acb at 8:43 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


The whole logic behind this - that if there's compulsory voting we would obviously have to make it much easier for the poor, minorities, women, and people living in urban areas to vote seems staggeringly naive. I think it's more likely that they'd make it compulsory with a fine, also require voter ID, and then use the income generated by the fines as an excuse for a tax cut for the rich.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:46 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


if the actual act of voting takes half a day in the middle of a workday, with no compensation for childcare or anything else, a great many people will just take the fine and not vote

I'm referring to the system I and other Australians know: elections take place on a Saturday, and if you know you won't be able to make it you can vote by post in the month leading up to it. Polling places are numerous and nearby for most people, but if not you can vote by post. If something unforeseen prevents you from voting on the day, which constitutes a valid and sufficient reason, they'll let you off the fine for not voting.

I wouldn't advocate compulsory voting that required you to scale the side of a mountain to visit the only polling place in the state at its peak between the hours of 1am and 2am on a Wednesday while your kids are at home alone being menaced by a chained leopard.
posted by rory at 8:47 AM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm referring to the system I and other Australians know: elections take place on a Saturday, and if you know you won't be able to make it you can vote by post in the month leading up to it. Polling places are numerous and nearby for most people, but if not you can vote by post. If something unforeseen prevents you from voting on the day, which constitutes a valid and sufficient reason, they'll let you off the fine for not voting.

That's nice, but that has little to nothing to do with the US system, which is purposefully set up to make it difficult for most of the population to vote and compulsory voting by itself will not help solve that problem. Compulsory voting is not the fix we need right now.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:51 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Apparently if your religion prevents you from voting, you're exempted as well. (This applies to some groups like Jehovah's Witnesses and various Orthodox Jewish sects, IIRC.)

They shouldn't make it too easy to get an exemption, because otherwise it'll be a matter of time before there's a voting-rights waiver in standard employment contracts, much like the EU working time directive waiver in UK employment contracts.
posted by acb at 8:53 AM on January 23, 2017


> "... compulsory voting that required you to scale the side of a mountain to visit the only polling place in the state at its peak between the hours of 1am and 2am on a Wednesday while your kids are at home alone being menaced by a chained leopard."

Although "chained-leopard voting" does have some advantages, they are generally outweighed by the drawbacks and I am likewise not a fan.
posted by kyrademon at 8:55 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Just think about the enormous positive incentives "chained leopard voting" would create for conserving leopard-producing ecosystems!
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:58 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


seems staggeringly naive

Apart from the fact that a country of 23 million has done it for a century. Australia has poor people and minorities too. Also no end of political bastards.

Compulsory voting is not the fix we need right now.

You could say the same about UBI, but a lot of people are talking about that who weren't a few years ago. Some ideas have the potential to cut across a lot of problems at once.

But I accept that American democracy is on life support right now, and that there are greater priorities.
posted by rory at 9:00 AM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


As an anarchist, I deprecate this idea in the strongest terms. If you don't like forcing people to go to an official church, you should also not approve of forcing them to follow the rituals of the civic religion.

Not shooting people at random is also following the rituals of a civic religion. The natural law is survival of the fittest.
posted by Talez at 9:11 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Apart from the fact that a country of 23 million has done it for a century. Australia has poor people and minorities too.

Perhaps worth mentioning that Aboriginal Australians didn't get compulsory voting, or any voting at all, until the 1960s.
posted by iotic at 9:12 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


seems staggeringly naive

Apart from the fact that a country of 23 million has done it for a century. Australia has poor people and minorities too. Also no end of political bastards.


Yes, it is incredibly naive to slap 'okay, everybody has to vote!' on top of the current American system of voting and assume that those in power, out of the goodness of their hearts and their commitment to their ideals, would then make it easier for people who would probably vote against them to vote and not take the fine.

You seemed to think that the half a day on a Tuesday/requiring preregistration six weeks beforehand/requiring ID's is some weird hyperbole, but these are the basics of voting in much of the US. Saying 'everyone has to vote' won't change these requirements.

The American system of voting is not the Austrialian system of voting. There is a lot of work to be done before the US can even entertain the idea of compulsory voting and have it not turn into a tax on the poor.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


> Your metaphor falls down because governments and laws provably exist and affect people.

So do official churches.

> Not shooting people at random is also following the rituals of a civic religion. The natural law is survival of the fittest.

Yuk yuk, you slay me! I don't want to get into a tedious back-and-forth about the values of anarchism which wouldn't change your mind anyway (though I can recommend some books if you're actually interested in learning), so please just accept that I have strong philosophical objections to voting. If you want to fine me or put me in jail because of them, well, that says something about you.
posted by languagehat at 9:14 AM on January 23, 2017


Yuk yuk, you slay me!

Hey you're the one with the values. I'm just pointing out how they would be if they were internally consistent at the level you imply. Don't make out like it's a fixed menu when you just picked not voting out of the proverbial buffet of things to believe.
posted by Talez at 9:20 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


You seemed to think that the half a day on a Tuesday/requiring preregistration six weeks beforehand/requiring ID's is some weird hyperbole, but these are the basics of voting in much of the US. Saying 'everyone has to vote' won't change these requirements.

I may have seemed to think that to you, but I didn't and don't. I've been reading US election megathreads here since 2000, I know what you're up against.

All I argue is that if compulsory voting ever were implemented (in any representative democracy, not just the US), to go by the Australian experience, it could have certain positive effects in the longer term.

If I were tackling the US system right now (from any sort of position of power, which is a tall order at the moment I know), my priority would be to defend early/postal voting anywhere that it's under challenge, then try to extend it to states that don't have it. Then try shifting the polling day to a Saturday, or maybe spread it over a couple of days. Then the harder stuff - fix the VRA, tackle gerrymandering.
posted by rory at 9:26 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


If the US had compulsory voting, Trump would not be president.

If the US had compulsory voting, Trump would have run in a real landslide. Trump was the protest vote as well as the official Republican candidate.

Making voting day a holiday won't do any good. The same people who don't get time off to vote on Tuesday won't get the voting holiday off, either. Same thing for Saturday voting (and many Jewish people won't be able to vote).

Compulsory voting is really beside the point. Australia's compulsory voting works because they don't have a political party and an entire racial group that views racial minorities as illegitimate and unworthy of the right to vote. If compulsory voting ever came to America it would take the following form:

You are required to register and vote. If you don't register before the deadline, you are fined $X. You must register at one of the registration centers. Registration centers are open 9-4 (AM or PM? We'll make you guess) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There are no registration centers in poor or majority-black areas. If you don't vote on election day (here in PA, we have no early voting and absentee ballots require an excuse, so you have to know a month beforehand that you won't make it to the voting location), you are fined $X. The voting locations and hours work pretty much like they do now.

All compulsory voting in America would do is disenfranchise the same people who are disenfranchised now, only they also get a nice fat fine, like an inverse poll tax.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:34 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Australia's compulsory voting works because they don't have a political party and an entire racial group that views racial minorities as illegitimate and unworthy of the right to vote.

Uh, I hate to say it but we certainly do and they have three seats in the Senate.
posted by Talez at 9:36 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


If I were tackling the US system right now (from any sort of position of power, which is a tall order at the moment I know), my priority would be to defend early/postal voting anywhere that it's under challenge, then try to extend it to states that don't have it. Then try shifting the polling day to a Saturday, or maybe spread it over a couple of days. Then the harder stuff - fix the VRA, tackle gerrymandering.

Breaking the back of net-confederate white supremacy would have to be in there somewhere; a lot of things from gerrymandering to voter suppression to the weird focus on “personal responsibility” and opposition to sensible welfare programmes seems to come from the need of a democracy to pander to a large segment of the population whose identity is predicated on “white pride”, and who fear losing their position above non-whites.
posted by acb at 9:37 AM on January 23, 2017


If the US had compulsory voting, Trump would have run in a real landslide. Trump was the protest vote as well as the official Republican candidate.

If every black and hispanic American voter in the marginal states had voted, would this still have happened? They were hit the hardest by voter suppression efforts.
posted by acb at 9:39 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


a lot of things from gerrymandering to voter suppression to the weird focus on “personal responsibility” and opposition to sensible welfare programmes seems to come from the need of a democracy to pander to a large segment of the population whose identity is predicated on “white pride”, and who fear losing their position above non-whites.

Why does this sound familiar?
 You start out in 1954 by saying, “N----r, n----r, n-----r.” By 1968 you can’t say “n-----r”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N----, n----r.”
Oh yeah there it is.
posted by Talez at 9:40 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


If the federal government attempted to make voting compulsory, such an act would be unconstitutional. It would require an Amendment to the constitution. As you may remember from your high school civics class or some of the arguing around Bush v. Gore, the States retain the right under the constitution to proscribe who gets to vote, when and how. That is in part why we had to amend the Constitution to include the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments, and why Oregon can do what they do, while other states do things differently.

The key question is whether States could constitutionally require voting, and the answer to that is probably not for a number of reasons. If one state implemented compulsory voting and others did not, there would be a probable 14th Amendment challenge regarding privileges and immunities or equal protection (for a compelling argument about how judges should use the privileges and immunities clause to ensure equal representation in voting, read Dean John Hart Ely's masterwork Democracy and Distrust). In short, citizen of state A cannot be compelled to vote when citizens of state B retain the right, privilege or immunity to not vote. It would also face a 13th Amendment challenge that it constitutes servitude. Then, of course, you get to the First Amendment challenge (and the fun fight over incorporation against the states). The First Amendment, at is core, protects political speech. Casting a vote is political speech, and speech cannot be compelled. The "work-a-round" proposed by some proponents and echoed here is having a "none of the above" option. The argument being that you are not compelling someone to speak because "none of the above" is the same as "I am choosing not to vote." It strikes me as fundamentally bad law when you are creating "work-a-rounds" for constitutional prohibitions.

It also is questionable policy because the "problem" it is supposed to be solving is not even clearly defined. What's the problem specifically? And why aren't constitutionally permissible regulations sufficient?

Voting isn't a freedom. It isn't a right.

Whether voting is a right is a great constitutional question. Whether it is or isn't has a great impact on the analysis of many of the other things discussed in this thread, including the much-chastised practice gerrymandering which itself is an out-growth of Supreme Court opinions (Baker v. Carr; Reynolds v. Sims) which required redistricting in order to protect a right to vote and enforce "one person, one vote." Do we like "one person, one vote"? Do we want to have a right to vote? If we do, then we get gerrymanders, and many of the arguments for compulsory voting fail.

Some sort of literacy test, perhaps?

Literacy tests have a dark and appropriately disgraced history. But it should be noted that literacy tests are not unconstitutional on their face. They are unconstitutional when they are discriminatory and have a disparate impact such that they violate equal protection guarantees. So, if someone was clever enough to make a nondiscriminatory literacy test that did not have a disparate impact, it could pass constitutional muster and be implemented. It's unlikely any such test could be created, and if it could, it likely would not be effective at doing whatever the policy is trying to be achieved. For that reason, any proposal in that regard is non-starter.

I've never understood why voting isn't mandatory but jury duty is.

Jury duty is not mandatory for citizens of the United States.
posted by dios at 9:40 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Here in Washington state, you vote by mail. A few weeks before the election deadline, you get mailed a form, an envelope to mail it back in, and a booklet with a page or two on every issue being voted on and a statement from every candidate. You can pay for the stamp, or you can put it in a drop box - and there are lots of them about, at least around where I live in Seattle.

I don't think we even have the traditional pile of voting machines in a school basement any more. Just make your choices when you have time and mail it in.

I am sure there are arrangements in place for those of no fixed address, I haven't had to deal with them so o don't know what they are.

When I move to another state I am gonna miss the fuck out of this system. I never wanna deal with a fixed polling place again.
posted by egypturnash at 10:16 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


As an anarchist, I deprecate this idea in the strongest terms. If you don't like forcing people to go to an official church, you should also not approve of forcing them to follow the rituals of the civic religion.

Should it be a consideration in determining voting laws of a democratic system to accomodate the wishes of a group that doesn't believe in democracy?
posted by krinklyfig at 10:25 AM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]


I deeply enjoy the argument that making voting compulsory would end voter suppression. because who would ever try to intimidate racial minorities out of voting if they knew their victims would not only not be able to vote, but would face a fine or even a court date on top of it? why, you'd have to be some kind of awful person. and I am sure there are no places in the united states where government officials would take great pleasure in requiring everyone to vote, then preventing certain groups from voting, then punishing them for not voting.

but this is silly of me because if compulsory voting was a federal law it would be just as easy to enforce as say the Voting Rights Act.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:31 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


What if it were marketed as a tax credit instead of a fine? Provide evidence of having voted, get $500 off your taxes! (Just don't forget to levy a $500 "Democracy Haters" tax at the same time :-)
Anyway, +1 for US compulsory voting (with blank ballots) + move voting day to Veteran's Day to improve access.
posted by rouftop at 10:34 AM on January 23, 2017


This will never work unless they also pass a law requiring everyone to like it.

Oh, when will they ever learn?
posted by mule98J at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


And given that government is a democracy, having a formalised ritual in which everybody is strongly encouraged to vote, and legally cannot be stopped from voting (“the deadline's in two days time, we need everyone to stay back and work overtime. Yes, I know there's an election, but you are a team player, aren't you?”) strengthens this.

I bolded what I think is the most important part: making sure everyone can vote. If we have to force people to vote in order to make sure everyone who wants to vote can vote, it's worth it.

It also is questionable policy because the "problem" it is supposed to be solving is not even clearly defined. What's the problem specifically?

Voter disenfranchisement.

Crosscheck alone removed 449,922 voters from Michigan rolls, 270,824 from Arizona, 589,393 from North Carolina.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:39 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Anyway, +1 for US compulsory voting (with blank ballots) + move voting day to Veteran's Day to improve access.

I like the Australia method (or at least what I've heard in this thread): hold it on Saturday and throw a party. Election Day deserves its own holiday.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:40 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


If the US had compulsory voting, Trump would have run in a real landslide. Trump was the protest vote as well as the official Republican candidate.

Nope. I get where you are coming from, but nothing indicates he would have won if more Americans had voted.
Also, I think the worry that more uninformed voters would lead to more Trump voters is unfounded. In countries with mandatory voting or with high election participation, populists get a lot of votes, but rarely a majority of the votes. Unless the US has more idiots than any other country, experience suggests that voting is good for democracy.
posted by mumimor at 10:42 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


if compulsory voting was a federal law it would be just as easy to enforce as say the Voting Rights Act.

Just because something is hard to enforce doesn't mean it's wrong.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:42 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


The poorest have no use for a $500 tax credit.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:45 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Jury duty is not mandatory for citizens of the United States.

It isn't? People get penalized for not showing up. How is that not mandatory?
posted by Beholder at 10:46 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I suppose it depends on what your definition of mandatory is, but I would call jury duty mandatory if not showing up means the judge could issue a bench warrant.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:47 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I would love to have mandatory voting here in Canada. It is already pretty easy to vote with the ability to vote in advance or mail in your ballot, but even still our voter turnout isn't very good. I would also love to have Federal and Provincial election days be Statutory holidays.

As far as unqualified/uninformed voters are concerned, people vote for a lot of reasons. I have voted for candidates because I or family members know them personally. I have also voted strategically in elections to avoid certain plausible outcomes. I'm not sure how a voter test would work with those kinds of situations.

I could see a test work for something like a referendum. The different sides of the referendum could approve the questions ahead of time and set some threshold score like 4 out of 7 to count as a "pass". Looking at the Brexit vote, or the Quebec sovereignty vote we had here in Canada, it was clear that people didn't know what they were voting for, and even the main campaigners for the positions didn't know either. Having the sides agree to the test questions ahead of time would clarify things for the sides and then they could educate the populace in their campaigns accordingly.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:52 AM on January 23, 2017


Should it be a consideration in determining voting laws of a democratic system to accomodate the wishes of a group that doesn't believe in democracy?

The whole point of democracy is that sovereignty lies with the people under that system's rule. It's not the beliefs of anarchists that determine whether they deserve consideration, it's whether they are subject to those laws. You can outvote them on majoritarian grounds (which is one of the classical anarchist arguments against electoral democracy), but it would be undemocratic to decide that they don't even have a say.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 10:57 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


"Just because something is hard to enforce doesn't mean it's wrong."

absolutely. and just because something is the right thing to do on an individual basis doesn't mean there ought to be a law.

Everyone who is serious about voting rights supports various reforms like a national holiday or employer requirements to pay for the time and excuse employee absence or universal voter registration or what have you. I think that a series of reforms that actually made it easy and penalty-free for everyone to vote who wants to vote would be hard to enforce (it already is) but that is no reason not to do it. I understand some people support compulsory voting because they think this is the only or the only practical way to achieve this, and although I think it is approaching things backwards we at least have a goal in common. it does make a great difference whether the purpose of it is removing barriers to exercising our rights or taking away minor liberties for people's own good.

the large portion of support for changing the law not simply because of practical reasons or because it's worth the sacrifice but explicitly because if it's your moral duty it's ok for the law to make you do it is fucked up, though.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:59 AM on January 23, 2017


layceepee: "As I once said to an ex during a disagreement over voting, "You know, if you don't vote, you completely forfeit the right to bitch about the government for the next four years..."

Are you not aware that anarchism exists as a political philosophy, or have you just not considered why an anarchist would feel they have the right to bitch about the government even if they didn't vote?
"

My ex-wife was NOT an anarchist. She was being lazy. And, as I said, go in and vote for a nonsensical candidate. If you want to be an anarchist subvert the system. Don't just go for it by default. It is okay to have an opinion, but you have to be willing to take SOME effort for it.
posted by Samizdata at 10:59 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


People get penalized for not showing up. How is that not mandatory?
posted by Beholder at 12:46 PM on January 23


People get penalized for disregarding the judicial summons to the courthouse, not because there is some law requiring them to perform jury duty. They get the summons because they have registered to vote. Jury pools are usually pulled from voter registration rolls, not from social security numbers or some inherent citizenship requirements. Which means those do not register to vote, don't get called for jury duty. So you could opt-out by not registering to vote; or put another way, you opt-in to being called to the courthouse to see if you might serve on a jury when you register to vote assuming you don't have reasons to avoid jury duty. Further, when you receive the summons, it typically has a form you can fill out to provide a reason why you cannot comply with the summons--again, not a mandatory requirement if you can opt-out of the summons for cause. Then, if you do go to the courthouse, there are innumerable ways people avoid jury duty following questionnaires, voir dire, or hardship reasons. People avoid jury duty for all kinds of physician limitation reasons, religious reasons, economic hardships, having to be a caregiver for someone else, etc. In short, there is no mandatory requirement to perform jury duty. There is a legal requirement to comply with judicial summons on its terms if no excuse is provided, which is a different question. But there is simply no sense in which jury duty is a mandatory obligation for citizens of the United States.

It is, however, a profoundly important civic duty. It is very disheartening that there is such a dislike for the process.
posted by dios at 11:02 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


languagehat: "As an anarchist, I deprecate this idea in the strongest terms. If you don't like forcing people to go to an official church, you should also not approve of forcing them to follow the rituals of the civic religion."

But, if you don't vote, you lose your only leverage.
posted by Samizdata at 11:05 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Voter disenfranchisement.

If that is the specifically defined problem, then compulsory voting is not an answer. There are all kinds of other constitutionally-permissible (indeed in some cases constitutionally-mandated) solutions to disenfrachisement. And this is what I was getting at: defining the problem. If ballot access is the problem for people who want to vote but cannot, it does not follow that mandating exercise of the franchise by those who do not want to vote is the solution, especially with the attendant constitutional problems.
posted by dios at 11:06 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Has there ever been a discussion of the implications of banning political parties? If so, could you link me? I, for one, would have a lot more interest in a partyless political process, but I don't know if it's feasible.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 11:19 AM on January 23, 2017


mrgrimm: "Anyway, +1 for US compulsory voting (with blank ballots) + move voting day to Veteran's Day to improve access.

I like the Australia method (or at least what I've heard in this thread): hold it on Saturday and throw a party. Election Day deserves its own holiday.
"

Yeah, no. Saturday is okay. Holiday, not so much. I work part time, due to issues, and I barely get enough PTO to cover the standard holidays without devastating my paycheck.
posted by Samizdata at 11:23 AM on January 23, 2017


My ex-wife was NOT an anarchist.

I thought by framing it as "like I said to my ex" you were intending the remark to have more general application. If you weren't, I'm not sure how it's relevant to the discussion here.

And, as I said, go in and vote for a nonsensical candidate. If you want to be an anarchist subvert the system. Don't just go for it by default. It is okay to have an opinion, but you have to be willing to take SOME effort for it.

If voting were the only way to demonstrate effort to accomplish political change, you might have a point. I don't vote, but I'm pretty sure I expend more effort to participate in civil affairs than many people who do. Participating in governmental elections is morally offensive to me, as I think it is to most people who don't accept the authority of governments to compel individual behavior.

People get penalized for disregarding the judicial summons to the courthouse, not because there is some law requiring them to perform jury duty. They get the summons because they have registered to vote. Jury pools are usually pulled from voter registration rolls, not from social security numbers or some inherent citizenship requirements.

I'm not sure about other jurisdictions, but that is not the case in New York. According to the website of the NY state unified court system: Potential jurors are randomly selected from lists of registered voters, holders of drivers’ licenses or ID’s issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles, New York State income tax filers, recipients of unemployment insurance or family assistance, and from volunteers.

The same website also says explicitly that Jury duty, like paying taxes, is mandatory.
posted by layceepee at 11:34 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Has there ever been a discussion of the implications of banning political parties? If so, could you link me? I, for one, would have a lot more interest in a partyless political process, but I don't know if it's feasible.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 1:19 PM on January 23


The federal government could not ban political parties because of this: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

But just because political parties exist, there isn't any right to have the (D) or (R) on the ballot. A State could ban party-line voting or (D)/(R)s being on the ballot. I have seen arguments on both sides who that benefits and who that hurts--I think the answer depends on whether you are in a red or blue state because it probably just entrenches the party usually in power.

Another way to diminish the influence of the two parties that is often suggested is to change from a single-member plurality "winner take all" system to various forms proportional representation voting system. That would benefit third or minor parties. So instead of 10 districts, each of which is a horserace between D or R, you have one big district with 10 winners that allow smaller parties to grab 1 or 2 seats. This actually increases the importance of parties but increases the diversity of parties at the expense of the D\R hegemony.
posted by dios at 11:36 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


The same website also says explicitly that Jury duty, like paying taxes, is mandatory.
posted by layceepee at 1:34 PM on January 23


That's just sloppy writing by some government functionary. It's not mandatory. The sloppy writer makes that clear by, among other things, noting that "In addition, jurors must 4) be able to understand and communicate in the English language." In NY, like most jurisdictions in this country, if you cannot speak or understand English, you don't have to serve on jury duty. All courtrooms in the United States require English be spoken or an interpreter for the record. If you don't speak English, you don't have to serve. Insofar as English is not a mandatory language, one cannot meaningfully argue jury duty is mandatory if you can get out of it by just choosing not to learn the language.

As I mentioned, there are litany of other exceptions, including health reasons, religious reasons, etc. that again demonstrate that it is not a mandatory obligation of citizenship. Finally, as noted on that page, jurors called is done at random. It is entirely possible that you are never randomly called (someone could crunch the statistical numbers. If you are never randomly called, then it cannot be a mandatory obligation.

Again, it is not jury duty that is mandatory. It is compliance with a summons from a court if you happen to randomly get called because you have signed up for other governmental privileges, but even then, there are still reasons you can avoid jury duty.
posted by dios at 11:46 AM on January 23, 2017


Again, it is not jury duty that is mandatory. It is compliance with a summons from a court if you happen to randomly get called because you have signed up for other governmental privileges, but even then, there are still reasons you can avoid jury duty.

I would say that it's compliance with the summons, rather than serving on a jury, that constitutes jury duty. Many people report for jury duty and are never selected to serve. Beyond a semantic distinction, is there some substantive difference you want to highlight with your insistence that jury duty isn't mandatory?

You could argue that if you are completely self-sufficient, never earning or spending money, you can avoid any tax liability. I don't think most people would think that means that paying taxes is not mandatory.
posted by layceepee at 11:56 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


Voter disenfranchisement.

If that is the specifically defined problem, then compulsory voting is not an answer.


But the USA has tried many other solutions to ballot access. All of these have now failed, in the face of white supremacy. They have been not working for quite a long time.

And so I would not blame anyone who looks at those 200+ years of failures at ballot access and decides a more radical intervention, based on values and first principles, is needed.
posted by eustatic at 12:07 PM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


I would say that it's compliance with the summons, rather than serving on a jury, that constitutes jury duty.

Fine, except that's not jury duty, but even if it were, compliance with the summons is not mandatory either. Summons always have boxes you can check to send back that allow people to indicate reasons why they don't have to comply with it. So you can check one of the boxes (if they apply) and then you don't have to comply with the summons. It's not mandatory either.

Beyond a semantic distinction, is there some substantive difference you want to highlight with your insistence that jury duty isn't mandatory?

The initial premise I was responding to was "I never understood why voting is not mandatory but jury duty is". That premises is incorrect: jury duty is not mandatory. And it's not a mere "semantic distinction"--when you are discussing law, words and details matter. One of the issues in the debate about compulsory voting is whether the government can make voting mandatory. And the argument is often made that "sure they can make it mandatory; they make jury duty mandatory." That premise is wrong. Jury duty is not mandatory, and as such, the existence of our jury process is not evidentiary support for the premise that the government can make voting mandatory. I didn't interject the issue; I responded to it.

There are very important constitutional issues that limit the ability of the government to compel voting. Claims about jury duty (not mandatory for a host of reasons) or paying taxes (as you indicate, not mandatory) do not rise to precedent because if you can choose to not participate, then the thing is not compulsory. But the argument is being made that voting somehow should be compulsory for everyone without exception. That's a different kettle of fish.
posted by dios at 12:41 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


That's just sloppy writing by some government functionary. It's not mandatory.

It's writing that matches multiple US District Court jury information pages (Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of West Virginia, Middle District of Pennsylvania, District of New Jersey, and more!).

Respectfully, if nearly every district court information page (as well as the local bar association and local city courts in my area) says that jury duty 'is mandatory' or 'is required' or the like, in plain language, yes, jury duty is mandatory, in the plain sense of the term. Arguing anything else really is a semantic argument.

I'm perfectly willing to accept that there's a narrow legal sense in which it might not be; were we arguing an actual legal case, that would matter. In the plain-language meaning of 'mandatory,' jury duty is absolutely mandatory: it is a situation in which the default state is that you serve on a jury. In order to not serve on a jury, you have to ignore a summons (which might lead to penalties), or offer an affirmative reason to not serve (which not might be accepted).

paying taxes (as you indicate, not mandatory)

...paying taxes is mandatory in the plain sense of the term as the vast, vast majority of people understand. Paying taxes is not optional except by removing yourself from society. The example you're responding to is pointing out that it can only be seen as not mandatory if you twist the meaning of mandatory to mean something other than what pretty much everybody understands mandatory to mean. Again, that might or might not match the legal definition, but there's no specific law under discussion.

One of the issues in the debate about compulsory voting is whether the government can make voting mandatory. And the argument is often made that "sure they can make it mandatory; they make jury duty mandatory." That premise is wrong. Jury duty is not mandatory, and as such, the existence of our jury process is not evidentiary support for the premise that the government can make voting mandatory. I didn't interject the issue; I responded to it.

You're reading one meaning into the use of the word 'mandatory' that was not, in fact, intended, and then arguing that the proposal (as you define it) would be unconstitutional. Your premise is wrong in that you're responding to a proposal that wasn't made: when people say 'voting should be mandatory; jury duty is!' they're saying that voting should be mandatory in the sense that jury duty is mandatory, which is to say in the plain-language sense of the term. It's not a detailed policy proposal; it's not a bill that's on its way to becoming law.
posted by cjelli at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


But the argument is being made that voting somehow should be compulsory for everyone without exception.

That is not, in fact, the argument being made.

The Australian system, as has been pointed out several times up above, only requires you to show up to the polls and submit a ballot. Much like your claim that jury duty is not 'compulsory' as you need only obey the summons, not serve, and there are exceptions available.

The ballot can be blank if you want. And there are provisions available for people who cannot vote on the day, and exceptions for the fines if you simply can't vote for a legitimate reason.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:24 PM on January 23, 2017 [8 favorites]


But the argument is being made that voting somehow should be compulsory for everyone without exception.

But it isn't: you're starting at your definition of mandatory, applying that to the proposal, and then concluding that this is the argument being put forth. It is not, because that's not what people mean by 'mandatory voting.'
posted by cjelli at 1:26 PM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


In regards to disenfranchisement, an amendment could call for compulsory voting, in theory, but still allow the disenfranchisement of felons or others who somehow fall outside any created boundaries to that demand due to behaviors deemed unsuitable for the right. Universal enfranchisement of citizens could, in theory, be achieved without compelling all to vote as well. So these two things are not necessarily connected. So Dios' question about what the goal is strikes me as a reasonable one since I'm not convinced the idea here is as helpful as one might suppose, at least without the full details of what the proposal is and how it would be implemented put before us. Without that I see no concrete overall benefit to the society other than for those who simply believe all should vote as a matter of principle.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:28 PM on January 23, 2017


But the USA has tried many other solutions to ballot access. All of these have now failed, in the face of white supremacy. They have been not working for quite a long time.

And so I would not blame anyone who looks at those 200+ years of failures at ballot access and decides a more radical intervention, based on values and first principles, is needed.


The thing is that I'm looking at all of the failure for ballot access and thinking it is incredibly unwise to start punishing people for then not being able to access the ballot. All of the other measures discussed put the work of getting people to vote on the state, compulsory voting puts the work of voter access on the voter, because the voter - not the state - suffers the consequences of not complying with compulsory voting.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:28 PM on January 23, 2017


How would the issue of ballot access change in the US if there was one national apolitical body administering ballot enrolment (and electorate boundaries thus disallowing gerrymandering) who then distributed ballot lists to the districts that need them, as they need them? Would this make much difference to the access issue? Does the Constitution bar this type of set-up?
posted by Thella at 1:45 PM on January 23, 2017


is a situation in which the default state is that you serve on a jury. In order to not serve on a jury, you have to ignore a summons (which might lead to penalties), or offer an affirmative reason to not serve (which not might be accepted).

That's just wrong. Obviously the websites say that to promote the idea that you must respond to your summons, but that is not legally mandatory. Mandatory means that everyone must do it. However, not everyone serves on jury duty... or even receives a summons. At the most basic: it's completely random that you ever receive a summons. This is what is not being understood--some people never are summoned for juries. When you move into a city, you are in a municipal, county, state and federal district. Those all have some form or another of courts. When you move into the districts and register to vote or provide your address, you get placed on the rolls for being randomly chosen to get a summons. If you move a lot or are just really lucky, then you never receive a summons. If you never receive a summons, by no logical definition could one intelligently argue that jury duty is mandatory in the same sense people are proposing making voting compulsory. Further, as I pointed out and you fail to address, if you do not speak English, you never have to serve jury duty. Thus, jury duty is not mandatory for non-English speakers. Are such exceptions going to be provided for voting? And again, there is a litany of other people who never have to serve on jury duties. You are ignoring all of this and pointing to web pages which are stressing that compliance with jury summons is mandatory. I've already explained that.

Look, I am making a very specific point about the constitutional limitations on the government's ability to compel conduct. That is a very nuanced and detailed legal topic that scholars thoughtfully address. Waiving your hands about how people understand the words or pointing to FAQs is not particularly a rebuttal to legal issue. A proposal to make voting compulsory was made in the post. If that proposal is constitutionally impermissible, then the discussion is relatively easy: it can't be done without an amendment (which is very rare and would have to have an enormous public support). Here the question is whether the government can compel conduct under the constitution. I've laid out the issues with that. And I merely pointed out that jury duty is not a response to those issues because jury duty is not mandatory in the legal sense as the proposal on voting.

Why are you wedded to arguing that is mandatory? Do you think it advances the discussion at all? In other words, do you think that jury service somehow answers the question of whether the constitution would permit compulsory voting? If the answer is yes, then my point stands and it is one that must map onto the legal definitions that you are criticizing me about. If the answer is no, then it's a non-issue and there is no sense in arguing with me over it.
posted by dios at 2:04 PM on January 23, 2017


there is no sense in arguing with me over it.

On that, I think we can agree.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:17 PM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


Another Australian and yes compulsory voting is the dog's bollocks. Of course in what is effectively a one-party system - the LNP and Labor having coalesced into a single bolus of ineptitude and bullshit that could not be trusted to periodically rinse out a dog's water bowl - the results barely matter, but the good thing about that is I can pursue my modest days clear-headed, confident that everybody else is a mouth-breathing fuckhead who I don't need to help when they collapse of heat stroke right in front of me.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:27 PM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


A proposal to make voting compulsory was made in the post.

There are multiple links in the post to multiple different compulsory voting systems, which vary by: enforcement / non-enforcement (ie, norm-setting); enforcement backed by fines (or not); enforcement backed by imprisonment (or not); exemptions (or not); exemptions that require an detailed and legitimate excuse (or merely an affirmation); enforcement by disenfranchisement (or not); and other differences as well.

Given that there are multiple proposals being put forward, along multiple models, my point in highlighting the repeated used of 'mandatory' jury service was to point out that hewing to any one proposal's meaning of 'compulsory' is effectively nonsensical, because both 'compulsory' and 'mandatory' are not being used to mean one thing. They're being used to mean multiple things. The parallel to jury service is illustrative of the intended meaning of 'compulsory,' not a response to any legal issue -- because there is no 'a proposal' to have a singular legal issue about; there are several proposals, and several issues.

Waiving your hands about how people understand the words or pointing to FAQs is not particularly a rebuttal to legal issue.

It's a rebuttal to your framing of this discussion as being about a narrow legal issue. It is not. The constitutional limitations on the state's ability to compel conduct are certainly a topic that's worth discussing, but that's not the only thing that's being discussed here, and it's not the only framework to address questions like whether or not something 'is mandatory' -- that's also a question of linguistics, of semantics, and of common understanding. You've repeatedly asserted that something 'cannot be mandatory' if exceptions exist (non-English speakers who receive a summons to serve on a jury, say); but the plain English understanding of that situation would be, for many people, that jury service is mandatory, but that exceptions exist. That exceptions exist for some people does not mean that the thing is itself 'not mandatory' -- is the draft optional? Is the draft voluntary? In the common parlance, we talk about 'a volunteer army' versus 'a conscripted army,' but exceptions to the draft existed and have always existed -- be too young or too old, be disabled, be in college, and so on. That is a linguistic issue, separable from the legal one.

So when you ask -- 'Are such exceptions going to be provided for voting?' -- my response would be that's the subject of discussion here, as much as the legal issue you raise. Would any of these many proposals be good for America? Would they be ethical? Would they be democratic? If several work, which is best? Is providing exceptions a good thing to do? Which exceptions? What's the exception process? And then we can ask, parallel to that, is this constitutionally permissible? Would it require an amendment?

But before we can ask that legal question, we have to understand what is actually being proposed. In discussing policy, I think it makes sense to start with common understandings: what do people think mandatory means? What are they talking about when they talk about compulsory voting? Are they all talking about they same thing? And then we can talk about the legal issues; and then we can talk about whether those definitions, descriptively, match or don't match the prescriptive legal definitions.
posted by cjelli at 2:39 PM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


kitten magic: "Also no one ever has gluten free democracy sausages and that's taken all the thrill out of it."

Aren't the sausages a volunteer effort? Seems like an opportunity.

dirigibleman: " Registration centers are open 9-4 (AM or PM? We'll make you guess) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays."

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. How about 8:15AM to 4pm on the 5th wednesday of any month? I really wish I was making that up. If you consult a calendar you'll see that is 4 days a year.
posted by Mitheral at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2017


"You know, if you don't vote, you completely forfeit the right to bitch about the government for the next four years..."

So to extend that logic if you vote for the winner, you also can't complain?
posted by paulcole at 2:52 PM on January 23, 2017


There are a few more subtle differences between the Australian and American voting systems (beyond compulsory/not and firstpastthepost/preferential) worth pointing out.
First is polling place availability. I am getting the idea that in the USA you only have one polling booth to get to? In Australia, you can arrive at any polling place within your 'seat' and vote. You can even go to any polling place in your state and vote- it will just take a bit longer for your ballot to make it's way back to your seat. You also can vote out of state- but you have to go to specified polling places to do this- otherwise, you can vote early or via postal vote.

The ballots are a bit simpler- you could have 3 or 27 candidates, but you're only voting for one office- (and another ballot for senate. These table runner sized ballot are a bit of a joke for us Aussies.) We don't vote for our Sheriff or our dog catcher.

You get asked if you have voted before in this election and your name is crossed off a paper roll- however in State elections they are trialling an electronic roll (this is pretty cool) where your name gets marked off centrally. This would help stop people voting more than once.

The other big thing that seems to be different is the lack of an independent body overseeing the process- my mind boggled a bit hearing(or reading?) Jessamyn's election day experiences- both being at the polling booth and being up for election! The AEC is very impartial. The votes are counted with 'scrutineers' hovering over the shoulders of the AEC workers, checking to make sure that the votes are being sorted correctly- but they can't otherwise be involved.

I think the big thing to push for in the USA (as an Australian who thinks that compulsory voting is a good thing) would be to have more polling places available, early voting, and more postal voting.
posted by freethefeet at 2:52 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


How would the issue of ballot access change in the US if there was one national apolitical body administering ballot enrolment (and electorate boundaries thus disallowing gerrymandering) who then distributed ballot lists to the districts that need them, as they need them?

For one, the lack of gerrymandering, and thus, of enforcement of white dominance, would violate the unwritten settlement with the ex-Confederate South, and there'd be a lot of angry activity to overturn this. All of it would be couched in seemingly reasonable pretexts (that it is unconstitutional, that it is federal overreach/a violation of freedom/states' rights, and so on) with the white-supremacy subtext being a dog whistle.
posted by acb at 3:26 PM on January 23, 2017


Alternatively:

1. Make election day a federal holiday.
One reason the vote skews disproportionately old is that retirees have 100% of their time free, which lets them go vote.

2. Or allow mail-in-ballots in all states.
That removes the artificial time constraint.

3. Require countable/confirmable receipts for voting.
This seems like a no brainer, but we don't have it for the electronic voting.

4. Fund voting spaces in the minority communities equivalently to those in rich areas.
The poor often have to wait in line for hours. That's insanity, and it's intentional. We should fix that, as it's biasing the results as well.
posted by talldean at 4:37 PM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Mandatory voting is a nice idea, but a bridge too far. A much, much better idea--and something realistically attainable!--is the elimination of the electoral college with the National Popular Vote. As a liberal in a red state, my vote only counts symbolically. When all states are in play during the election, the voting numbers will skyrocket.

National. Popular. Vote. This is what we need for the next election cycle.
posted by zardoz at 4:59 PM on January 23, 2017


Hello from Australia, where we have compulsory voting. Literally for everyone - they have polling booths in prisons. And mobile booths at homelessness shelters. The default position is everyone over 18 should vote unless you have a really really good excuse.

And it's a damn good idea. It means the politicians need to at least pretend to care about everyone.

We also have one, independent, organisation that runs elections across the entire country, with the same system (preferential voting, on paper) used everywhere with every election.

I've been an observer, watched vote counts a number of times. There's always a number of people who deliberately vote informally, but still the turnout is close to 93%.
posted by maxcelcat at 5:02 PM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


1. Make election day a federal holiday.

You know how many federal holidays are mandatory for private employers? Zero. Better to expand voting hours, locations, and child care.
posted by Etrigan at 5:38 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also, in Australia, we have seen Labor shift on some viewpoints due to the Greens effect - my local dude is ferociously pro-gay marriage and has been for a really long time, and supports humane treatment for refugees. The system has had a noticeable effect on how Labor presents itself to the public, including their record on workers' rights and education.

Sure, they still fucking suck in a lot of ways, but they aren't nearly as monolithic as some claims make it out and there is an actual effect in terms of policies and voting.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:40 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Why should we require people who don't care about politics to go in? I've met plenty who don't vote for that reason,

Since when is an interest in politics something people are born with? As my 18th birthday approached and I knew I'd be voting the first time, I had to start to engage with the process. There are lots of other adult responsibilities I'd be more than happy not to be familiar with, but such is life.
posted by kitten magic at 5:49 PM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]


1. Mandatory doesn't seem like a fit for 'freedom'. I'd argue that, when it comes to important matters, you should only choose to exercise an *informed* opinion.

2. We just saw a prime example of "He chose poorly." You'd wind up with a lot of people voting who *don't care*, and also encourage the featherweights who'll chase that crowd.

3. This question should be put side-to-side with the option to abrogate the electoral college. Then, you must choose wisely.
posted by Twang at 6:28 PM on January 23, 2017


zardoz: "Mandatory voting is a nice idea, but a bridge too far. A much, much better idea--and something realistically attainable!--is the elimination of the electoral college with the National Popular Vote."

You might get buy in for mandatory (or more likely some sort of incentivised) voting. The US will never get rid of the electoral college as long as low population states have to ratify it.
posted by Mitheral at 7:03 PM on January 23, 2017


I really don't understand what essential "freedom" is being constrained by Australian-style mandatory voting. Since there's no requirement to actually mark a ballot or even attend a polling place, just a requirement to submit a ballot. In return you get a system fundamentally built on the expectation that every citizen needs to be able to vote.

What exactly is it opponents of the idea think they're protecting?
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 7:14 PM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


So pretty much everyone in this thread who lives with the Australian system thinks it works fantastically well.

It's really making me wish I lived in Australia, and also hungry for sausages.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:56 PM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


And I have come to really hate the Electoral College. I don't even care whether it would have changed the outcome of the last election. I'm tired of this system where people think their vote doesn't count unless they live in a swing state.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:58 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Jury duty is not mandatory for citizens of the United States.

Mention the
Fully Informed Jury Association
and you won't be selected. (Why? Bar Rules.)
posted by rough ashlar at 8:28 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


The US may find it practical for survival, in the fake news and fraud era, to switch from a popular presidential vote to a head of state selected from a direct vote among both houses of congress. The winner would likely be a relative centrist, who may be replaced at anytime, preventing any possibility to destroy the Republic by being insane, or by primarily appealing to a minority of voters in early-positioned primaries or swing states.
posted by Brian B. at 8:49 PM on January 23, 2017


And it's a damn good idea. It means the politicians need to at least pretend to care about everyone.
posted by eustatic at 10:19 PM on January 23, 2017


Waleed Aly is great. Fun to see him in the NYTimes.
posted by nnethercote at 10:20 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


switch from a popular presidential vote to a head of state selected from a direct vote among both houses of congress. The winner would likely be a relative centrist,

Not with today's congress.

I am growing to like the idea of mandatory voting. I definitely like the idea of automatic universal registration, and vote-by-mail packets being sent to everyone.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:27 PM on January 23, 2017


To summarise, Australian elections are awesome because:
- Voting is compulsory (95% turnout is typical), so no need for GOTV, and invalid voting is a practical choice
- Preferential voting
- A non-partisan electoral commission draws up districts
- The same non-partisan electoral commission runs elections
- Elections are held on Saturdays
- Many voting locations, very little waiting in practice
- Early voting and voting by mail also possible
- Paper ballots are used, and are used uniformly

It's pretty close the ideal electoral system, in my opinion (and experience). In contrast, US elections do every single aspect differently. I know there are many deep reasons for this, but it doesn't make it any less excruciating to watch.
posted by nnethercote at 10:54 PM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


fwiw, re: 'educated voters'
High-school civics classes could be the best hope for the future of American democracy

also btw...
Dissent Is the Health of the Democratic State:* "democracy is going to work better the more people can and do really ('effectively') contribute, especially to the debate... To participate in the democratic debate, people need a lot of skills and cognitive tools: literacy; numeracy; knowing what other people are going on about and why it matters to them; the cultural knowledge and rhetorical skill to argue effectively with fellow citizens[2]; knowledge of the world in general. Gaining all these skills and tools takes teachers and time... Making sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in democracy would be very demanding, and we are very far from doing so. We are even far from making sure everyone has some non-farcical minimum of opportunity. We can and should move towards spreading those opportunities, and make democracy more of a reality and less of a mere promise."
posted by kliuless at 11:49 PM on January 23, 2017


A secondary advantage of Saturday voting is that polling stations use public buildings in the thick of where people live, like schools and halls that are normally empty on weekends but not empty on Tuesdays. Many an Australian adult has voted at a polling station set up in their childhood primary school.
posted by Thella at 12:19 AM on January 24, 2017 [7 favorites]


The US uses schools too, but they're often closed for the day (or just don't have gym class).

If the school is closed, it does cause more childcare issues.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:18 AM on January 24, 2017


It's pretty close the ideal electoral system, in my opinion (and experience)

I agree with this, but it's important to note that it's not a silver bullet. We still elect some total, utter mediocrities.

But at least they're not actual unapologetic nationalist white supremacists, I suppose.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:15 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


"I wonder what the fuck takes you so long*"

Well, where I vote in the US, in reverse ballot order, in 2016, there were 58 judicial retention candidates (slightly fewer than normal), 2 appellate court vacancy candidates, 11 county-wide judicial vacancies (there were also 22 sub-county judicial vacancies, which were not on everyone's ballot, but some people had multiple additional judicial vacancy races, while others had none); 2 Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Races (one was vote for 3, one was vote for 1); State's Attorney, Recorder, Clerk of the Court, State Representative (I believe all districts); State Senator (only some districts IIRC), State Comptroller, Federal Representatives, Federal Senator, President. There were also 1 Statewide referendum, 2 countywide referenda, and many townships within the county had one or more individual referenda. So. You had a minimum of 87 questions on your ballot.

That's a lot. I understand some counties/townships in California had even longer ballots.

Even if you have a pre-prepared ballot to take into the voting booth with you. Our voting booths require you to enter your votes (you can leave any line blank), then it requires you to review each ballot line (I think it displays about 5 at a time), then verify it's correct, then wait while it prints it all onto a record, then remove your card from the slot and leave the voting booth. It's not speedy. I vote by mail (Illinois lets you vote by mail without requiring special circumstance) and it takes 20 minutes or so.

So, voting in the US is a clusterfuck of voter suppression, disenfranchisement, out-dated equipment, bloated ballots, employers not accommodating voting, municipalities not accommodating voters, lies, misinformation, poor civic education, and an out-dated manner of counting the popular vote in nationwide elections.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:41 AM on January 24, 2017 [6 favorites]


Things Australia votes on in a normal federal election (once every three years, normally)
1. One member of in the House of Representatives
2. Six state senators, or two territory senators for the Senate.
3. A referendum question, rarely.

Things Australia votes on in a normal state election (once every three or four years, normally)
1. One member of the House of Assembly
2. A selection of members for the Upper House (state senate)

Things Australia votes on in a normal local council election (once every three years, normally)
1. One or more members for your council Ward or District.
2. Maybe a direct vote for Mayor.

Things Australians never vote on:
Any other position of employment in any public department, anywhere. In other words, the only elected public officials in Australia, are representatives in one of the tiers of government. Everyone else is appointed. No public servant has to publicly campaign for their job.

Materials used for voting everywhere:
Paper ballot
Pencil or pen.
Cardboard boxes
Uniform processes and well-trained staff.
posted by Thella at 1:09 PM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


My district had 6 different voting days this fall. City primary, State primaries for both parties (on two different days), national primary, a city election, a state election, the national election. I think I'm missing one in that list, too.

If voting becomes compulsory, I really hope they set some standardized voting days.
posted by Cranialtorque at 2:29 PM on January 24, 2017


When I first worked out that y'all voted for things like 'Sheriff' I was horrified. That's a job with standards and so on. Campaigning for that seems ridiculous. That isn't to say high level public servants don't have political powers affect their employment, but the idea of making a citizen vote for anything other than an actual politician seems truly absurd.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:57 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


But politics and governance is also a job with standards. It requires a set of skills with a body of knowledge underlying it. On some level, it's just as absurd to vote for President. I think it might actually be more absurd to vote for President than the local councilperson. I mean, the system of being born a ruler and being educated in diplomacy and administration is also stupid, but at least it acknowledges there's a body of knowledge a head of state should have,
posted by crush-onastick at 5:10 PM on January 24, 2017


High-school civics classes could be the best hope for the future of American democracy

Our civics class was always taught by the coach with the least seniority.
posted by great_radio at 5:56 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Regarding "sick of electoral college, vote only counts if you live in a swing state" - this doesn't go away in the Australian system- sure, if you live in a seat that cuts through demographic areas or is changing, you seem to get a bit more infrastructure, a bit more funding, a few more visits from politicians. Or, you could live in the safest seat in the country *waves* - it's rural and pretty big so I'm not giving away my home address here. Where the campaigns for change are "just vote for someone other than the Nationals so we get some attention."

It would be interesting to see a country with compulsory voting (or high accessibility and turn out numbers) and 1 vote = 1 vote for the president (with preferential voting.)
posted by freethefeet at 8:53 PM on January 27, 2017


How to teach citizenship in schools: "pupils who have become used to discussing current affairs are much more likely to be politically engaged and involved in their communities, and to vote when they are old enough. Civic-education programmes also increase the likelihood that pupils will have more accepting attitudes towards people of different backgrounds."
posted by kliuless at 6:14 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Millennials across the rich world are failing to vote
In America’s election in 1972, the first in which 18-year-olds could vote, around a fifth of adults were under 25. By 2010 that share was one in eight. Under-25s are on track to make up just a tenth of American adults by mid-century. The young will have dwindled from a pivotal voting bloc into a peripheral one.

That raises the worrying possibility that today’s record-low youth turnout presages a permanent shift. Voting habits are formed surprisingly early—in a person’s first two elections, says Michael Bruter of the London School of Economics. If future generations, discouraged by their fading influence, never adopt the voting habit, turnout will fall further, weakening the legitimacy of elected governments...

Millennials do not see voting as a duty, and therefore do not feel morally obliged to do it, says Rob Ford of Manchester University. Rather, they regard it as the duty of politicians to woo them. They see parties not as movements deserving of loyalty, but as brands they can choose between or ignore. Millennials are accustomed to tailoring their world to their preferences, customising the music they listen to and the news they consume. A system that demands they vote for an all-or-nothing bundle of election promises looks uninviting by comparison. Although the number of young Americans espousing classic liberal causes is growing, only a quarter of 18- to 33-year-olds describe themselves as “Democrats”. Half say they are independent, compared with just a third of those aged 69 and over, according to the Pew Research Centre...

Almost a quarter of young Australians recently told pollsters that “it doesn’t matter what kind of government we have”. A report last year found that 72% of Americans born before the second world war thought it “essential” to live in a country that was governed democratically. Less than a third of those born in the 1980s agreed... Many disillusioned youngsters regard refusing to vote as a way to express dissatisfaction with the choices on offer. But abstention traps them in a cycle of neglect and alienation. Politicians know that the elderly are more likely to vote, and tailor their policies accordingly. Young people, seeing a system that offers them little, are even more likely to tune out, which gives parties more reason to ignore them...

Those fretting about the future of democracy have been searching for ways to get more young people to vote. The most obvious would be to make voting compulsory, as it is in Australia, Belgium, Brazil and many other countries. Barack Obama has said such a move would be “transformative” for America, boosting the voices of the young and the poor. But Mr Bruter warns that such a move would artificially boost turnout without dealing with the underlying causes. The priority, he says, should be to inspire a feeling among young people “that the system listens to you and reacts to you”, which in turn would strengthen political commitment.
posted by kliuless at 10:40 PM on February 6, 2017


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