Imagine this dialogue:
American citizen: "So you mean that if you Australians don’t vote, you get a fine?"
Australian citizen: "Yeah, and when you Americans don’t vote, you get George W. Bush."
As surely as politicians lie, citizen apathy produces democracy atrophy. Much more than a right – in a democracy voting is an irrevocable civic duty. No mental gymnastics can help you jump over this ugly reality: Voter turnout in all American elections averages markedly less than half of eligible voters. This disgrace must be fixed.
Here are my proposed solutions: We should make voting mandatory, give voters the option of “none of the above,” make Election Day a national holiday, provide same day registration everywhere, and lower the voting age to 16.
No single reform is a panacea. But together, these five reforms can dramatically re-energize voting in America. They could be placed in one constitutional amendment and ratified by the states in time for the 2008 presidential election. Limiting public support, however, is an elitist mindset among people with political power, wealth and intellectual arrogance. They wrongly dismiss large numbers of citizens for their lack of education or political involvement. Electoral reforms can create a culture of voting that ultimately produces a more informed public.
This is not a radical idea. Over 30 countries have compulsory voting. Violating the law usually merits something akin to a parking fine, but it still works. When Australia adopted it in 1924, turnouts increased from under 50 percent to a consistent 90-plus percent. Conversely, when the Netherlands eliminated compulsory voting in 1970, voting turnouts plunged from 90 percent to less than 50 percent. Polls regularly show 70 percent to 80 percent of Australians support mandatory voting. Research found that people living in countries with compulsory voting are roughly twice as likely to believe that their government is responsive to the public’s needs and 2.8 times as likely to vote as compared to citizens in countries without compulsory voting. Is compulsory voting inconsistent with personal freedom? No! We have compulsory education, jury duty, and taxes that are more onerous than voting periodically. And all people have to do is turn out to vote. What they do with their secret ballot is up to them.