Voting is a right, not a requirement, in the US and in most of the world. However, some 30 countries, ranging from Australia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, require adults to cast a ballot.
There are arguments pro and con to a compulsory vote. The greatest factor in favor is that elections are decided by a true majority of the population, rather than the slice that makes its way to the polls. The biggest factor against is that voting can be a real pain in the butt — and what to do if you don’t, in fact, like any of the candidates?
Another argument against compulsory voting is it would “dumb down” the election, as many people forced to vote might do so in spite, or ignorance, or (as in the case of some honest-to-goodness ballots), use the dots to create pretty patterns.
The question of fraudulent voting — which is attracting a great deal of attention of late as Republicans pass laws to require photo IDs to cast a ballot, and the Democratic US Justice Department files lawsuits to prevent this — is likely the greatest challenge to compulsory — therefore universal — voting.
All of that said, would not we as a nation be a more democratic republic (and please take note of that careful phrasing) if more of us took part in the process?
Based on the 30 or so countries that require voting, whether compulsory balloting is good for the country (or not) is unclear.
Perhaps that is because they only require voters to cast a ballot, nothing more.
Finally, the idea
On each ballot, include three questions:
- Who is the president of the US (Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush Obama: pick one).
- Who is your state’s current governor? Pick from a list of recent candidates.
- Does the US Government run at a deficit? Yes or no.
It would need to be multiple choice. And fairly simple. There’s a “civics test” making the rounds of the internet (click here to try it out) that’s tough — and also subject to quibbling over what answers are correct. These questions are clear-cut. Create a list of 20 similar ones and spit out different questions on different ballots.
Here’s the deal: For a ballot to count, the voter must answer at least two of the three questions on his or her ballot correctly.
Not an especially high hurdle, and maybe the bar needs to be higher. Then again, look at what we got with our current system: Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama. Hmmmm.
And one other requirement: for national offices, there should be a “none of the above” choice. And if “none of the above” prevails, elections are held until someone takes the prize.
Jeffersonian Democracy is based on this notion: democracy demands an educated and informed electorate. Would it even matter if voters took the answers to the questions into the booth with them? They can take a sheet saying whom to vote for with them now, after all. And would it even matter if “illegals” voted, as long as they are “educated and informed?”
Would educated and informed voters have changed “Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama?” Would this idea help make votes count?