Voter turnout in American elections has never been anything to brag about. United States lags far behind most other modern industrialized democracies, with only about 54% in the 2012 presidential election, and 36% in the most recent midterm election.
To put things into perspective, that 36% turnout last fall means 144 million people did not participate; this is larger than the population of Russia.
Obama spoke recently at a town hall in Cleveland, Ohio about campaign financing. Asked how to alter the influence of big-money on elections, Obama suggested the idea of mandatory voting.
“Other countries have mandatory voting…It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything,” said Obama.
According to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, at least 26 countries have mandatory voting. In Australia failure to vote without a valid reason (there is little emphasis in the word valid) results in a small fine yet nearly 90% of their eligible population go to the polls.
Failure to pay such a fine in countries like Belgium could result in prison.
However, there is a larger problem with mandatory voting in America: how can a country that was founded and prides itself on the principle of freedom of speech require mandatory voting?
“People have a right to opt out of elections. It’s not happening,” said, Frank Askin, a law professor at Rutgers University and expert in election law.
United States, supposedly a nation predicated on freedom requires its citizens to do very little, relatively: pay taxes, serve on juries, be drafted in serve in the military and most recently buy health insurance
Obama who at a campaign fundraiser in 2007, said, “I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution,” seems to have forgotten this.
“It’s not surprising to me that a Democrat would be making that argument,” said Michael McDonald, an associate political science professor at the University of Florida in an article by Fox News. “There are a number of surveys that have been done that demonstrate the massive people who tend not to vote are Democratic in nature.
Many others have also argued that enforced voting of an politically uneducated population would only diminish the democratic process for those already going to the polls.
“Turning the vote out might not be a problem, but wooing disengaged citizens now requires banal sloganeering and crass misleading negative advertising,” said Haydon Manning, associate professor at Flinders University in Australia, and critic of country’s voting laws.
The Democrats have now lost two midterm elections. Obama’s musings over mandatory voting are nothing more than wishful thinking in an attempt to secure more votes.