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home : opinion : opinion April 29, 2016

7/1/2014 10:56:00 AM
Editorial Compulsory voting?

As I watch our federal government become increasingly incapable of meaningful cooperative action, I find myself searching for some change in the way we elect leaders that might result in electing people who view themselves as responsible to all citizens of the United States rather than to any partisan group.

One approach that might offer promise is compulsory voting, that is requiring everyone voting age and older to go to the polls for every state and federal election.

There are 31 nations among the 195 currently existing nations that have compulsory elections, so the idea is not something new, novel or untested. It offers the potential for several benefits.

There are a number of variations in how compulsory voting works. In some countries, people are required to go to the polls but may choose not to cast a ballot, so they may sign in to prove they showed up and may receive a card as evidence they did so.

Penalties for not voting vary, but include potential fines or loss of benefit from government programs. In some cases, penalties can include private sector sanctions such as loss of banking privileges, employment opportunities or access to products and services.

Among the benefits of compulsory voting is the recognition by elected officials that virtually everyone will turn out to vote every election, not just during presidential elections. Elected officials become aware that they must satisfy not only their core party constituents but also a majority of all the citizens of their political district.

When people know they are going to vote in an upcoming election, they tend to become better informed about the issues and the candidates' positions on the issues. Not everyone becomes more informed as a result of being forced to vote but an increased number do become better informed.

Partisan and ultra-partisan voters tend to view the world through an us-versus-them lens. As a result, these voters spend little real time learning about or attempting to understand the multiple facets of most of the issues that confront the federal and state government. They tend to follow whatever the current party line is on issues and reject consideration of any other positions.

Those who are not committed to a party position are able to consider a multitude of potential positions on issues without being handicapped by partisan limitations. The more heads working on a problem, the more potential for finding a solution.

When people don't have to vote and plan not to do so, they have little incentive to devote time to solving problems they view as not being their responsibility. Forcing them to either vote or to at least show up to declare their intent not to do so will motivate many to accept more responsibility as citizens and to recognize more their own responsibility for what our government does at home and abroad.

Compulsory voting won't solve all our state and federal problems, but it may be a step in the right direction and is certainly worth considering.

Larry Dobson

Claremont Service

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