Voting has been considered a sacred practice for centuries. As one of the main pillars of a democratic society, perhaps the best way to do this in a democratic system is to vote in elections. And yet, so many Americans do not vote despite being eligible and directly impacted by the outcomes of said elections. Why is it, then, that people do not engage in the electoral system? There are many reasons, including apathy and disillusionment, lack of preference for a candidate, disenfranchisement, and more. There are ways to make voting easier, and we should without a doubt take those steps, as barriers to engagement are antithetical to the democratic ideology. But just because something is easy to do does not mean it will be done. So how, then, do we ensure maximum participation in our democratic election process? I believe that compulsory voting in elections is the strongest way to ensure that we have maximum participation. Compulsory voting means that all citizens of voting age are required to vote, and are subject to a fine if they do not do so.
Compulsory voting is a great way to protect our democracy. More participation leads to more equitable representation. People tend to vote for those that they can see themselves in. This is not an absolute rule, but it is still a strong influence on how someone might vote. Currently, According to a CRS report, the average age of senators is over 64 years old. No wonder young Americans are the least likely to vote; they do not see candidates who look like them, think like them, talk like them, believe the same things they do. According to the American Bar Association, our 117th congress is still overwhelmingly white. The house, with significantly more representatives covering more specific regions of the nation, is predictably more diverse, but still 73% white. The Senate is even less diverse with 89 whie members. This means that people of color are less evenly represented because there are less members who look, think, talk, and behave the way they do. When you force everyone of voting age to participate, suddenly there is an even larger demand for younger and more diverse officials, people who can better connect with historically disengaged sections of the population.
More participation leads to more engagement. The more people vote, the more likely they are to engage in other civic actions like advocating for a cause close to them, attending local town hall events, and contacting elected officials to encourage them to vote a certain way. This increase in engagement leads to more knowledge on how our government works. If people are forced to engage in something, like it or not, they will learn about how that thing works. By mandating voting, we can counterbalance the canyons in our education system when it comes to our government.
More participation leads to more accountability. The more people engage with their government, the harder it is for elected officials to not have to answer for anything your constituency does not approve of. When people are forced to vote, they will be looking at the behavior of the person they have the ability to vote for. If their incumbent candidate has behaved dishonestly or inappropriately enough, mandated voting will bring these issues to light.
Of course, there are still major obstacles to overcome in our voting method, and making it mandatory for all citizens will not necessarily make those go away. For starters, almost every Tuesday, somewhere in the United states, there is an election going on for some position. This means that there needs to be a system in place that can make people more aware of the elections going on in the place that they live. Moreover, there are many hurdles that one must jump over in order to be registered to vote. By making voting mandatory, however, we can eliminate this issue by automatically registering everyone of voting age. There is also the issue of when voting day is. Tuesday, a weekday, was chosen in order to make it harder for those who could not afford to take the time out of their workday to vote. This punishes lower income people. Making voting mandatory could only exacerbate this issue. That is why it will also be important to move when voting day is from a Tuesday to a weekend day, or even expanding the window in which a person can vote by starting on the Friday before and ending like always on Tuesday night. By allowing a large window for people to go and vote, especially if all eligible voters will vote, will not only reduce stress on poll workers but it will also make voting more convenient and easy. It would reduce lines and streamline the process while accommodating for the large number of “new” voters.
Compulsory voting will not cure all of the damage made to our democratic institutions over the past 5+ years. For that, our nation needs to do more introspective work on empathy, understanding, and a belief in our common humanity. But in order for such a renewal of American ideals, we need time and patience and strength. In the meantime, one step on our long journey of national unity is to bring everyone we can into the democratic system.