Should Americans be Required to Vote?

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Should Americans be Required to Vote?

Compulsory voting is a system in which electors are obliged to vote in elections or attend a polling place on voting day. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he or she may be subject to punitive measures such as fines or community service. As of August 2013, 22 countries have laws for compulsory voting and 11 of these 22 countries enforce these laws in practice.

Should the United States become the 23 country to adopt compulsory voting laws?

- Required by law or a rule; obligatory

- A threatened penalty for disobeying a law or rule.

- A person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy

- Belonging naturally; essential
- All the people in a country or area who are entitled to vote in an election.
What is Compulsory Voting?

Most democratic governments consider participating in national elections a right of citizenship. Some consider that participation at elections is also a citizen's civic responsibility. In some countries, where voting is considered a duty, voting at elections has been made compulsory and has been regulated in the national constitutions and electoral laws. Some countries go as far as to impose sanctions on non-voters.

Compulsory voting is not a new concept. Some of the first countries that introduced mandatory voting laws were Belgium in 1892, Argentina in 1914 and Australia in 1924.

Advocates of compulsory voting argue that decisions made by democratically elected governments are more legitimate when higher proportions of the population participate. They argue further that voting, voluntarily or otherwise, has an educational effect upon the citizens. Political parties can derive financial benefits from compulsory voting, since they do not have to spend resources convincing the electorate that it should in general turn out to vote. Lastly, if democracy is government by the people, presumably this includes all people, then it is every citizen's responsibility to elect their representatives.

The leading argument against compulsory voting is that it is not consistent with the freedom associated with democracy. Voting is not an intrinsic obligation and the enforcement of the law would be an infringement of the citizens' freedom associated with democratic elections. It may discourage the political education of the electorate because people forced to participate will react against the perceived source of oppression. Is a government really more legitimate if the high voter turnout is against the will of the voters? It has been proved that forcing the population to vote results in an increased number of invalid and blank votes compared to countries that have no compulsory voting laws.

Another consequence of mandatory voting is the possible high number of "random votes". Voters who are voting against their free will may check off a candidate at random, particularly the top candidate on the ballot. The voter does not care whom they vote for as long as the government is satisfied that they fulfilled their civic duty. What effect does this immeasurable category of random votes have on the legitimacy of the democratically elected government?

Not all laws are created to be enforced. Some laws are created to merely state the government's position regarding what the citizen's responsibility should be. Mandatory voting laws that do not include sanctions may fall into this category. Although a government may not enforce mandatory voting laws or even have formal sanctions in law for failing to vote, the law may have some effect upon the citizens. For example, in Austria voting is compulsory in only two regions, with sanctions being weakly enforced. However, these regions tend to have a higher turnout average than the national average.

Can a country be considered to practice compulsory voting if the mandatory voting laws are ignored and irrelevant to the voting habits of the electorate? Is a country practicing compulsory voting if there are no penalties for not voting? What if there are penalties for failing to vote but they are never or are scarcely enforced? Or if the penalty is negligible?

Many countries offer loopholes, intentionally and otherwise, which allow non-voters to go unpunished. For example, in many countries it is required to vote only if you are a registered voter, but it is not compulsory to register. People might then have incentives not to register. In many cases, like Australia, an acceptable excuse for absence on Election Day will avoid sanctions.

The diverse forms compulsory voting has taken in different countries leads us to ask the question. Should the United States have compulsory voting?


1- Brainstorm:

Write three reasons why you think it is important for citizens to vote in a democratic society.

2- According to the author, what do advocates of compulsory voting argue?

3- What evidence does the author give to argue against compulsory voting?

4- What words or phrases help you understand what the term “random votes” means?

5- In lines 30-36, what justification does the author give for creating laws that aren’t enforced?

6- According to lines 41-45, what kinds of loopholes are offered in compulsory voting laws?

Document A

Source: The Atlantic, A Feasible Roadmap to Compulsory Voting, November 2015

Note: The chart shows the percentage of people that vote in a compulsory electorate vs a voluntary electorate.


1- Which tends to have better voter turnout: compulsory voting or mandatory voting?

2- What is the trend in the voluntary electorate?

3- What is the peak percentage of compulsory voters? Voluntary?

4- What is the lowest percentage of compulsory voters? Voluntary?

5- Based on this chart, do you think compulsory voting should be implemented in the United States?

Explain your answer.

Document B

Source: Pew Research Institute, U.S. voter turnout trails most developed countries, May 2015

Note: In some countries, the estimated voting age population is smaller than the estimated number of registered voters. *National law makes voting compulsory. In addition, one Swiss canton has compulsory voting.


% of voting age population

% of registered voters

Belgium (2014)*



Turkey (2011)*



Sweden (2014)



Denmark (2011)



Australia (2013)*



South Korea (2012)



Iceland (2013)



Norway (2013)



Israel (2015)



New Zealand (2014)



Finland (2015)



Greece (2015)*



France (2012)



Netherlands (2012)



Austria (2013)



Italy (2013)



Germany (2013)



Mexico (2012)*



Ireland (2011)



Hungary (2014)



Spain (2011)



U.K. (2010)



Czech Republic (2013)



Slovakia (2012)



Portugal (2011)



Luxembourg (2013)*



Estonia (2015)



Poland (2010)



Canada (2011)



Slovenia (2014)






Japan (2014)



Chile (2013)



1- What are the top 5 developed countries with the highest % of voting age population?

2- What are the top 5 developed countries with the highest % of registered voters?

3- What country has the highest % of registered voters, in which, voting is compulsory? What about the lowest?

4- Make a claim using evidence from this chart. Be sure your claim shows a comparison between countries where voting is compulsory, where it is voluntary, and eligible voters v registered voters.

Document C

Source: Young Voter Strategies, a nonpartisan project in partnership with the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University, provides the public, parties, candidates, consultants and nonprofits with data and research on the youth vote as well as best practices to effectively mobilize young people.

One of the most robust empirical regularities discovered in political science is that past voting behavior is a good predictor of future voting behavior.

Numerous academic studies and electoral analyses show that voting is habit-forming. Once you vote, you are more likely to vote again—and again, and again, and again.

According to Professor Eric Plutzer, “Virtually all major works on turnout have concluded that voting behavior is, in part, a gradually acquired habit.”

An individual’s history of voting is predictive of future voting

• In 2000, Surveys found that a person who voted in the previous presidential election is 33 to 36.4 percentage points more likely to vote in the next presidential election. According to the authors, “turnout in a given presidential election is a powerful determinant of turnout in the subsequent presidential contest.”

• Another panel study found that virtually no (3%) respondents who reported voting in 1968 and 1972 missed voting in 1974 and 1976. Of those who reported not voting in two previous consecutive elections, however, more than two-thirds also failed to vote in the next election.

• Results from a randomized field experiment found that the fact that an individual voted in a 1998 election raised the probability of him voting in the subsequent 1999 election by 46.7 percentage points.

• A 2004 paper which analyzes the results of eight field experiment found that a person who votes in one election is 29 percentage points more likely to vote in the next major election.

Young Voters: Increasing Turnout, Forming a Habit

In 2004 and 2006, young voters increased their election turnout over the previous two elections. In the 2004 general election, more than 20 million 18-29 year olds voted (4.3 million more than in 2000); in 2006, about 10 million cast ballots (2 million more than in 2002). All signs indicate that the young adults who voted in these elections are much more likely to vote again in 2008.

In other words, millions more young adults have become voters in the past two elections—and have begun to become habitual voters. 1. According to the author of this article, what is a good predictor of voting behavior?

2. According to lines 10-11, what does Eric Plutzer conclude?

3. What evidence does the author provide in lines 12-22 to back up his claim about voting turnout?

4. What does the author infer is the best way to increase voter turnout, and what lines support your answer?

Document D

Source: Australia election: Why is voting compulsory? By Katie Beck

The right to vote is a freedom fiercely sought by people all over the world, but Australians do not have a choice.

The continent is part of a small minority of just 23 countries with mandatory voting laws. Only 10 of those enforce them.

Registering to vote and going to the polls are legal duties in Australia for citizens aged 18 and over, and failing to do so can result in a fine and potentially a day in court.

Opponents of the system like Libertarian columnist Jason Kent say this stifles political freedom and threatens the basic principles of democracy.

"People have been sentenced to jail terms for not voting. It's disgusting. It's far from being democratic. We are not a democracy if we can't vote democratically." But Dr. Peter Chen, who teaches politics at the University of Sydney, warns that this type of heated rhetoric blows things out of proportion. He says showing up to the polls every so often is not a huge burden.

"The system demonstrates a social expectation that at a minimum everyone needs to participate every few years and that's a good thing."

Although small, the A$20 (about $18, £12) fine is enough to drive voters to the polls in substantially greater numbers than countries with voluntary voting.

Supporters of the system say Australia boasts some of the highest civic participation in the world, with a reported 94% voter turnout in the last federal election, compared with about 65% in the UK's 2010 general election and an estimated 57% in the 2012 US presidential election.

1. What was the percent of voters that turned out in Australia’s last election? UK? United States?

2. How many countries have mandatory voting laws?

3. What is the penalty for not voting in Australia?

4. According to this article, is mandatory voting a good thing or a bad thing? What lines support your claim?

Document E

Source: http: Boston Globe, written by Dan Wasserman.

1- What are people waiting in line for?

2- What is the man on the right referring to when he says “only a few hundred years?”

3- Does this cartoon support compulsory voting? Explain why or why not.

Document F


Note: President John F. Kennedy Reminds You to Vote November 6th (PSA)



Document G


Note: This is a learn liberty video that has been taken from the YouTube series.


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