Required voting probably not the best option


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Millions of Americans headed to the polls Tuesday to cast their votes in the midterm elections. CNN predictions claim only 40 percent of the voting age population, however, will have turned out this year, which brings up the question of how to increase the number of people who vote.

For Australians and members of some other democracies, mandatory voting was the answer. But could requiring citizens to vote truly make the United States better?

Advocates for such an option claim it would eliminate campaigns focusing almost exclusively on core supporters, as citizens with less intense or emotional connection to a platform prefer compromise to conflict. Candidates could focus more on reaching the broadest possible audience and serious legislative work. It also may eliminate the issue of excessive campaign spending and the ability of greater wealth to have more influence.

In such a system, citizens would be required to present themselves at a polling place and either cast their votes or choose to spoil the ballot.

But such a concept is, in reality, one that only stands a chance of adoption if the governing party believes it would benefit its candidates.

According to Gretchen Helmke and Bonnie Meguid, associate political science professors at the University of Rochester, conservatives were the first to champion mandatory voting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the time, liberals maintained an unmatched ability to mobilize voters, therefore the right countered with proposed compulsory voting to bring out more constituents.

Generally, a mandatory voting law is impractical, and it would be nearly impossible to impose such a law. It could not be regulated efficiently, and it could not be adequately enforced.

Instead, voting should be made easier for constituents to participate. Same-day registration, more opportunities for remote voters and making Election Day an official holiday could all accommodate our realistic needs as voters.

The question should not be how to force people to vote, the question should be how to convince people to care about voting. Describing the democratic process as a duty or shaming constituents into it does not work efficiently, apparently, so the next step should be to find out how to make people want to make a difference.

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