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The Case for Compulsory Voting

By M. Francis Mirro

Voting is the fundamental right that separates the citizen from the subject, the very cornerstone of a democratic system. There is also a responsibility to actually exercise that power.

Yet Americans go to the polls at drastically low levels, among the worst in the developed world. The 2018 midterms were celebrated for their high turnout rate, 53 percent, 11 points higher than the last midterm election in 2014.

Think about that.


Congress is conducting a potentially history-defining impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, and they earned their mandate of power from just a sliver over half of the eligible voting population.

And we’re celebrating that?

Over the years, efforts to remedy this gap in our democratic process have fallen flat due to a combination of voter suppression, felony disenfranchisement and general apathy towards the system.


The solution may be taking away the option entirely and mandating that all eligible voters cast a ballot. Whether for a Democrat or a Republican or a party started in your garage, everyone of voting age will have to cast some kind of ballot.

Some find the words “compulsion” or “mandate” to be antidemocratic. But something that inherently improves the democratic process cannot then be antidemocratic.

Consider jury duty.

We require people to attend jury duty when summoned because the court system requires a constant body of jurors for the system to function. It is both a right and a mandatory responsibility of every citizen to serve on a jury.

If we can recognize the need for a sufficient supply of jurors, why not the need for a healthy supply of voters?

Any amendment (and it would have to be an amendment) establishing compulsory voting would also have to establish Election Day as a paid national holiday to free working class Americans from the conflicting choice of casting a ballot or earning a day’s paycheck.

Next, that legislation would have to abolish felony disenfranchisement, which bars over six million citizens from exercising their vote due to previous jail time, essentially continuing to punish people after their sentence has been served.

Lastly, efforts to suppress votes throughout the country, particularly in minority communities, need to be actively fought and transparently bias measures like voter ID laws that exist in some form throughout 35 states. Once we can assure that everyone eligible is able to vote, a mandate enforced by a graduated fine, one based on your tax bracket, would ensure an overall better democratic outcome.


If the United States could approach a turnout anywhere near Belgium’s world leading 87 percent, the makeup of the government, locally and nationally, in both Congress and the White House, would be categorically changed.

After nearly 250 years, it would finally be, completely and without a doubt, a government by the people, all the people.

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