Mandatory Voting for Minors

I thought I had posted on this before but couldn’t find anything in a search. Maybe it was during the Winter of Our Missed Content. Anyways I was watching a story on Friday’s Colbert Report about the Florida teacher who was registering her students to vote. Her comment that getting them to vote now would likely turn them into lifelong voters brought this idea to mind. The idea is pretty simple. Congress passes a law requiring every student from Grade Six through Twelve to be registered and vote in federal elections. The votes would be counted and the result announced but it would not affect the outcome of the election. (Though in the case of a tie the youth vote could be used to determine the winner before going to a coin flip.)

The benefit of the idea would be that it would give children practice in fulfilling their civic duty and encourage them to continue voting after reaching adulthood. The counterargument that low turnout is a good thing because the more informed people are likely to turn out falls flat because it ignores the fact that choosing leaders is only part of the function of elections. Arguably it’s the lesser part. Elections also tie voters to the government. Giving people a connection to the government stabilizes society.

Also there are those studies showing that the more educated a person is the more likely they are to cling to core beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence. People that are more informed may appear on the surface to be more competent voters but they could be less willing and able to judge new information that comes out during elections.

In fairness I should note that since not voting correlates with having a low income I think it likely that if more people voted the range of acceptable government policy would shift to become more populist. This is a good thing in my estimation. However I wouldn’t argue this as a reason to support mandatory minor voting. I believe that you shouldn’t judge a political system based on how often it produces outcomes that you would prefer.

This presupposes that the government is always good enough to deserve a connection with the people. It may not be. A government may become so corrupt, inefficient, and unresponsive that there’s no benefit to be had from giving it a connection to the people. When voters turnout is high, that confers an air of legitimacy on the government. When voter turnout is low, it suggests that many citizens don’t view the government as legitimate. If the citizens don’t view the government as legitimate, then voter turnout should not be high.

In general, American laws don’t recognize minors as being capable of making their own decisions – for example, as I understand it (from my two semesters of business law), they can’t legally sign contracts on their own.

Yes, it’d be a good exercise in civics. We already have enough voters who choose candidates on the shallowest of reasons.

Making voting mandatory makes me think of authoritarian rigged elections.

As I understand it, Australia has compulsory voting for all eligible voters. Perhaps a poster from down under can expand?

I don’t particularly like the mandatory part for school-age children, but a field trip to the polling place (often in the school anyways) to cast a “non-counting” vote sounds like perfectly cromulent use of educational time.

On preview: randomface, of the 25 countries with compulsory voting I don’t think any of them can be rightly called authoritarian.

Because lessening citizen involvement is a great way to turn bad government into good government, right?

The intention of the OP’s idea is good, but I wonder if this will simply make the stark discrimination between minors and (majors? I dunno) more, er, stark.

I am cautious about lowering the voting age, but I think this will make the issue much more prominent - particularly if their vote could have swung it if they did vote.

But turnout itself has no effect on government.

How? You’re forcing them to vote in a meaningless election that doesn’t accomplish anything. It doesn’t give them any kind of meaningful practice and it doesn’t encourage them to do anything. It might bring up an uncomfortable resemblance to real federal elections, where your vote also often counts for practically nothing. :wink: I assume the tiebreaker thing was a joke, but that would require an amendment to the Constitution. Voting is kind of a pain in the ass, and the only reason it is arguably worthwhile is that your vote counts, even if it’s only in an abstract sense or in terms of expressing your own conscience. This doesn’t even meet that standard. It does waste their parents’ money and creates the potential for vote-counting screwups (hey, we haven’t had one of those in a while, have we?), but if you feel kids need practice voting, there’s already a perfectly workable version: school elections. Those don’t make much difference to anyone either, but at least they work at kid-scale and already exist, and the kids can actually participate as candidates and voters.

I’m also opposed to mandatory voting on general principle because I think not voting is also a valid way to express a preference, but even if we overlook that issue, this doesn’t make any sense. I do support lowering the voting age a bit further.

I can’t see the harm in the idea but I would spin it a bit differently, so it seems a bit less draconian.

Once every 4 years there would be an initiative sponsored by the Department of Education of stressing the importance of voting. Schools will be encouraged to devote part of their civics lessons to discussing the electoral process, and will be provided with ballots that can be used for voting by the students on voting day as the culmination of the lesson. The results of these elections will be tallied by an each individual school and sent to the department of Education where they will be tallied and a grand total (by grade level) will be presented in a ceremonial press conference. The decision as to whether or not to participate and enforcement provisions (if any) are left to the state and local level.

There will then follow a flurry of accusations by the losers of vote tampering, and fraud. But since the whole thing is just for PR with no real effect it will fall off the news cycle in a couple of weeks.

Turnout has no direct effect on government. It can, however, have an emotional influence on people, including politicians and government bureaucrats. If turnout is high, those people can more confidently assert that they’re doing the will of the people.

A decent argument I’d say. But turnout is relative. If 70% normally turn out then 50% is low. Also in democratic governments votes can change the government so that revolution isn’t necessary. So yes, stability is beneficial even when the government is substandard.

I’m not sure why. In any case voting wouldn’t be mandatory for adults. Only simulated voting for educational purposes. Education is already mandatory.

I’m not sure what you are getting at here. Minors aren’t a permanent subclass. They grow up.

There are studies which show that people who get in the habit of voting retain that habit as they age.

No it wouldn’t. Congress has the right to set up federal elections. This includes lowering the voting age. I believe Oregon v Mitchell was the decision that verified this.

And why is your idea preferable to things like school elections or just having them vote when they’re legally eligible? Neither of those requires mandatory voting and additional expenses.

I was talking about your idea that the youth vote act as a tiebreaker.

Put me down for “this is a decent idea”. It also needs some work.

Compulsory voting however, is an excellent idea and we should institute it. Simply add two choices to the bottom:

" I prefer to abstain "

" I do not wish to cast a vote for any of the choices"

That will cover the bases, but allow us to accurately track the numbers of apathetic voters.


Being registered to vote, and turning up on polling day, is compulsory for all citizens over 18. If you don’t, you get a small fine ($50 or so).

Note that I say “turning up to vote”. Given that we use paper and pencil ballots, and obviously the vote is secret, there is no way to compel anyone to actually cast a legitimate vote. If you think none of the candidates deserve your support, there’s nothing to stop you writing “Fuck the lot of you” over the top of it and dropping it in the box like that.

However, you can get into trouble for advocating that people do that. See Albert Langer and his “put the bastards equal last” campaign. I strongly disapprove of what happened to him, I think the ability to just opt out of all the options is an important one. However, I have no problem at all with requiring people to turn up to the polling booth on election day. It’s a civic duty, and one that is far less onerous than, say, jury service.

The main objection to compulsory voting, I think, is that it doesn’t address voter disengagement; it merely masks it.

Having participated both in a democracy where voting is optional - Ireland - and in a democracy where voting is compulsory - Australia - I can’t say I observe that compulsory voting does much to encourage civic engagement. Australian elections are, in effect, decided by the cohort of citizens who, given their druthers, would rather not vote at all, and the result is, to my eyes, depressingly superficial, sensationalist, personality-based campaigning.

I can’t think of any good reason why people who can’t be arsed to vote should be pushed to vote. Many people just don’t care, and just because people like the OP do care, is no reason to force that mindset on other people. WTF do you care if people vote or not? Leave the fucking people alone if they don’t want to vote.

This is good information - thanks UDS. It does make sense that requiring non-engaged voters to vote would actually make politics even dumber ( /shudder).

Yeah, I think that’s probably right.

Although there is a bit of a difference between mandatory voting for voting-age persons and mandatory voting as a part of secondary education…

Is there any evidence that becoming accustomed to voting in school elections leads people to be more interested in voting in federal elections?

Me too. Though I should qualify that by stating that I don’t believe the current court would uphold such a provision. After all, Oregon v Mitchell was a 5-4 decision. So say rather that it could potentially be done without constitutional amendment.

I think it would improve our democracy if more people (fucking or otherwise) voted. Politicians would need broader support to be elected. And note that I’m not proposing mandatory voting for adults. The idea is to get more people to care so that they show up even if they don’t have to. Thus more people with a stake in government.

Mandatory voting… you may not care that much, but when the time comes to fill those boxes, most of us will put a little thought into it. Slightly better than putting none, IMO.

I would vote the same way even if didn’t “have” to. Front up, number the boxes along ideological lines, then down that chute.

This task itself is no more onerous than going to the petrol station, we don’t get frogmarched to Central Bureaucracy. So mouth frothing at the imposition is relatively rare.