The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

This is NOT an anti-US tirade. Nor is it a debate about what is right or wrong. It’s a simple question about attitudes and how your personal attitudes reflect your personal opinions on political issues.

I live in a country in which voting is compulsory for all people over the age of 18 years. It isn’t that hard to duck out voting here if you really want to. But please, don’t come back a couple of years later and complain about our current government policies if you couldn’t be bothered hauling your ass up to the local school to vote.

As I understand it, voting is NOT compulsory in the US. My personal opinion is that the US has made a LOT of mistakes in terms of foreign policy over the years. What I don’t understand - however - is why so many people who live in the US and don’t even bother to vote THEMSELVES feel so confident about condemning the policies of the prevailing government.

I also don’t understand why any country in which voting is NOT compulsory (ie, the “democratic” government of said nation is elected by those who could be BOTHERED to vote) feels comfortable about challenging the legitimacy of other “elected” governments.

Am I the only person on this planet who sees some kind of irony in the US bombing the crap out of poor nations in order to “secure” ‘free, democratic, elections’, while many of your citizens can’t be bothered voting in their own?

I honestly don’t see how forcing people to do something increases the freedom quotient. We are able to make the statement that we are unhappy with any of our choices by refusing to participate in the process. It also gives other people to express their feeling of disenfranchisment by not bothering to haul their ass to the local school. Forcing people to vote seems to be one step toward the tyrany of the masses by giving the slickest guy the oportunity to superficially impress the unconcerned masses into voting for him. I would rather have the people who feel strongly enough to inform thenselves have their vote get more proportional power than diluting it by getting a whole bunch of uninformed bodies to vote for the most familiar or coolest name.

If we all lived in isolated worlds where we only elected for ourselves, then I would agree with you wolfman, but the Western world is right now trying to tell Palestinians who the hell they should elect if they want peace? More specifically, a nation where almost half the population takes their democracy so much for granted that they don’t even bother to vote thinks it’s OK to tell some other nation who they should elect?

Sorry - if you can’t be bothered voting in your own country, how DARE you tell people who live elsewhere who should govern their nations…

Maybe a country where more than half the people know they can not bother to vote, and still live with prosperity and contentment, knows they have a pretty good and self-correcting governmental system, that it is worth extending to countries where the majority of people live in fear and desperation.

I can see what you are saying, wolfman, but if you actually came to Australia and had a squiz, you’d be surprised at the number of young adults who really try to find out all they can about their voting options. Who has the best platform? Who seems to have the better economic plans? Who’s going to do something for me?

I know that I, as an 18 year old, and all my friends at the time took our voting very seriously. After all, we’re going to be stuck with the elected party for the next four years.

Basically, I agree with what reprise said.

I was trying to establich a lot of points in my OP.

Perhaps the major one I was trying to establish is that “unpopular” viewpoints do not get dismissed out of hand around here.

I’d far rather believe that we have somehow managed to come up with a viable model for world peace in this forum than I’d ever want to believe that I got some kind of “longtime poster weight” behind my opinions.

I’m not so wedded to my own personal paradigm of the universe that I will defend it no matter what.

I did - however - want to illustrate the point that it is perfectly possible to post an “unpopular” opinion around here without being threatened with loss of respect or friendship, let alone banning.

I just posted a very unpopular opinion. I’ve yet to see anyone calling for my banning because my opinion is unpopular. I’ve yet to see a Pit thread started because I posted an “unpopular” opinion.

There are so many differences of opinion which divide us who belong to this community if that is what we choose to make our focus.

Isn’t it a great thing that we - as a community - choose to recognise our common ground and celebrate our differences?

Because that’s exactly why I’m here - our ability to respect and learn from and celebrate and embrace the people who are NOT us.

I just wish that we could bottle the SDMB recipe and sell it to the world.

It seems like you’re linking percentage of adults (as I’ll define as a person who can vote) who vote to the quality of the elected government. Or at least to that said governments mandate to speak to the rest of the world. I can’t see as that fits. Maybe if the numbers got to be so small that they could no longer flesh out a bell curve then maybe but once you get past a few thousand I can’t see it as a problem.

I think the problem with your arguement is that you are forcing governments to inherit problems of the constituency when this isn’t necessarily true. What matters is not % or # but rather the quality of the government that gets elected. If 3,000 out of 3,000,000 vote an absolute genius and prodigy into office in country A and 3,000,000 out of 3,000,000 vote a conman into office in country B then country A is not only better off but the office holder has more rights to the soapbox to speak to the rest of the world. And of course it’s never that simple. No country has just one voice.

I do wish more Americans voted but I think making it mandatory would be the wrong way to do it. I think it puts the wrong message in the heads of voters. I would rather we work on building a greater civic mindedness in childhood, work on restoring some dignity to the process and (my favorite) make the voting period 3 days rather then just part of one.

Although this does bring up an interesting question. For Americans (and other countries where this is so) is compulsory jury duty contradictory with the free choice of non-participation? I tend to think not but it’s late and I don’t want to flesh out my reasoning. Especially because I might be wrong and finding that out would keep me up all night.


Deleted words. This isn’t necessary to my arguement but I liked the data I found so I’ll post it here.

On a similar vein one could argue that the number of voters means something. So with over 105,000,000 voters in the 2000 elections our government seems to have a significant mandate compared to the almost 12,100,000 votes Australia turned out in 2001. Both of which would pale to the 620,000,000 votes India turned out in 1999.

I am glad voting is not required. Sometimes I vote and sometimes I don’t. I feel guilty when I don’t vote but not for long. The candidates I choose usually lose. I confess that when I do vote, I often pick some candidates at random. I know I should take more of an interest in my civic responsibilities. I justify my “apathy/laziness” by thinking that really getting to know your candidate is very difficult. I mean the elections seem to be more about spin and sound bites than substantive issues. Even though my presidential candidates frequently lose, I am pleased with this country’s presidential leadership. LBJ is the only president that I have absolutely hated.

Even though I may, on occasion, not vote, I frequently write letters and or emails to elected officials. I have sent a couple of emails to GWB… I confess.:eek: I emailed our DA twice regarding an issue I feel strongly about.

The low percentages of voters is a symptom of the great problem in American politics, partially outlined by jacksen9:

The other big problem to a lot of people is that there often seems to be virtually no difference between the two major parties. The thought process is basically “It doesn’t matter who I vote for - the winner will almost certainly be a Republican or a Democrat and there’s hardly a difference in the partyline.” This creates quite a bit of apathy. I was in Israel in 1999 when Ehud Barak was elected PM, and it was an amazing experience. I heard teenagers screaming about politics on the bus, saw people standing on streetcorners for hours holding up giant banners, etc. For someone accustomed to the tedium of American politics, it was incredible to see the electorate so excited about an election. Voting isn’t mandatory in Israel, but something like 90% of registered voters do their duty anyway - because there is a sense that it matters. There is a difference between one candidate and another, and the way you vote can affect the direction the country will move.

This feeling is almost totally nonexistant in American politics. Gore or Bush, who cares? Not really a difference anyway! (Not necessarily true, but that was a prevailing attitude.) This is why I personally am a member of a third party - not because I agree with them on their entire platform, but because I would like to see parties actually standing for something other than trying to sway the moderate majority. And yes, I vote. I’ve even been known to work voter registration campaigns and call people on election day to harrass them to the polling place.

Back to the OP: because there is a problem in American politics, the US government should stay out of international affairs? I was raised to believe, and I still believe, that democracy is a good idea. Certainly we have having trouble executing this idea in our own country, but I don’t think that is a good reason to stop promoting it.

Doing things like MAKING people vote is exactly the opposite of the idea behind the American constitution. We don’t MAKE people do anything but play nice.

You can own a gun if you don’t misuse it, you don’t have to vote, you don’t have to tell the government if you move, you don’t have to carry ID, you don’t have to even HAVE ID (not just to live–you do to actually DO most things, of course), etc.

This also means that it is possible to dodge jury duty, btw, as the names are pulled from the driving records and things like home ownership, I think. Of course, in America, not many people whom I would want on a jury have no drivers license.

I find that Europeans (and maybe some of their old colonies) are almost universally willing to put up with a lot more government control over personal actions than Americans are.

If you proposed in the U.S. Congress that residents would have to file papers at city hall when they moved, your political career would go down in flames in about a week, and you’d have to have a separate room just for the hate mail. This is the extreme end, but there seriously would be people stating to the local “Eyewitness News” that there wasn’t the slightest chance they’d comply with that law: they’d go to jail first.

But isn’t your social security number an ID? Don’t you need to have a SSN in order to function in American society?

(I’m not being facetious, I’m genuinely curious because not being American I don’t know).

Well, you could go live in a cabin in Montana, a la the Unabomber.

But if you actually want to do anything, yeah, you do need a social security number.

It’s interesting to note that when social security was created, I believe as a part of FDR’s New Deal, it was not particularly well-liked. People resented that they might eventually be known only as a number. Now we’re used to it.

First of all, I’d like to thank the posters who have contributed to this thread and shared their honest opinions without feeling like my question was a personal insult to all Americans.

I understand the “pox on both your houses” viewpoint. Essentially we have two political parties here who could form government in their own right or in coalition with the minor parties.

Sometimes I vote FOR a party and its policies. And sometimes I quite deliberately cast a vote which will but in place a “buffer zone”. I thought the policies of both our major parties stunk big time last time I had to vote, and so I quite deliberately cast my vot with “the balance of power” in mind.


So, let me get this. If American voting numbers fell to say 10% (heaven forbid) of the population and hence 16 million cast votes, in your view, the resulting administration would have “a significant mandate” compared to an Australian government elected by a magority where only 12million (@95% turnout) voted.

You would seem to have one screwed up notion of democracy.

The number of voters is a logistical question. The notion of mandate would be in winning magority support, be that 13 votes in a classroom of 25 or 330mil in an Indian election.

I’m sorry, but didn’t Australia have a problem with people just punching the first name on a ballot and dropping it in? Or just dropping it in blank? If I’m wrong, please correct me.

No sure about being a problem, but yes, compulsory voting does not mean you have to cast a valid vote, simply attend a polling station. Informal voting (ranging from blank, defaced or an error filling in the ballot paper) runs around 2.5%.

I would suggest that if you’re going to have compulsory voting, then you should have an official “None of the above” or protest box to tick. However, no political party would have the courage to put such a choice on the ballot paper for fear of a large protest vote.

You have altered that paragraph by removing my first sentence “On a similar vein one could argue that the number of voters means something.” That plainly means that this is not my arguement at all. Rather what I was doing was extending reprise’s arguement to another statistic which I consider almost equivalent. I could have also used percentage of vote for a particular candidate or number of candidate’s up for office. All of which is the basis for my disagreement with reprise. While 95% participation is certainly preferable to 10% participation it does not mean that the former government is superior to the latter anymore then India’s government is superior to Australia’s.

The entire point of my post was that numbers such as these (as they stand now) largely mean nothing as to the resulting quality of government or that government’s mandate. What matters is the quality of the government. Something that depends solely on the people elected and little for the people who elected them.

Now certainly there would be a point where I would begin to worry. I have not put any thought into where this might be but I don’t think we’re there yet.

If I had a “None of the Above” box I’d vote 100% of the time.

Sometimes I just don’t have anyone to vote for. Unless you want me to vote for someone I don’t agree with just to increase the voting %age?

I had a chuckle at the word “extending” :wink:

Does anyone really believe that the US’s foreign policy is as a result of goodwill, or idealistic belief about spreading democracy to non-democratic countries? I mean is that what most Americans are told by their government to justify their foreign policy, that it is out of some altruistic desire to spread democracy?!