Why shouldn't voting be mandatory in the good ol' US of A

This thread was inspired by this thread in GQ. A similar thread was posted in 2001.

As I stated in GQ, on the basis that our government would not work if nobody voted, I think everyone should be required to vote.

This fits quite well into the social contract theory. You give up some of your rights for the good of the people because in the end you benefit from it also.

Yes, people have freedom of speech, and it is not beyond my creativity to place a check box on the ballot indicating that you think all options suck, or simply “Other”.

I believe that being a member of a society obligates you to take part in that societies governments, at least in the modest role of making your opinion known through a vote.

Maybe we could put the fines for not voting towards our national deficit. :dubious:

In my opinion, mandatory voting wouldn’t really add anything useful to the system. I think the question is: what would we do with the new information we got from the added votes, especially in areas where the majority of people really don’t care who is elected?
If there’s a “whatever/don’t care” option, what should be done if it wins? If we just ignore it and go with the “real” winner, we haven’t really gained anything over letting the don’t-care people stay home. Another election could be ordered, but there’s no guarantee a plurality of people will ever vote for a candidate… unless they just stop using the don’t care choice and pick randomly so as to avert another tiresome election and put SOMEBODY in office.

If there isn’t such a choice, a lot of voters will probably just vote randomly. A little anecdote here - I used to live in a town whose population was about 20,000 - let’s be conservative and say the voting-age population made up half of that. In the last election I voted in, I think only about 600-1000 people voted, at most. What would have happened if another few thousand random votes got added in to that? It’s quite possible that purely by chance, or because one guy had a cooler name, or for any other reason, the results of the election could have gone the other way - and so the people who actually did have an opinion about the election and might have been making an informed decision could be essentially overruled for no reason.

To be fair, these problems are probably more relevant to a small population like the one I described than for a nationwide election - I don’t seriously envision “none of the above” winninng a presidential election, for example, and random fluctuations would probably be less significant on a larger scale. alterego, do you think all elections should have mandatory voting, or only certain ones (i.e. national)?

Finally, I think the system we have is fair enough - if you don’t care who gets elected, you let the people who do care decide. The people who do vote don’t get their votes diluted, and the ones who don’t aren’t inconvenienced by going out to the polls to cast a meaningless vote.

I do realize that mandatory voting is in place in some countries and that it hasn’t led to a breakdown in democracy or anything like that. I must admit my general ignorance on the particulars though; can someone who knows about this fill me in on how they are run, how the problem of random votes is handled, whether there is a “none” option, etc?

I answered briefly in the original thread, but will try to expand a little. The thing is, I did not chose to be a member of this society, I was born into it. The whole idea about ‘what isn’t forbidden is mandatory’ is a very bad road to take for a society. It can lead to a totalitarian regime. I’m probably gonna be asked for a cite for this, and I don’t have one, but my WAG is that mandatory voting is more common in totalitarian countries, or countries in the developing world.

Whenever a politician feels a need to justify her/his existence, then something is wrong. When the politicians of a country take on the roles of rulers, rather than servants of the public, we miss the whole point with democracy, to wit: We, the public, elect people to take care of the running of the country, not to rule us. However, most politicians get intoxicated with power and quite a few of them forget that perspective. The power becomes the very purpose of being in office.
Of course, the more that turn up to cast a vote, the bigger the justification for those in power. But if the trend is, as it is in my country, with fewer people voting every time, it leads to a healthy debate about why so many don’t care. Hopefully, this will in turn lead to changes in policy by our elected officials.
In my country, I can honestly say that the seven parties in parliament all think that their respective policy is the best for the public. I don’t agree with most of these parties, but I don’t think any of them are willfully trying to do harm.
The debate after the referendum about the euro is still going on. A clear majority of the memebers of the parliament was for the euro, as were the parties they belong to. Why then, was it only two regions, out of some 25, that said yes? Were our politicians so out of touch with ther voters?
I say yes.

And I say that “rights” as in freedom of speech, assembly, the right to own property ASF, are there for me, as an individual. Those are not “rights” for the good of society.

And yes, I’m opposed to mandatory military service too.

Quite simply, the Constitution of the United States of America forbids it.

Forcing someone to spend their time voting (or on jury duty, or in a draft if that’s ever dredged up again) would constitute involuntary servitude prohibited by the 13th amendment.

It’s been conclusively decided that a military draft is not involuntary servitude in violation of the 13th Amendment.


My objection to compulsory voting is that if someone is too damned lazy to go vote, then it’s probably a better thing that they don’t vote in the first place.

Those who choose not to vote ARE voting. They are voting equal acceptability of all candidates.

The government’s power to raise armies is specifically enumerated in the Constitution. In addition, the federal courts are clear in finding that the federal government has the power to conscript armed forces. In Butler v. Perry, 240 U.S. 328, 333 (1916), the Supreme Court said:

See also Selective Draft Law Cases, 245 U.S. 366, 390 (1918) (finding that the objection to conscription based on the 13th Amendment was “refuted by its mere statement”). In U.S. v. Obrien, 391 U.S. 367, 377 (1968), the Supreme Court said, “The power of Congress to classify and conscript manpower for military service is ‘beyond question.’” So we can at least dispense with the notion that a draft violates the 13th Amendment.

I’m reasonably certain that similar laws exist that hold that jury duty does not constitute involuntary servitude, but their citation escapes me at the moment. If noone else can remember them I’ll try to find them later.

As for the OP, I’d rather limit voters to those that are interested enough in the election to be motivated to vote. By forcing everyone – even the most disinterested – to vote, you’re not increasing the quality of the election, but probably just increasing the number of uninformed voters.

Why would you want people who are too lazy and/or too indifferent to vote, to vote? What good would come from involving these people in the system by force? It seems kind of insulting to people who actually do care.

Imagine you were competing in, I don’t know, gymnastics or something against someone. YOu trained your whole life. Now you are going to be judged by 5 experienced judges who have spent the last 30 years judging gymnastics…oh, and we’re going to take 10 people in off the street who don’t have the slightest clue what’s even going on, have never even heard of gymnastics. We’re going to let those people vote too. Sound like a good idea? Wouldn’t you be a little insulted?

Personnally, I don’t think voting should be mandatory anywhere. People might be opposed to the existing system (say, they could favor an absolute monarchy, or be anarchism, etc…) or just disagree with the way the voting system is organized in their country. So, they shouldn’t be compelled to take in a process they dissaprove.

However, it’s very theorical opinion, and I wouldn’t get mad is voting became mandatory in my country (I would just vote against such a change).

As for the advantages : on one hand, as already pointed out, I’m not sure it’s necessarily a good idea to have a lot of people totally uninterested (and presumably totally uninformed as a consequence) to cast votes, on the other hand, a really low turn-over favor the extremes (since only very opiniated people will bother to vote), which means that the result of the election might not correctly represent the actual opinion of the population.
Finally, I’m not that interested in the US constitution, but a mandatory vote doesn’t look like servitude…especially since a citizen already has much more compelling obligations, like paying taxes or being drafted in case of war. If the government can send you oversea to kill people or get killed, sending you to the closest polling station to cast a ballot seems quite tame by comparison…

Um, why would anybody be in favor of mandatory voting? The idea creeps me out. It sends a message that the state knows what’s best, and must have power over every little act that might or might not be performed by its citizens. It forces everybody to perform a symbolic act of obeisance to the political power structure. I can’t think of anything more alien to a nation of free, responsible people.

Mandatory voting does not ensure an enlightnened electorate. Most would (IMHO) simply vote for the incumbent, the first name on the list, or some other such method.

At least, the way it is, those people who go to the polls now, do so because they want to make sure that a favored candidate is elected or an issue is passed or fails.


No. They are NOT voting.

Even if they made a conscious decision that all candidates were acceptable, they have not formalised it through the voting process.

I think most people dont vote because they couldnt be bothered, or they think that their vote wont make a difference. When you have a whole segment of society thinking like this then their individual votes will not make a difference. However, if there is an incentive to vote (overcome the inertia) then they will make a difference and break the self-fullfilling-prophecy of thinking their vote wont make a difference.

We should not take democracy for granted. Democracy is so important to our way of life that voting should be compulsory. It is democracy that gives us freedom.

Dont you think that if you have to vote one would pay a little more attention to the political affairs of ones country. Perhaps in countries where voting is not compulsory people dont care as much about what is going on around them because they know they will never have a say.

Is that your experience in Australia, antechinus? I don’t think so. I think people here would be pissed that they were required to vote, when they didn’t have to before, and just go through the motions.

Maybe I’m wrong, of course. Any one back me up out there?


I’d prefer to make it more difficult to vote. I don’t really want someone who is ignorant of the issues and candidates to skew the outcome. Have a qualifying test that you must pass before you’re allowed to vote!

I’m aware that the courts have decided that somehow the 13th amendment doesn’t apply to the government. That doesn’t make the courts right. That is exactly the problem when we “interpret” rather than read what a document says.

Without relying on the argument that the courts have decided it to be so, can you make a good argument that cumpolsory voting, jury duty, and mandatory military service are not involuntary (at least on the part of those who would otherwise not partake) and that they are not forms of service?

“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

I don’t think voting should be mandatory because it would further encourage the idea that voting is something to do because you are supposed to instead of something that is important to do for yourself. I think the problem of voter turnout is a problem of ignorance. Our nation does a lousy job of educating kids about why it is important to vote. We push voting as a duty. If our civics classes instead pointed out examples of how people that don’t vote get screwed then kids would be more likely to pay attention. I also think that three years of mandatory US history in high school would do wonders. If it were real history that is, and not the patriotic crap they shove down our throats now. That crap encourages people to trust government rather than giving us the tools to decide for ourselves.

We don’t need more bodies at the polls; we need more minds.

Maybe if the uninformed, ignorant non-voter was forced to vote they might cease being uninformed and ignorant?

I think if they were forced, mostly they would just do a bad job of it.