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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Should Voting Be Mandatory in the U.S.?

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I’ve learned from some Brazilians that voting is mandatory in their country –- that’s right, you must vote in Brazil if you are at least 18 years old. Imagine the look of horror on one Brazilian’s face when I told him that not only do millions of Americans not vote, but millions are also not even registered to vote. His look said, “Why, that is a disgrace!” I think he’s right.

The battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has inspired many unregistered people in this country to not only register but to exercise their right to vote.

Whatever the outcome of the Primary election might be, I say Obama and Clinton deserve credit for getting younger people, African-Americans, and others to express themselves politically.

If voting were mandatory for all citizens in America who are 18 years old and older, how would that change the look of Congress, the White House, and our state and local governments? I wonder, would we see more women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, disabled and handicapped representatives?

Here’s part of a post by a Washington state resident, Bill Center, who visited Brazil less than 2 years ago. He talks about the effect of mandatory voting in that country:

We were in Brazil during the final weeks of the election campaign. The race for President is closer than anticipated and seems to be drawing a lot of attention from the citizens. In Brazil every citizen is a voter. Voting is "mandatory."


Interesting idea.

Technically there can be serious penalties for failing to vote, including loss of government pension. In reality the serious penalties are seldom imposed. Most often there is a fine equal to about $1US. It hardly seems necessary as most people appear to view voting as a serious responsibility.

President Lula — who rose from poverty himself — is very popular with the poorer classes because of the social programs he has implemented. Even so, his reelection is in some jeopardy because of recent scandals involving some of his top aides. His challenger is the Governor of the State of Sao Paulo [population 40 million!]. Under Brazilian law, he had to give up the governorship to run for president.




Click here to read U.S. Census figures on voter turnout numbers in the 2004 presidential election in the U.S.

4 comments:

Regina said...

This raises a very interesting question, without really thinking about it I would say that mandatory voting is a good thing. Millions of our young do not vote for no good reason at all.

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

Regina,
I think the key phrase there is "without really thinking about it." I too would initially say, "Yes, let's MAKE everybody vote!" But then something tells me there's something somewhere in the Constitution that wouldn't allow this.

PatricktheRogue said...

I do know of some countries where voting is mandatory. Cyprus, where my wife grew up, requires citizens to show up to the polling place and sign in, but does not actually force them to vote as such. Australia also has mandatory voting. But if you read the papers in those places, you see a lot of folks lamenting the number of people who vote without a clue about who is running or the issues at stake.
There seem to me to be two issues here: one, mandatory voting does appear to encourage many people to inform themselves about the political process and participate responsibly, of course it also forces even the most irresponsible to vote as well.
The second issue is freedom of speech, which is guaranteed in the bill of rights. Isn't voting, expressing an opinion about who should hold office, a form of speech? Doesn't freedom of speech also mean the freedom not to speak?

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

Mr. Patrick,
Your Freedom of Speech point is well taken. From someone who used to work for The First Amendment Center, I should know better.
:-)
You're absolutely right -- Freedom of speech means the freedom NOT to speak. Thanks for pointing that out.
But I would also say that here in America there are also lots of people who vote without a clue about who is running or the issues at stake.... Sad to say.

Alicia