Editor's Note: I initially posted this article in April 2008, but the issue is still relavant today? What if ... ?
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."
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.