Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Voting Should Be Mandatory



“The city of Brazil has 5,413 registered voters. A total of 437 cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary, just 8 percent.”  – from “The Tribune-Star” editorial of May 11, 2015, “Slim margins mean we should change voting.”

Brazil’s sorry turnout is emblematic, not atypical. There are Brazils all over the state and around the nation.  Find a voter turnout in a primary or general election held in Indiana since 1990 that exceeded 65%. You can’t.

Scratch your head, blink, wave it aside, there it is. When more than one-third of registered voters are absent without leave, do you really have a democratic process at work in state and nation?

Should we praise the 437 citizens who voted?  Should we heap shame on the nearly 5,000 part time citizens who did not vote? And what about those citizens who are eligible to vote but not registered?   Or should we just sit back and move our minds into a  “I don’t vote because . . . “  mode?  Move on to something less demanding, say yesterday’s baseball scores?

It’s clear that changes in mechanics, tweaks to the process, grease on the rusting gears of the voting apparatus are needed. All are reasonable. But, sorry to say, these changes are band-aids on a problem requiring major surgery. The sores of abysmally low voter turnout are ugly and hemorrhaging. The body politic is leaking the life blood of responsible citizenship–the vote.

Here’s the action needed:

We should make voting in this state and country a mandatory, enforced through fines, part of our citizenship responsibilities.

Radical? Utopian?  Not really.

Thirteen nations have such a system in place.  Twenty-two countries have some sort of vote . . .  or else . . .  requirement.  And though it may appear hard to take working examples from other countries and apply them to the good ol’ U. S. of A., I still ask, can we learn nothing from blokes in Australia who have had forms of compulsory voting since the 1920s and enjoy a voter turnout regularly surpassing the 90% mark?

If you are a citizen, and if you believe and support our governing bodies as being a part of a democratic republic, then you should support full citizenship participation in each and every election. Nothing voluntary will suffice. Add voting to death and taxes.

And when you think about it, this proposal comes down to a simple but profound view of democracy.  You either believe in democracy or you fear it.

Apply this “belief or fear” test to any and every concern that comes up when mandatory voting reform is put forward.  Then judge for yourself.  For example, do the following  indicate belief or fear of democracy?

--Voters X, Y, and Z are poorly informed and therefore should not vote.

–Voters X, Y, and Z don’t care enough to vote therefore they shouldn’t.

–When voters X, Y, and Z do not vote they send a message to the parties and candidates, change your policies and I will vote.

These arguments against mandatory voting condone ignorance, apathy and groveling hope. In every case, they are saying be afraid of voters X, Y, and Z.  Be afraid of the 92% of voters who did not vote in Brazil, Indiana, in the last election. Be afraid of the 46% not voting in the 2000 presidential election. Be afraid of the 42.5% not voting for either Obama or Romney in 2012. . . . and so it goes, election after election after election.

And the benefits of mandatory voting?

One in particular stands out.  Given a 90%+ voter turnout, voting citizens could say with real conviction what is too often uttered today with hollow cynicism, “the people have spoken.”

And some icing on this mandatory citizenship cake would include the mechanical reforms (and others as well) called for in “The Tribune Star” editorial.

With mandatory voting, indignant voters who find it troublesome, difficult, even impossible to register and get to the polls under present day obstacles, will call for needed reforms.  When  faced with a fine or the requirement to justify their failure to perform their duty as a citizen, reforms such as registration on day of election, keeping polls open for 24 hours, weekend voting, easy mail and computer voting will be seen as reasonable, needed, a normal part of a working democratic electoral process.

Mandatory voting, believing in democracy rather than fearing it, would change much beyond aiding electoral politics to escape the grips of low turnout. Participation breeds interest, engagement, interaction.  Many have pointed out that we are a nation of surly tax payers and complacent citizens. Mandatory voting would be an important step toward changing this–if we’re not afraid of taking this step toward democracy.

                                                        -- Gary W. Daily

[This appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, May 24, 2015,  FLASHPOINT, How About Requiring Every Citizen to Vote.   GO HERE   ]


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