Given a choice, I go to the polls. Not because there is a social contract, and not because “voting fixes everything”; but because it should be in my best interest to participate in the political process.
Like everything else in the world these days, there are some people who seem to think that we shouldn’t be given that choice. Stumbled across a three year old article from Nixon associate John Dean concerning the appalling voter turnout at recent elections. The obvious solution to a Nixonite is (Nixon being known for his fondness of price controls and other top down gov’t interference) mandatory voting. Well, we are talking about John Dean, and it was three years ago. What about today?
Doing a bit of sniffing around, I turned up another more recent article from Norman J. Ornstein. He’s concerned about the polarization in congress. In his opinion, the cause of this is low voter turnout. His solution? Mandatory voting.
Personally, I think that congress isn’t polarized enough. They still seem to pass way too many laws in any given term; laws that, in most cases, are probably beyond the authority of the US Congress. In any case, I very seriously doubt that mandatory voting will affect the makeup of congress. Opinion polling being what it is, it seems to me that even if you forced everyone to vote, blue states would remain blue, and red states would remain red. Could be wrong, but let’s not go there anyway.
Ornstein bemoans the defeat of ‘centrist’ Joe Lieberman in the most recent primaries in Massachusetts by Ned Lamont, a darling of the left, with an anemic primary turnout of 46%. Shocking, isn’t it? That the Democrat party would nominate a left/liberal candidate rather than a centrist? Here’s a thought; why is the public expected to fund and participate in party primaries at all? Where is it written that there are only two parties, and participation in their nomination process should be mandatory for the public?
I think it’s great that the Democrats should nominate candidates that agree with their platform. That was my major complaint against John Kerry; he wasn’t a Democrat. If having to choose between the lessor of two evils is distasteful to Mr. Ornstein, perhaps the solution is to open up the political process, not attempt to control it more with mandatory voting.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this suggestion. It seems to roll out with nearly every election cycle; pundits bemoaning the lack of interest in the general population for the political process. As usual, most of the pundits simply have it backwards. People aren’t interested because there aren’t any real choices to be made. The average citizen knows that no matter what the candidates say in order to get elected, their votes in congress are bought and sold by the backers who get them there.
Why bother voting, when the real decisions are made by others? My answer is to vote in protest. Cast a ballot for any candidate that isn’t an incumbent. Vote no on all bond proposals. Let them know we aren’t happy with the way things are going. Vote third party (Go LP!) if it’s available to you.
But now, turn it around. Voting is mandatory. What’s a self-respecting protest voter to do in that instance? Don’t vote. Imagine the headache that would cause. They’d have to hire every other citizen as a cop just to have enough people to enforce the law. Or, if you wish to avoid a costly legal penalty, cast a blank ballot. Nobody wins the election, does that mean the gov’t has to close up shop? What a nice dream that is.
It’s mandatory to vote in Australia, and many other places. In Australia, they have actually attempted to enforce the law, which has given rise to the “donkey vote”; pinning the tail on the donkey, pulling the lever for whoever because you are required to. The gov’t estimates that this is a rather low percentage of the population (1 or 2 percent) but I’d be willing to bet that half the people who show up to vote simply pull the lever next to the name they recognize. Voila, instant incumbent re-election, at very low cost.
Which is, I think, the real reason that mandatory voting is even discussed. To artificially prop up the legitimacy of the sitting gov’t, and to insure that it continues to sit for as long as it wishes. After all, if they aren’t seen as legitimate, what’s to stop them from going the way of the USSR?
…And if the population is really that apathetic, who’s to say they shouldn’t?
Editor’s note, 2018. This is another one of those subjects that look different when thinking clearly; when your thinking isn’t muddied with the duplicity of trying to arrange a society without force when there is force being applied around us all the time by the very constraints of physical existence as a living creature.
Try not eating, not breathing, not sleeping if you think you aren’t forced to engage in these behaviors. Let me know how that works out.
Voting should be mandatory with a minimal fine for failing to vote. The funds can go into a coffer that is dedicated towards elections and campaigning. We need to stop this delusion that you can abstain from society while living in it. If you want to live like Robinson Caruso, I suggest you find an an island and get to it. The rest of us like the benefits of society. Things like computers, automobiles and smartphones. Things that take a society to build.
Primaries should be partiless. All candidates running for an office go on a single ballot, and the top two vote getters then go on to the general election regardless of party. Faction is the problem here and removing the factions from the process is the cure.
I’m compiling notes for the Politics 101 that I’ve been threatening to write for quite some time now. It’s starting to take shape, finally.