The forgotten citizen responsibility to vote in a democracy is a major issue. All the current shenanigans of the U.S. Republican Party in trying to suppress the vote of those it doesn’t think will vote for them is but one ploy in a long list of political techniques to rig elections. Gerrymandering the voting districts is but one traditional strategy, but U.S. politicians have tried many ways in the past to try and guarantee their continuance in power. I remember the days of the Chicago democratic “Machine”, or mafia, surrounding Mayor Daly, when he espoused his particular strategy of election control by encouraging his supporters to “vote early, and vote often.” Current republican legislation throughout the country aimed at making it more difficult for their non-supporters to vote may not be quite as blatant as Mayor Daly, but it is equally insidious to the democratic process.
Why do we allow all these attempts to subvert the basic rights of U.S. citizens, when there is a simple way to eliminate them? It is a step that is rarely promoted, is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, but is fundamental to a successful democracy. It involves the responsibility of citizens in a democracy. We are endlessly bombarded by “Citizens’ Rights” campaigns, which are laid out in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but rarely do we hear anyone espousing citizen responsibility.
If we made voting obligatory, subject to penalties for non-compliance, a lot of these shenanigans would be impossible. Not that political parties, and individual politicians, would stop trying to manipulate the results, but it would be more difficult.
However, there is another, more important, reason for introducing obligatory voting. RESPONSIBILITY. The citizen responsibility to vote.
I have always believed that if you choose not to participate in a decision, you have no right to complain about the result. A simple and basic philosophy, and perhaps even a naïve one, but a heart-felt principle none-the-less.
The reverse of that argument also applies. If you do participate in a decision, you have a right to expect that the results are followed, and you are in a much stronger position to insist that they are. The entire essence of a democracy is that it’s participatory. It is not a spectator event. That’s called an autocracy, or a dictatorship. Democracy has to be practiced, if it is to survive as a governance system.
I can already hear the critics of this idea. I have the right to not vote if I don’t want to; you’re taking away my individual freedom; this against my rights as guaranteed by the Constitution ecetera, ecetera…..
My reply to those comments is, if you don’t want to live in a communist state, or a dictatorship, or any other governance system, except a participatory democracy, you have a responsibility to get involved, and you have a responsibility to vote. If you don’t, you deserve whatever you get, and you have no right to complain.
Obligatory voting should also involve a vacation day for the election. That would eliminate many of the issues around getting to the polling stations.
Let’s start with national elections.
Enforcement of the penalties for not voting would be difficult, no doubt, but we already have an agency designed for a similar purpose, the IRS. A modification to its charter would be relatively straightforward.
I’m not suggesting this idea will stop politicians and political parties from trying to manipulate the election process, that’s a pipedream, but it would make it more difficult and, more importantly, would make the citizenry more conscious of, and responsible for, their future.