Politics

Voting Should Be Mandatory

When you survey the wreckage of 2016, it’s easy to forget that the most seismic democratic events were brought about by minorities.

Only 37 percent of eligible Britons voted to leave the European Union. The case is even clearer in the American election, which Donald J Trump won despite having persuaded only a quarter of the American electorate to support him. Mr Trump triumphed in a low-turnout election.

As we scramble to explain the upheavals in democratic politics, we may be describing shifts that, while significant, are smaller than we think.

It’s time for democracies to adopt compulsory voting. I say this from Australia, one of about a dozen countries where people can be penalized for not voting (about a dozen more have compulsory voting on the books but don’t enforce it). We’ve done so at the federal level since 1924, following a drop in voter turnout. We’re now required by law to enrol at 18 years old (though this isn’t strictly monitored), and we’re fined if we fail to vote. Around three-quarters of Australians have consistently supported compulsory voting, and there is no meaningful movement for change.

The evidence is mixed on whether compulsory voting favours parties of the right or the left, and some studies suggest that most United States federal election results would be unchanged. But all that misses the point because it overlooks that compulsory voting changes more than the number of voters: It changes who runs for office and the policy proposals they support — redwolf.newsvine.com

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