:: to the teeth ::    thoughts on social justice, medicine, race, hope and beats

"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." :: Arundhati Roy ::

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." :: Alice Walker ::
Thursday, June 10, 2004  

What if everyone HAD to vote?

I was just reading an article about Peter Garrett, lead singer of the Australian band, Midnight Oil, and how he's an environmental activist who's running for Australia's parliament. Interesting. Exciting, even. Then I started wondering how many musician-turned-politicians there are in this world. But THEN I decided to finish reading the article and came upon a line in the article that mentioned that voting is mandatory in Australia and is punishable by a fine. For REAL? Have I just been ignorant of this well-known fact?

So I searched for info on this, and found an article by John Dean at findlaw that discusses this issue. He also makes a passionate case for mandatory voting laws in our country. Apparently, 33 countries -- all democracies -- currently have mandatory voting laws.

I don't think mandatory voting is such a bad idea for a few reasons. Apparently, the United States ranks 139th out of the 172 countries we have data on, in terms of voter turnout. Pathetic. Furthermore, can we really call ourselves a democracy if so few people actually vote? But what about those who don't feel like they like any of the candidates? He's got a solution for that -- as one of the ballot options there could be a "no acceptable candidate" box that you could check off. AND -- taking this even further -- if the number of votes for no acceptable candidate exceeded that of the candidate who has the second largest number of votes, the election is called off and a new one will have to take place -- true democracy. Additionally, this would be a huge boost for the democrats because a majority of people who don't vote now fall into the categories of class/race/age/geographic area that would lend votes more typically to democrats. (for this reason many conservatives are vehemently against any such measure).

On the con side, I guess making Americans do something that many of them may not care abot may not be well received. And the term "mandatory voting" wouldn't go over well, it would have to be re-termed. Plus, is it constitutionally ok? (John Dean argues that there's no reason it would violate the constitution). Would people who don't care to vote start selling their votes (I'll vote for this candidate if you give me $50 -- though I guess there's nothing to prevent that from happening now). Such a law would have to allow for people to take time off from work (paid time off preferably), and maybe we can learn from other countries and extend the possible voting hours more than the 12 hours we allow now (in India's recent election, I believe voting booths were open for a few days). And my biggest issue -- such a measure could NOT stand alone -- it would be imperative to couple it with other measures aimed at educating voters, instilling pride in voting, and generating more personal empowerment around the process and the meaning of the electoral process.

posted by Anjali Taneja | 6/10/2004 04:26:00 PM | |


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