By Brittany Dekorte
This year’s presidential election could be said to have the least approved of candidates in the history of the United States. According to the New York Times, only 60 million of 221 million potential voters actually voted in the primaries; that’s about 30 million for each major party, of which only about half voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. All in all, only nine percent voted for these highly disapproved of candidates.
Many people in the United States, despite having favorite candidates, or least favorite, or strong opinions, do not vote in elections. This is especially true for primaries and down-ballot elections but even our presidential election numbers are abysmal.
Why does this happen? In part, because it’s difficult to vote in the US; IDs, registration, and differing laws between different states all contribute to the problem. That’s not even to mention difficulties in reaching the ballot box: transportation, access to absentee ballots, small amounts of places to vote, and people not being able to afford to take the time off of work.
What can be done to help fix this? Federal compulsory voting law could go a long way in fixing many of these issues.
Compulsory voting, or being required by law to lend your voice, would help dissolve some of the issues around registration; at age eighteen, or upon gaining citizenship, all citizens would be automatically registered to vote. With voting being legally required, businesses could be required to give time off for voting, or the voting could be done via absentee ballots.
Jared Jeffries, a campaign manager for the Michael Stack for State Representative Campaign, thinks that compulsory voting is a good way to go. “Australia has a really good system, where you are required to cast a vote, and if you don’t, you’re fined a certain amount.”
Australia isn’t the only country with compulsory voting; Most countries in South America, Belgium, Singapore, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg all have laws requiring votes. Punishments for not voting range from fines to disenfranchisement. Unsurprisingly, these countries have some of the highest voter turnout rates; Australia has a 91 percent rate according to Pew Research, as does Luxembourg. Also unsurprisingly, according to Gallup polls, 44 percent of Australians view their government as mostly favorable, and 49 percent as very favorable, compared to 19 percent of Americans believing they can trust our government to do the right thing most of the time.
“There are ways that you can do it that would benefit everyone. Personally, I think voters should be registered automatically when they turn 18 and re-registered when they move or when they update their license. Everyone could receive a ballot three weeks out from the election, and just return it prior to election day. That creates a system that is incredibly easy to track and monitor for fraud,” Jefferies said.
Can these sorts of things be done, though? Yes, they can, and they’ve already started here in the United States. Oregon, according to their Secretary of State, has automatic voter registration when they go to the DMV (which they can choose to opt out of), and registered voters receive a ballot two to three weeks before an election, giving time to research issues or candidates. Since instituting these policies in the nineties, Oregon has seen an average voter turnout rate of 69.1 percent, one of the highest in the country. If you make Oregon’s policies national policies, and add a financial incentive of a fine for not voting, we could see a national turnout rate of even higher.
But wouldn’t being forced to vote go completely against our country’s idea of freedom, one might ask? Not so fast. There are plenty of things in this country that we are required to do, for the greater good. Jury duty, paying out taxes, these things are needed to keep the United States a thriving country. The same can be said for voting; if all voices are required and insured to be heard, and time given to study the ballot will lead to better candidates, the government will better reflect the true desires of the citizens.