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Author Topic: Mandatory voting in the US?
JoshCrow
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I'm curious to know people's opinion of it.

Now that Obama floated the idea we can expect Republicans to combat it - and to some extent I can see how its clearly not in their interest to suddenly push hordes of people to the polls who tend to be from the D voting bloc.

I'm more interested in perspectives on it from an ideological standpoint than a pragmatic one - is it justified to obligate people to participate in democracy? Does it result in a more engaged citizenry, or merely result in more apathetic people voting without really engaging the topics at hand?

I think I come out in favor of it because I feel like it combats a growing scourge - the scourge of an extremist minority having an outsized voice because people are generally complacent.

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Seneca
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It's an assault on freedom. Many people abstain from voting as political speech or because they feel it is pointless. Forcing them to vote would violate their Constitutional rights.

The pathetic thing about this is that Obama only comes out in favor of it after his party took a beating in the last election. If the Democrats are so great, why do they need to publish their base if they can't get motivated enough to vote? I'm seeing a pattern here with being fined for not participating in Obamacare as well...

[ March 19, 2015, 11:39 AM: Message edited by: Seneca ]

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JoshCrow
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quote:
Originally posted by Seneca:
It's an assault on freedom. Many people abstain from voting as political speech or because they feel it is pointless. Forcing them to vote would violate their Constitutional rights.

What if abstention was something that became active, rather than passive, though? In other words - spoil your ballot, or register your discontent.

In at least one meaningful way, it makes measurable the actual act of abstention and distinguishes it from mere laziness.

BTW, "because Freedom!" is not a very interesting argument. Seneca, I challenge you to develop further the idea the merits of non-mandatory voting over mandatory voting. Like, in terms of actual benefits to people, not in shorthand.

[ March 19, 2015, 11:47 AM: Message edited by: JoshCrow ]

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Seneca
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That is still forced political speech. Abstention isn't really abstention if you are forced to do it in a way the state wants you to.
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TomDavidson
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Yeah, I'd be fine with mandatory voting if there were a deliberate "None of the Above" option provided.

We often speak of participation in the voting process as a "civic duty." I'm actually fine with thinking of it that way: that voting is one of the very few duties we expect and require of people in exchange for their citizenship.

Mandatory voting would also be far, far more effective at eliminating voter fraud than anything Republicans have ever proposed, so if that's really a concern for them, they should be interested in this option.

[ March 19, 2015, 11:50 AM: Message edited by: TomDavidson ]

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JoshCrow
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quote:
Originally posted by Seneca:
That is still forced political speech. Abstention isn't really abstention if you are forced to do it in a way the state wants you to.

Ok, so why is this bad? Can you go further?
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Fenring
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Not voting is a strong political statement. It does happen to lump together active opponents of the system (which includes those who think their vote doesn't matter) with those who are apathetic and some others who probably find it a burden to make their way there. In a way all three of these groups have one thing in common, which is that they don't think the political process involves them in a serious way. This in itself is indicative of a problem when increasing numbers of people fall into this group. If people feel the political system isn't affected by them one way or another they may be right.

Requiring voting and replacing abstention with a "this ballot sucks" option on the ballot would address the concerns of people against the system, but would not address the concerns of people who are apathetic and don't care but are unsure why they don't care. It would also make things worse for people who find it burdensome to make the trip and wait in line. But more to the point the 'this ballot sucks' option will not be given because the people in charge do not want to either have discontent voiced (they'd rather it be silent and stay away from the polls) or by providing such an option to put the idea in people's head that the ballot may be objectionable.

The only reason I can see why Obama would want to make a mandatory vote would be to force everyone in the false dilemma of voting for one of two options, neither of which they like, with the hopes that discontented people will find Dems less objectionable on average.

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NobleHunter
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Juries are forced political speech, too. Given that, like jury duty, conscientious voting is a duty of citizens in a democracy or a republic, an argument could be made that voting should be equally mandatory. It'd probably have to be a consitutional amendment to work on a federal level in the US.

Too bad you can't make informed voting mandatory, but, well, informed is relative.

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Pyrtolin
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I think the point is moot, really, until we can take away the systems that we have in place that work to discourage, if not outright prevent people from voting. Making it mandatory would do more harm than good to those people who already can't vote because of social,political, and economic force brought to bear against them that prevents them from doing so.

I'd more be up for elevating voting to the state of a Federally provided right, rather than simply a conditional freedom as it is now, and creating the legal machinery to actively seek redress from any public or private system that worked to effectively prevent someone from voting.

Election day should be a paid public holiday, and no citizen should be barred from voting for any reason, including logistical.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Not voting is a strong political statement.
No, it's a complete lack of a political statement. Submitting an empty ballot or one specifically marked as "not voting" in some way makes a statement. Simply not voting is completely indistinguishable from apathy or actively being barred from voting in one of the many ways that are used.
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The Drake
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Of the countries that have this, Australia is the closest analogue to the US. To go along with the compulsory system, they have the following:

quote:
elections are held on Saturdays, absent voters can vote in any state polling place, and voters in remote areas can vote before an election (at pre-poll voting centers) or via mail.
I think you'd probably see a sharp rise in absentee (mail) ballots as a result of this policy. That would stress the system somewhat, and certainly make the news networks unhappy.

Some Australians pay the fine in protest, but mostly they spoil their ballots in some way (presumably not with a hanging chad).

To me, the biggest problem is that you are forcing those with the least interest in politics to the polls, possibly voting randomly just to satisfy the law.

The biggest benefit might be a shift in primary elections (assuming they would also be mandatory) to satisfy the majority of your party rather than whipping your base into a frenzy by positioning away from moderate views. Politicians would no longer have to make people angry enough to vote.

The wildcard for me is - who gets excused from the mandate? The ill, people on vacation, people with religious objection to political participation? Do you now have to prove you are a felon and you can't vote? Seems like a big time sink for a small fine.

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Pete at Home
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MMandatory voting is unconstitutional. Jury duty is a civic duty. Voting is a civil RIGHT.

quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
Yeah, I'd be fine with mandatory voting if there were a deliberate "None of the Above" option provided.


Far more frequently applicabl would be: "I don't know enough about the candidates or issues to make an informed decision"

people feeling compelled to make a boat in an election where they don't know enough, is the main reason that elections can be so easily bought but whoever has the most money for public advertising

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by Seneca:
It's an assault on freedom. Many people abstain from voting as political speech or because they feel it is pointless. Forcing them to vote would violate their Constitutional rights.

There is no such right. The government cannot impose a penalty for speaking or formally registering that you do not want to talk. That doesn't mean that it can't require a formal process in certain circumstances to make such a statement, just like it can require you to explicitly invoke the 5th amendment at a trial or, as otherwise has been pointed out, require you to respond to a jury summons even if you fully intend to intentionally disqualify yourself from participation once there.

It does, however, have the obligation to compensate you for the effort and protect you from consequences of following such requirements, including making it illegal to use meeting such an obligation as an excuse for a private employer to fire you.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
people feeling compelled to make a boat in an election
Man, new idea! We only let people who have made boats elect our representatives!
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Jury duty is a civic duty. Voting is a civil RIGHT.
The assertion being made to support mandatory voting is that voting is a civil duty. It's begging the question to assert the premise of the side of the argument that you're defending as if it were proof of the truth of that position.
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NobleHunter
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quote:
The wildcard for me is - who gets excused from the mandate? The ill, people on vacation, people with religious objection to political participation? Do you now have to prove you are a felon and you can't vote? Seems like a big time sink for a small fine.
Leave the burden of proof on the government. If they want to levy a fine, let them demonstrate the accused is not a felon or otherwise disqualified from/incapable of voting. It's their job to keep track of the disqualifications anyway.
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Wayward Son
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quote:
Mandatory voting is unconstitutional.
How so? [Confused]
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by NobleHunter:
quote:
The wildcard for me is - who gets excused from the mandate? The ill, people on vacation, people with religious objection to political participation? Do you now have to prove you are a felon and you can't vote? Seems like a big time sink for a small fine.
Leave the burden of proof on the government. If they want to levy a fine, let them demonstrate the accused is not a felon or otherwise disqualified from/incapable of voting. It's their job to keep track of the disqualifications anyway.
I think the entire notion that voting is something that can be denied to any citizen should be thrown out. I don't think it's appropriate for states to chose to impose arbitrary restrictions on voting, including based on criminal record.
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Fenring
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
quote:
Not voting is a strong political statement.
No, it's a complete lack of a political statement. Submitting an empty ballot or one specifically marked as "not voting" in some way makes a statement. Simply not voting is completely indistinguishable from apathy or actively being barred from voting in one of the many ways that are used.
Having a low voter turnout is a strong political statement. I specifically worded the part of my last message which you refrained from quoting to address this very fact. Unless people are actively barred from voting for various reasons (including logistical) the other reasons for not voting all involve some sort of either dislike or disdain for the candidates and even the voting process. I will suggest that the vast majority of people who don't vote could reasonably do so but don't want to.

Having a low turnout implies two things: 1) The political process is less legitimized than if everyone was participating, i.e. the election reflects the will of only a certain percent of the population. 2) That there are huge swathes of people available to be swayed by a party or candidate who might appeal to them enough to bring them out of the woodwork. This second point is the more important of the two, because the possibility of finding millions of new votes if only someone would come forward that they believed in means that currently no one is bothering to do that. The key to finding these voters lies in something other than status quo, and obviously these people are not excited by the status quo. That's a positive vote for change, even though they never set foot in a voting booth.

You can be assured that as long as candidates don't even pay lip service to making real changes many voters will (rightly) continue to believe that the system presents a false dilemma both options of which will perpetuate the same power structure. The false two-party system, and all that. I think a lot of people think this way.

Obama presented himself as a potential change in pace, and did bring out a lot of voters for his first election. That proved to have been a spurious image of him since he is obviously no kind of visionary at all. But it also proved that people are hungering for some kind of leadership that is more than just 'some new politician' saying the same old things. That is why a non-vote is a strong message. It means the leaders aren't trying.

[ March 19, 2015, 12:58 PM: Message edited by: Fenring ]

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Unless people are actively barred from voting for various reasons (including logistical)
Which is the currently political reality in the US, and is growing as more supessive measures are currently being enacted to further restrict access to the polls. It is currently literally impossible to tell if any given non-vote was because a person couldn't afford to take the time off work to jump though all the necessary hoops, has become discouraged because they did meet the expenses imposed on them to qualify and show up, then were turned away on some technicality, or actually wanted to make a statement. The only way to actually register a statement is to show up and then express that statement once you have shown that you are choosing not to speak rather than simply have been silenced by the process.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
I think a lot of people think this way.
You know what would give you some statistical evidence of this? Mandatory voting, with a "None of the Above" option.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
quote:
Jury duty is a civic duty. Voting is a civil RIGHT.
The assertion being made to support mandatory voting is that voting is a civil duty. .
it may be a civic duty in Australia, but in the United States it is a right under the US Constitution

as stated before, tom's little none of above option is completely inadequate for citizens we simply don't know enough about the race to make an informed vote.

I reject the repugnant idea that making an uninformed vote somehow qualifies as to filling one's civic duty. forcing people to vote when they have reservations about their own ability to make an informed choice simply magnifies the existing problem of advertising dollars determining the outcome of political races

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NobleHunter
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I'd appreciate your position better, Pete, if people's judgement about their ability to make informed choices was better. I rather have more people voting with knowing doubt than fewer voting in ignorant certainty.
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DonaldD
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I would suggest that the number of people who choose not to vote due to their belief that they lack the requisite information is probably far smaller than the number who do not vote because they are simply lazy, are feel themselves to be politically dispossessed.

Vanishingly few people believe themselves to be uninformed.

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edgmatt
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I have other problems with mandatory voting, but the largest is the mandatory without an "if". There is a significant difference between a law that says If you want to do X, then you have to do Y-- and a law that says you have to do X.

This is/was my biggest beef with the ACA. No choice, no option, no freedom. That is significant.

I am on my phone at the moment so I cant elaborate. Ill post something more detailed later tonight.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
it may be a civic duty in Australia, but in the United States it is a right under the US Constitution
It is not a right under the Constitution. The constitution identifies a few characteristics that cannot be used to prevent people from voting, but it does not actually extend any right to it, hence why a number of states can arbitrarily restrict felons from voting. And there in only limited recourse to sue for being prevented from voting if it can be tied to an explicitly protected characteristic.
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NobleHunter
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DonaldD, it's why I didn't vote in the last municipal election, for what it's worth. The trip to go vote would have been nothing compared to the effort required to know who the candidates actually were. That doesn't even touch the issues.
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
forcing people to vote when they have reservations about their own ability to make an informed choice simply magnifies the existing problem of advertising dollars determining the outcome of political races
Hence the reasonable request to include an explicit "None of the above" option.
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Pyrtolin
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Also the effect of advertising isn't changed, because an effect of advertising is, very directly, to make people think they are informed enough to make a reasonable choice.
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DonaldD
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quote:
Originally posted by NobleHunter:
DonaldD, it's why I didn't vote in the last municipal election, for what it's worth. The trip to go vote would have been nothing compared to the effort required to know who the candidates actually were. That doesn't even touch the issues.

I was actually thinking about mentioning municipal and school board level votes - but those are different animals from, for instance presidential, Senate and Congressional elections, and I didn't want to clutter the post up.

For instance, how many people would have admitted to themselves not knowing enough about Romney, Obama and McCain in the past two election cycles?

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NobleHunter
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I've met no small number of people who will admit to knowing nothing about politics; that they maintain a willful ignorance for whatever reason. It's a short step from that to admit they're too ignorant to vote.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
quote:
it may be a civic duty in Australia, but in the United States it is a right under the US Constitution
It is not a right under the Constitution. The constitution identifies a few characteristics that cannot be used to prevent people from voting, but it does not actually extend any right to it, hence why a number of states can arbitrarily restrict felons from voting. And there in only limited recourse to sue for being prevented from voting if it can be tied to an explicitly protected characteristic.
if nothing else it's an implicit right under the 9th amendment. See roe v Wade
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Fenring
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
I think a lot of people think this way.
You know what would give you some statistical evidence of this? Mandatory voting, with a "None of the Above" option.
If there was somehow a non-partisan group in charge of elections that could not in any way be pressured by either party then there would be the possibility of ballot options other than the candidates. My fear would be that they would phrase the "none of the above" option in such a way that they could deny it meant an objection to the system. For instance if the only extra option they gave was "don't know", "undecided" or even something as bland as "no vote" they could claim any number of explanations for it other than people disliking both candidates or parties. As it is for Federal elections there can be more than two options anyhow, and one might argue that voting for the Green Party might do the same job as voting for no one. It shows that you came to the booth and that you don't like the two major parties. Most people have the sense that voting for a group that won't win is a wasted vote since it won't result in your preferences being championed. At best a throw-away vote or a vote for "no one" might help in the following election, but I think people might be a bit unmotivated to vote if their vote only might do something and only a minimum of four years down the line.

If you made the vote mandatory it would eliminate the issue of motivation, but wouldn't eliminate the feeling that their vote doesn't 'matter' unless it's for a party that can win. Going all the way out just to make a feeble political statement is not most people's cup of tea. Granted, if millions of people did this it wouldn't be feeble, but people are dis-unified and can't use a hive-mind mentality to act knowing others are acting.

But I would ask of JoshCrow, what purpose exactly is served by having a mandatory vote? What will the result be in terms of how educated people are and in terms of how the numbers change in terms of support for the major parties? For my part the only reason I'd be for a mandatory vote would be to enable the "both parties are garbage" option, which would never be provided otherwise. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that Obama is guessing that the majority of 'sleeping voters' would vote Dem if forced to the polls. If so then this would be a political ploy rather than a principled position.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
if nothing else it's an implicit right under the 9th amendment. See roe v Wade
It's not. States can ban felons from voting. Heck, at the moment many apparently can ban any arbitrary citizen that doesn't happen to have the right photograph with them at the time from voting.

It would be good if we could somehow legally establish a precedent for a right to vote, but as things stand now, there isn't one, which results in a significant segment of the population being actively disenfranchised.

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Seneca
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Hilarious. The moaning I am seeing about "informed" voting lends itself well to literacy and other "intelligence" voting tests...
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
If you made the vote mandatory it would eliminate the issue of motivation, but wouldn't eliminate the feeling that their vote doesn't 'matter' unless it's for a party that can win.
That's a natural consequence of the voting system we use. An single vote, simple plurality system is going to lead to that outcome.

We should get rid or primaries and instead use approval/score voting, which is the only system that is actually structured so that it mitigates that effect, even if it would likely take a cycle or two of the alternate choices suddenly making strong but not sufficient showings for it to become clear that they have the potential to win once people no longer feel they need to make a safety vote (score voting would probably get there much faster that approval, but that's due to approval being a very limited form of score voting to begin with)

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Seriati
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
quote:
Unless people are actively barred from voting for various reasons (including logistical)
Which is the currently political reality in the US, and is growing as more supessive measures are currently being enacted to further restrict access to the polls.
There is absolutely no evidence that the US has become "more suppressive" of the right to vote. Virtually every state has expanded hours, expanded the ease of absentee voting, provided early voting or some other measures to ease voting. The law has made it clear that states have an obligation to provide voter id's free of charge to those who can't afford them. All of which is the exact opposite of your claim.

What states have been doing is making attempts to control the possibility of voter fraud. An issue that have become ever more risky as our own political knowledge has increased, and that has become far easier as those relaxations in the paragraph above have been made. Is there any way to be certain that no home health care worker or family member taking care of an elderly relative doesn't vote their mail-in ballot? No.

We haven't even been able to remove ineligible voters from voter rolls with any reasonable degree of certainty.
quote:
It is currently literally impossible to tell if any given non-vote was because a person couldn't afford to take the time off work to jump though all the necessary hoops, has become discouraged because they did meet the expenses imposed on them to qualify and show up, then were turned away on some technicality, or actually wanted to make a statement.
It's not impossible. Nor is it even likely that any significant amount of non-votes occurred based on the circumstances you describe.

On the main issue though, I'm not sure how I feel. On the one hand, everyone should vote. On the other hand, too many people vote based on ignorance today.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by Seneca:
Hilarious. The moaning I am seeing about "informed" voting lends itself well to literacy and other "intelligence" voting tests...

I'll agree with you on that one. It's good to be informed, for sure, but trying to game or disenfranchise people on the basis of not meeting some arbitrary standard of it is a solution more harmful than the nominal issue its addressing.

If you want people to be informed, provide them with better resources to inform themselves. I'd be happy with requiring all candidates to submit clear position statements on major issues for centralized publication, along with easy access to voting records (or, in the case of elected judges, their past rulings, as available) and the like.

Make a clean and easy process for people to get information, and most of the issue will solve itself.

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JoshCrow
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quote:
Originally posted by Fenring:

But I would ask of JoshCrow, what purpose exactly is served by having a mandatory vote? What will the result be in terms of how educated people are and in terms of how the numbers change in terms of support for the major parties? For my part the only reason I'd be for a mandatory vote would be to enable the "both parties are garbage" option, which would never be provided otherwise. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that Obama is guessing that the majority of 'sleeping voters' would vote Dem if forced to the polls. If so then this would be a political ploy rather than a principled position.

The motivations behind it don't need to be pristine for it to be taken seriously as an idea. As I stated in my OP, I suspect the added votes would be a boon to Democrats overall.

But as to what purpose it might serve? Some of the following may apply (cribbed/summarized from Wikipedia's page on it):
1. The victorious candidate would represent the majority (or a plurality) of the population rather than only that of highly motivated folks. This is a MAJOR blow against special interest groups and I would argue it would work against their influence on candidates.
2. Reduces the impact of external factors on the outcome (employers, weather, etc.)
3. Spoiled/blank votes better reflect discontent and distinguish it from apathy.
4. The outcome reflects less upon "whom could I convince to show up" and more upon "whom do I want to lead".
5. Stimulates broader general interest in civics.
6. Funds no longer required to get people to polls.
7. There is a correlation between compulsory voting and improved income distribution and the Gini coefficient.

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Wayward Son
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quote:
But I would ask of JoshCrow, what purpose exactly is served by having a mandatory vote?
I can think of a couple of things off the top of my head.

For one, it might convince voters who believe it doesn't matter that it does matter. If a large block of people don't vote because they believe it won't make any difference, then vote and discover it does make a difference, then they will take voting more seriously.

For another, certain types of disenfranchisement would be eliminated. I recall hearing in the last few Presidential elections of polling places being closed too early, leaving lines of people who were waiting to vote unable to do so. That would no longer fly if voting is manditory. Nor would preventing a person from voting if they don't have the correct ID (e.g. the Texas congresswoman who couldn't vote for herself because she didn't have the proper ID), or are mistakenly on a "cannot vote" list. If one law requires a person to vote, and another prevents him from voting, the courts will insist this discrepancy be resolved post-haste. [Smile]

Finally, when people say the results of an election reflects the will of the people, the results will actually reflect the will of the people, not just the small percentage that happened to vote that day. [Smile]

I'm not sure if any of these would justify the logistic nightmare that manitory voting would create--not to mention the question of uninterested voters voting--but there would be tangable benefits.

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