Make Voting Compulsory, Because We Can’t Let THAT Happen Again

It's simple, guys, really: we just drive you to the polling place, and we vote the way we tell you to. Otherwise, you'll be breaking the law."

“It’s simple, guys, really. We just drive you to the polling place, and we vote the way we tell you to. Otherwise, you’ll be breaking the law.”

Well that didn’t take long at all. Engaged Americans who have been paying attention to the mess in Washington decided to defy the news media’s will and ringingly reject the governing philosophies of the last six years, so not-so-secretly-true-blue pundits of the mainstream media came out with their plan to make sure that future elections will be dominated by unengaged, low-information voters who will go to the polls and vote as they are told, or, as it often is in Presidential elections, vote for whoever guarantees them the most benefits or who scares them the worst.

Washington Post editor Ruth Marcus delivered a call for compulsory voting in her column this morning. It is one of the most ethically indefensible columns I have ever read in a respected publication, and remember, I read all the New York Times columns. How anyone can take Marcus seriously after such a revolting demonstration of multi-level ethics blindness is a mystery, assuming anyone does.

To begin with, her partisan motives couldn’t be more obvious, though she denies them. After last night’s carnage was recorded, TV panels across the liberal media spectrum confidently opined that Democrats shouldn’t worry: once those dependable Democratic voters from the “base” show up to vote, as they can only motivate themselves to do in sufficient numbers every four years, all of this unpleasantness will go away in 2016. “Ah HA!” thinks Marcus. If we force those easily manipulated, self-interested, group-identifying, naive, uneducated, ignorant and easily frightened voters ( Republicans will take away your Social Security! Your food stamps! Your contraceptives! Your children will be shot in school! “They’ll put y’all back in chains!”) to come out every two years, we won’t have to endure elections like this at all! ( Over at the New York Times, a leftist scholar who saw the writing on the wall right before the election proposed another solution to the same problem: eliminate mid-terms altogether.)

Marcus writes, “The same partisan forces that agitate for voter ID laws or less opportunity for early voting hours would block any change on the assumption that it would work to their electoral disadvantage.” Isn’t that a great sentence? She states as if it were established fact that the arguments for voters actually having to prove who they are and against early voting schemes that encourage knee-jerk, rote voting rather than fully informed ballot casting are motivated purely by partisan advantage. This is, in part, because unethical people like Marcus assume that everyone thinks like they do: partisan election-rigging is exactly what Marcus’s proposal is all about.  Now, I, for example, would oppose requiring citizens to vote because 1) it is unconstitutional (forced expression); 2) the Founders believed in an active, informed, engaged citizenry in a representative democracy because pure, mob rule democracy is a disaster, and a vote unsupported by responsible self-education and thought is a threat to responsible government; and 3) mandatory voting without accompanying voter qualifications means that the insane, senile, and idiotic would be required to vote. Since literacy tests and the like are unconstitutional, there would be no way to stop them.  But I’m sure there will be plenty of people willing to help them vote, right Ruth?

More low-lights of Marcus’s column:

  • Marcus proceeds—desperately, lamely, laughably—to argue that forcing the dimwits, rogues, apathetic and fools to vote wouldn’t necessarily favor Democrats, because, well the Australia Election Commission said in 2006 it doesn’t necessarily favor liberals, and then there’s this one 2003 U.S. study by three Berkeley scholars—and we all know there’s no liberal bias at Berkeley!–that concludes that the issue warrants “further study.” Well gee, Ruth, I was skeptical, but I’m convinced now!
  • Marcus, who is seldom good, but never worse than this, begins defending her indefensible scheme by mocking the “phantom menace” of voter fraud. Funny about that: she mentioned this just two days after that old unethical undercover investigative “journalist” James O’Keefe delivered a video showing him getting ballots handed to him 20 times at 20 polling places in North Carolina without proving his identity and using the names of some of the 700,000 “inactive” voters the Voting Integrity Project says are on the rolls in the state. A Pew Center on the States study in 2012 found that one out of eight voter registrations is inaccurate, out-of-date, or a duplicate. Some 2.8 million people are registered in two or more states, and 1.8 million registered voters are dead. I see a potential film a lot more edifying than the original “Phantom Menace,” and how long will people tolerate the absurd argument that there is no justification for addressing the potential of abuse in a system wide open to abuse that determines the fate of the nation?
  • Next, she justifies this totalitarian, unconstitutional measure by a variation on the “everybody does it” rationalization, the seldom used “Australia does it!” variation.
  • “Compulsory voting would reduce the cost of elections.” Mind you, this one of the first of Marcus’s persuasive arguments for forcing people to vote who have no interest in doing so and will vote with the approximate acumen, forethought and research of a ground squirrel. How will it save money? “Candidates, parties and outside groups would no longer have to devote resources to turning out voters — the requirement would do it for them.” Ah. Of course, now the parties, or at least one of them, would devote more resources to trying to educate the civicly ignorant. Educating the generally ignorant would be impossible. A recent study found that among developed nations, only Italians are more casually ignorant about their nation than Americans. The study, for example, showed that Americans think that 24% of girls ages 15-19 give birth annually. The actual percentage is 3%… that 32% of the population is immigrant (it’s 13%)…that 15% of the country is Muslim (it’s 1%) and that 32% of us are unemployed and looking for work (it’s 6%).  It concludes,

“If democracy depends on an informed and engaged body politic, Americans have a long way to go in terms of fulfilling their end of the social contract that underlies this American experiment.”

But if it saves money to make the ignorant vote, says Marcus, go for it!

Ilya Somin, a professor who has studied the problem of political ignorance for years and is one of the foremost experts on the topic, wrote a piece for Marcus’s paper  with the opposite conclusion of Marcus, who might not have read his work, since she is absorbed in those Australian studies. He argued that ignorant citizens had an obligation to abstain, concluding,

“Political ignorance isn’t always morally reprehensible. In some cases, it isn’t even reprehensible if our knowledge falls short of the very modest standards of the average voter. But when that happens, we should at least avoid inflicting that ignorance on our fellow citizens.”

Unless, of course, it might save some money.

“Some critics of compulsory voting argue that it would result in dumbed-down campaigns to appeal to an even more uninformed electorate. To which the only possible response is: Have you been watching politics recently?”

Except that it can get worse. Marcus, daintily treading the same path as Michael Moore in 2010, in which he explained the Republican wave as a plague of stupid Christains and bigots, is showing her bias here for her equally biased readers. “I mean, look at last night! How could voters be more stupid than that, am I right?”

Last night American voters proved that they were, a bit late, paying attention to the weak, incompetent, politicized, dishonest leadership in Washington, that race-baiting, gender-baiting, blame-shifting and accountability avoidance didn’t sway them from responsible voting, and that as they did in 2006 with Republicans who proved after 2000 that they couldn’t be trusted, now have reached the same conclusion regarding the Obama-era Democrats. Good for them. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The system worked, but Marcus’s pals and cronies were put out of their jobs, and her fellow partisan journalists were foiled, for once, in their unethical efforts to be pro-Democratic operatives.

Naturally, she wants to change the system so THAT can’t happen again.

NOTE: I didn’t deal with Marcus’s final substantive argument, which is that “compulsory voting would have the salutary effect of forcing parties to appeal to all voters, not just the committed base they can motivate to get to the polls.” I can’t argue with that, because it makes absolutely no sense to me.  Parties do appeal to all voters. Voters who don’t care enough to vote also don’t care enough to prepare themselves to vote—why does Marcus think a new group of unengaged voters will do anything but cause parties to seek ways of manipulating them? Is she naive, dishonest, or dumb





36 thoughts on “Make Voting Compulsory, Because We Can’t Let THAT Happen Again

  1. Is “…Americans only exceed Italy…” supposed to be “…Americans are only exceeded by Italy…” or something along those lines? Otherwise, it sounds like we are in second place next to Italy, which I suppose is possible but seems unlikely.

  2. I have an idea…instead of making voting compulsory, let’s place restrictions on who can vote, such that there is a requirement of some sort (Heinlein in STARSHIP TROOPERS made it military service, but he didn’t really care what it was) for earning citizenship and, hence, the right to vote. Nah…unconstitutional, illegal, probably unethical and certainly unappetizing. Who’d decide?

    • Wasn’t it land-owning at one time? I’d be for that, or something comparable. The idiot vote will be the death of us, and I’d argue that willfully committing national suicide is unethical.

      • It’s a neat system, designed to allow the people most invested in society steer it, but it absolutely disenfranchises the poor. The American system did revolve around land ownership (and women could own land, so people who think women weren’t allowed to vote before suffrage are either ignorant or revisionists). The Romans did something similar, and used military service as a path to citizenship, which makes sense in the context of being invested in society. But I digress.

        • That’s the problem. Land owner’s aren’t the “most invested” in society unless the only measure is material investment…

          However, if the notion is whose rights are most likely to be denied if they don’t have a voice as “most invested”, then certainly, everyone who has the right to due process gets a voice (and a vote).

  3. The idea is problematic on so many levels, most of which you point out in your post. However, the comments at the end of the article were illuminating. Most comment on any given news stories tend to range from “Obama is a terrible president and should be impeached because he’s not a citizen (which I love – President Biden – think about that for a few minutes)” to “those corrupt money-grubbing Republicans just want to take corporate money so that they line their corrupt pockets” and “well, you’re just too stupid to understand, to there!” The majority of the comments reject the notion of compulsory voting as anathema to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. One comment by a fellow named amartens1 opined, “The objective is to advance the cause of freedom, not the cause of majoritarian democracy. How does forcing people vote advance the cause of freedom?” That was a good question. I guess it is Schrodinger’s Ballot Box, no?

    After reading the comments, though, I had a thought: Voting is a right and a privilege. If you don’t vote, you don’t have a voice in the democratic process, right? At least that is what everyone says. Looking at it from the other side, however, isn’t the right NOT to vote an expression, too? Clearly, that is assuming that the right not to exercise one’s vote is informed, educated, and a statement rejecting the current slate of candidates or the political climate. (I recognize that is a generous, if not invalid, assumption, as most people don’t vote because they aren’t engaged in the process or are simply lazy.) If the point of an election is to participate in the political process by an informed electorate, then those too lazy or uninformed or uninvolved are doing the nation a favor by staying away from the ballot boxes because they only screw things up for the rest of the nation. On the other hand, the informed refusal to vote is something that should be alarming to the country. The question should be, “How does a nation engage those frustrated by the political process to get involved?”


    • “Looking at it from the other side, however, isn’t the right NOT to vote an expression, too?”

      Not really. If a tree falls in the forest when no one is around, does anyone care? Are you not voting because you’re disenfranchised? Stupid? Lazy? It’s an unclear expression at best. But you touched on that.

      “The question should be, “How does a nation engage those frustrated by the political process to get involved?” ”

      Why is that the question though? I think the political process is the sum of the people in the nation. If you feel disenfranchised, and there are enough like minded people beside you, it’s up to you to do something, to include yourself. It’s not up to the people for whom the system generally works for to take it upon themselves to make you feel better.

      Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian I feel that way though, we have five Federal parties to choose from, and those parties change once or twice a decade, to suit voter’s tastes better. It’s much easier for a smaller country to bring in new parties.

      • Interesting perspective. Perhaps Canada has a way to solve that problem. Besides, Canada was kind enough to give us Rush, only THE greatest band in the entire known universe, so it must be doing something right.


  4. “Is she naive, dishonest, or dumb”

    I have no words. That wasn’t satire, was it? She was serious. I don’t even know what to say…

    • A frequent columnist and member of the editorial board of the Washington Post. If you are going to argue for something like that in print, wouldn’t you naturally want to make a cogent argument? An organized argument? persuasive to someone who didn’t already share your biases, perhaps? What would a good critical thinking English professor give that essay? A political Science professor?

  5. I would be OK with compulsory voting, if it was also compulsory for every ballot for every elective position to include the “candidate,” named “None of the Above” – such that every election with a majority voting for that candidate would be followed by special election(s), with ALL NEW candidates (competing against “None of the Above” once again), until a live and reasonably, verifiably competent person wins the most votes. And hey, if people of a jurisdiction can’t get their political snot together after a couple of those special elections, well then, they just don’t deserve representation, or the benefit of someone whom they can call their “democratic leader.”

    But the main reason why I support “forced expression” inherent to compulsory voting is the special hatred I have for minoritarian rule in a society in which We The People are not a minority. What is ethical about “validating” the results of an election in which, say, 25 percent or fewer of eligible voters participated? That (“validation”) is just lying, if you ask me – and a green light for enabling further lying ad infinitum. It is as least as irresponsible to presume that such a minority speaks ethically on behalf of and for the benefit of all, as it is to presume that bad (or worse) governance will ensue if all who are eligible to “say something” for real consequences are obligated to record their say.

    • If you have a group of 20 people in the wilderness, and the question is “what should we do?”, and only five people care enough to examine the situation and make suggestions, and there is a vote on who will lead the group and only 8 of the 20 bother to vote for one of the five, the smartest and most responsible of the 20, is that really not a majoritarian result? Sure it is. Most people have no idea how to lead, manage or run things, and are happy to let someone else do the job as they bitch about it or just accept the benefits. 25% not participating is tacit consent to let everyone else decide. Why does it make sense to force the apathetic, lazy, dumb or otherwise unengaged to warp the result? Voluntary voting is a self-selecting qualification process, and brilliant in its efficiency.

    • Even with a “None of the above” (which I am seriously in favor of, by the way), unless you have an electorate that at the least, knows what the issues are and, ideally, knows what the possible future ramifications of those issues are, compulsory voting is as Jack described. However, some on the left apparently feel that the electorate has been “dumbed down” enough that the majority will do what they are told, so compulsory voting is now a viable option.

  6. How many more of these, ‘most ethically indefensible columns I have ever read in’ does it take for the Washington post to stop being ‘a respected publication’? Seriously?

    I stopped treating it, and reading it for that matter, as a respected publication when it’s editorial board wrote that the only justification for opposing Susan Rice’s nomination to Secretary of State was racism.

  7. When a right or a freedom becomes compelled, it is no longer a right or a freedom. I would be hard pressed to even call it an obligation, which implies you are expected to do it, but are still free no to, to the disappointment of whoever. No, compelling a right destroys it as a right; and I could even envision it as becoming an easier step from that point to actually destroying the right itself.

    Starship Troopers
    For the commentary regarding Heinlein, after reading into the expose he gives on why his “society” only allowed *discharged* soldiers to be citizens and therefore bear the franchise, it had nothing to do with “earning” citizenship nor was it similar to the old land-owner requirement of whoever is “invested” in a society will vote more astutely for it’s good.

    His expose definitely indicates that Heinlein saw the flaw in voting would ALWAYS manifest itself in those who would vote primarily out of self-interest – to the point of voting to surrender responsibility for material succor… that is to say, a welfare recipient would tend to vote for a politician that maintained welfare, an grossly in-debt college student would tend to vote for a politician promising to relieve that debt from the public largesse, etc. Eventually, that flaw leads voting societies to non-sustainability.

    He even posited that the Utopian dreams of “Scientist-led” or “Technocrat-led” societies would collapse just as surely, because those decision-makers would eventually succumb to their own personal hubris and vote out of self-interest as no other checks would exist in that society. He merely extended the prediction that when those societies collapsed, they would be even uglier and scarier than the others, since Scientists and Technology wielders have the knowledge to really make life suck for the disagreers / non-conformers.

    So Heinlein’s assertion in Starship Troopers to cure (or at least forestall collapse the longest) would be a society that denied the franchise to those likely to end up voting only out of self-interest. That’s the key he felt needed to be stifled. What test then did he set up? In his society it was the Soldiers*. After being put through EXTREMELY rigorous training that didn’t inculcate a Group-Think, but did weed out those whose Individualism was born from material-self-centeredness, he believed those who made it would be Individualists who simultaneously knew what conduct was necessary for the greater good without destroying the individual while allowing the individual his freedoms. After that trial, in which Citizenship isn’t earned, in which a Citizen isn’t made, rather…Citizens are found out of the masses.

    But he doesn’t stop there. As long as the Soldiers are on active duty, they are not voting citizens. Only the discharged Soldiers are allowed to vote.

    Of course, we know his version of Fantasy-Republic would never be perfect either. But I think his concept of Individuals who still know what is for the Common Good without crushing the Individual is the basis for a healthy society.

    *Contrary to those who like to bash Starship Troopers, it actually wasn’t just soldiers who got the right to vote, but anyone who volunteered for Service and was put through the EXTREMELY rigorous trials, whether they ended up working as Grunts, R&D types, Pilots, Logisticians, etc…

  8. This is partly a test to see if comments will get through if I change my contact details; I’ll do it once the old way as a control and once that way.

    Here in Australia, it does seem that compulsory voting produces the “donkey vote”, in which the apathetic vote randomly or in the easiest possible order. It is compounded by a non-transparent system that transfers votes that would have been “wasted” to second or later preferences after the primary vote has been allocated, according to pre-set patterns that obscure unintended outcomes. (Digression: the only transparent system I know that approximates proportional outcomes is “cumulative voting”, which for some strange reason has never been accepted voluntarily by those voted for but has only ever been imposed by court order or legislation applied by another level; google it.) It has also led to parties in Jewish areas, like where I live, always choosing Jewish candidates with non-Jewish sounding names so that those who know will vote for them as Jews while those who aren’t will vote for them under the impression that they aren’t Jews (I even heard a left winger complaining of a right wing Jewish candidate that “they will take our votes!” – as though they and only they were entitled to con the donkey vote, an unawareness like that in “it was all very well when they were voting dead men, but when they started voting our dead men …”).

    Over and above that, I have heard that in practically every other country with compulsory voting, it was adopted to provide a forced counter to a culture that rigged elections by intimidating people into not voting in seats that were likely to vote the “wrong” way. Australia seems not to care about that reputation.

  9. That’s because their only experience is the movie. The book has a whole different message. As did Heinlein’s follow-up pieces, as Tex pointed out.

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