The concept of mandatory voting was proposed by President Barak Obama during a visit to Cleveland, Ohio last week, when an audience member asked him a question about the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case and getting limits on campaign spending.
“I think we have to think about what are other creative ways to reduce the influence of money, given that in the short term we not going to be able to overturn Citizens United,” Obama said. “And I think there are other ways for us to think creatively, and we’ve got to have a better debate about how we make this democracy and encourage participation -- how we make our democracy better and encourage more participation.”
He proposes mandatory voting in the short term as a process.
“In Australia, and some other countries, there’s mandatory voting. It would be transformative if everybody voted. That would counteract money more than anything. If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” Obama said. “So that may end up being a better strategy in the short term.”
Mandatory voting could have a drastic and probably similar effect as Australia on the political landscape of other countries, including the United States, according to Anthony Fowler, assistant political science professor at The University of Chicago, who has done research on this topic.
His reason being that Australian elections were once like most country’s elections are today, low voter turnout and mostly the wealthy participated, but it has since shifted.
“Before the introduction of compulsory voting in Australia, election results and public policy were drastically different from the preferences of the citizens. When near-universal turnout was achieved, elections and policy shifted in favor of the working-class citizens who had previously failed to participate,” Fowler writes in his article “Electoral and Policy Consequences of Voter Turnout.” “While Australia has largely resolved the problem, inequalities in voter turnout remain in most advanced democracies. Increased turnout has tangible effects on partisan election results and public policies, and those effects will benefit the disadvantaged subset of citizens who otherwise would have abstained from the political process.”
But, Fowler stops short of claiming that these effects would definitely happen if instituted in another country.
“Of course, nobody knows for certain what would happen in the U.S. if we instituted mandatory voting,” he said in e-mail. “We can't extrapolate from these results to say what would happen in the U.S. under mandatory voting, but the results suggest that changes in the size of the electorate can have big consequences.”
While voter turnout across the nation was at a 70-year low during the general elections in November, Rockdale County Board of Elections & Voter’s Registration Director Cynthia Welch says the voter turnout in Rockdale County stayed consistent for a gubernatorial election year.
About 55 percent of registered voters, or 27,003 people, voted last year. During a presidential year, however, that percentage jumps to about 75 percent voter turnout.
What may help increase the turnout rate to even higher levels, Post 2 County Commissioner Doreen Williams, a former teacher, says that educating the youngsters is the best policy.
“I think a better alternative is to do a better job of educating students and citizens about how important it is to vote,” said Williams. “It needs to start with very young children moving right on up to adults helping them to understand how important it is to research and understand the issues and policies and exercise the right and opportunity to vote.”
Rockdale County Sheriff Eric Levett says that he would support mandatory voting if the citizens of this county and all elected officials came together and had many discussions about it along with the citizen feedback.
“I think it would be a huge effect on local elections in positive ways and negative ways,” he said. “Changes come with the good and the bad and we have seen that in the last two elections, but for the most part, some folks will never get on board with changes even if things was done on their terms.”
However, Levett also says that mandatory voting probably should have been instituted in the 1960’s when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights of 1965.
“If this was mandatory at that time and practiced, I think it would be more accepted and easier to follow,” he said. “In this day and time, it’s difficult to get everyone out to vote, and I believe this would be somewhat of a resistant from some citizens by thinking the government is trying to control their life.”
Rockdale County Chairmen and CEO Richard Oden says that, at this point, he doesn’t have any particular thoughts about mandatory voting either way.
Former Rockdale County Commissioner JaNice Van Ness believes that there would be a great change in U.S. politics if mandatory voting became law.
“It certainly would change the dynamic of the leadership,” she said. “(People) probably would (pay attention to public policy more).”