Addressing the Cleveland City Club on Wednesday, President Obama put up a trial balloon for a controversial concept: mandatory voting. According to Fox News, Obama said, “If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” and called the idea ‘potentially transformative.’”
Only eleven countries worldwide enforce requirements that their citizens vote. Most of them are in South America -- a bastion of good governance, of course. Interestingly, Venezuela dropped mandatory voting in 1993. The State of Georgia adopted it in 1777, but dropped it a few years later.
Of course, there are many good reasons to be concerned about such a proposal, as it runs contrary to the concept of individual liberty. This is supposedly a free country, after all. The idea of compelled speech, namely, the government forcing individuals to speak -- in this case through voting -- would be one potential concern regarding the constitutionality of such a proposal. A 2007Harvard Law Review article suggests such a challenge might not win on the merits, but concludes that Congress isn’t likely to act on mandatory voting because “the political reality that compulsory voting seems incompatible with many Americans’ notions of individual liberty."
Others, like Lyle Denniston of the Constitution Center, argue that a mandatory voting regime would “intrude upon the power of the states, guaranteed by the Constitution, to decide who gets to vote and generally how elections are to be conducted.” Denniston suggests that the Constitution would have to be amended to impose mandatory voting.
Conservatives have attacked the proposal, suggesting it’s a not-so-subtle ploy to ensure that Democrats win elections. It’s a fair point. However, conservatives could compromise on a mandatory voting proposal, by taking it a step further: Move election day to April 15, and have the election conducted via mail-in ballot. With one’s tax filings.