Is it right to force someone to vote?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The answer to this question is a matter of opinion, and you are likely to get a few different opinions on this issue.  Generally, I think it is not a good idea to force people to vote, for philosophical and practical reasons.

I think that mandatory participation in democracy backfires. Voting becomes a source of resentment, rather than the exercise of a precious right. Furthermore, unless and until a society provides what is necessary to vote (time off from work, for example, or transportation), it is completely unreasonable to require this. Many people cannot afford to give up wages for a few hours or get on a bus to go vote.  Also, at least in the United States, many states are making it increasingly difficult for people to vote.  If voting is made mandatory and people must endure these conditions to cast their votes, their votes are likely to be not so much about their political choices as they will be about their resentments of the process they are subjected to.  In Australia, voting at the federal level is mandatory and there is a fine for a failure to vote. However, the system supports voting, making it easy for people to register and cast their votes.  In the United States, mandatory voting will be an exercise in futility unless the process is made more user-friendly.  From a practical point of view, all of these difficulties make it unreasonable and foolish to force people to vote.  And even supposing that we make it easy and get all of these reluctant people to a voting booth, I doubt that we will have more democratic representation.  We can get people there and force them to push a button, but we cannot educate them and help them to participate in a meaningful way in a democracy.

The key to meaningful participation in democracy is education, both at home and in school. When I was growing up, my parents took me with them to vote. When my children were growing up, I took them with me to vote, even taking them into the booth with me, which one is allowed to do up to age sixteen. We discussed candidates around the dinner table, and read about the candidates in the newspaper. In school, part of the social studies curriculum was civics. I do not know if civics is even taught anymore, since my college students seem to know little or nothing about it. We had to know who our representatives were, what they did, and I recall having to write letters to them on a current issue. 

If we want more people to vote, we have to make them care about voting, not force them to do so. If we want more people to vote, we have to make it easier for them to register and easier for them to get to the polling place, without forcing them to give up wages. In this day and age of amazing technology and the 24/7 news cycle, there is no excuse for not educating our youth and getting them to vote. 

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