Compulsory Voting: A Salve for Broken Politics?

Todd Tucker
Sep 22 · 3 min read

(From this thread.)

Tired of the piecemeal, person-by-person fight for voting rights in the US?

Australia has a cure, as I discuss in the latest @POLITICOMag special issue on Fixing Politics.

It’s called… Compulsory Voting. Thread 👇 (politico.com/interactives/2…)

Instead of dreary turnout rates and voter suppression efforts (to keep people of color, felons, people who recently moved houses, etc. from the polls),

Australia flips the script: everyone MUST vote.

The system is associated with many positive outcomes, like regular 90% turnout, more egalitarian economic policies, limiting corruption, and more citizen control over government. And it’s popular, with 70 percent of voters saying they support it.

Could it ever happen in the US? There’s lots that would have to change, like making election day a paid holiday, a relative federalizing of the electoral process, getting to vote at any polling station near your house or work, etc. And… we’d of course need some sausage sizzle!

(If you’re confused, just Google it. Or better yet, read Judith Brett’s great new book on compulsory voting! It’s BBQs outside the voting station!)

That said, it might be a way to lessen racism and classism in our politics and turnout rates — at a time when we need a lot of less of both in order to tackle existential threats like climate change and inequality. (See @blfraga and @wwfranko for more on turnout gaps.)

That said, it’s no silver bullet. Australia — like most advanced democracies — has seen declining faith in government, more economic inequality, and -this year — a right-wing government re-elected pledging to slow walk the fight against climate change. Technocratic fixes don’t save citizens from having to do politics and build support for their favored outcomes. But activating the shell of the whole polity through compulsory voting gives activists a better container in which to do said politics.

Want to know more? Check out work by Judith Brett, Lisa Hill, Sarah Birch, Ian McAllister, Sarah John, Donald DeBats, Malcolm McKerras, Lachlan Umbers, Shane Singh, Dominik Hangartner, & Lukas Schmid. And the minority actually on this website @BillGalston @g_lodge @mm_bechtel.

And, to address reasonable concerns with the punitive nature of Australia’s system, an American version should rely on more carrots than sticks — like giving farmers market vouchers to those who turn out. Such coalitions sometimes help safeguard policies. (netnebraska.org/article/news/u…)

Finally, please read the other excellent contributions to the series!
@ThatAmelia on Singapore’s sky-high gov’t salaries;
@JillFilipovic on Rwanda’s gender quotas;
@astradisastra on Ireland’s citizens assemblies; and
@ruairiak on ranked-choice elections here in the U.S.

Todd Tucker
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