Mandatory Voting? No Thanks.

by Andrew Stuttaford

Mandatory voting is an insolent notion of a type likely to be favored by someone who has no sense of where the prerogatives of the state should end and the rights of the individual begin. Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that Barack Obama seems to be supportive of the idea. Nor is it much more surprising that a writer for the Davos-liberal The Economist seems to feel much the same way, although his or her argument is rather more convoluted:

There are a number of arguments one can make in favour of mandatory voting. I am inclined to favour it, but mainly for second-order reasons: a state that legally requires everyone to vote must also make it possible for them to do so.

The writer is concerned that “the state” (all the examples given are from the US) has gone too far in raising barriers to voting (yes really) and argues that the logical consequence of making voting mandatory would (effectively) be to lower them:

The most important goal to which mandatory voting could contribute would be to shift the burden of ensuring that citizens can vote from the individual to the state. Being registered to vote ought to be thought of as a right, rather than a duty or a lifestyle option. It should be the state’s business, not the citizen’s, to ensure that every citizen is issued with a voter card.

Here’s the thing: the state should indeed make it straightforward (and, where reasonable, cost-free) for would-be voters without, say, a driver license to obtain satisfactory government-issued voter i/d (which should be photo i/d), but there is absolutely no need to insist that the ‘price’ of that free i/d is mandatory voting.

The writer concedes that mandatory voting is a “political non-starter”, but does think that arguing for it ”pushes in the right direction”.

Well, only to someone who believes that the “right direction” is towards an ever more intrusive and overbearing state.