In our book, “100% Democracy: The Case for Global Voting,” Dion and I argue that voting should be a required civic duty of every American citizen.
Public voting can be enacted federally or – more likely – by states or municipalities. If adopted, it would significantly increase participation in voting; make the electorate a complete reflection of our people; making government more responsive to all; improving the nature of our political campaigns; and reduce our toxic polarization, at least to some extent.
Public voting has not been seriously discussed in this country, but it is not a new or radical idea. First, the system is used in 26 democracies around the world, including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Luxembourg, Peru and Uruguay. Processes and practices vary; Australia is perhaps our best example. Compulsory participation has been in place since 1924. It is a widely accepted part of the democratic process in that country, and there have been no serious attempts to abolish it.
How does it work?
The Australian Election Commission – a well-funded professional, non-partisan agency – is doing its best to register voters, and conducts active public education about the upcoming elections, as do political parties and civil society organizations. Citizens are well aware of elections as they approach and are responsible for voting.
As of last December, 96.3% of Australians registered, and 89.8% voted in the federal election in May. It is important to note that Australians are not required to vote for any candidate; Blank ballot papers and ballot papers with comments or caricatures, called “donkey ballots”, are accepted.
In our recommendations for the United States, we recommend putting a “none of the above” option on all ballots.
After the election, the lists are scrutinized, and people who do not vote receive a notification asking why. Almost all reasons are accepted, but if there is no response from the non-voter after two attempts, a fine of $20 in Australian currency (about $13 in the US) is imposed. Less than 1% of potential voters were fined after the 2019 elections; The condition is a recognized part of civic culture.
And speaking of culture, elections are held on Saturdays and are festive in nature, with the ubiquitous “democracy sausage” scattered throughout almost all polling stations.
For a reason closer to home, that voting as a civic duty is not a radical idea, consider jury service. Everyone is required to serve on juries as a matter of civil liability. This has been the case for more than 100 years, and we accept it as perfectly reasonable, even if we feel annoyed when the summons arrives.
The reason for doing this is clear: We want the group of jurors to fully reflect our society as the surest way to achieve a just outcome. We think the same logic applies to voting: we want, or should want, the public policies that affect our lives, and the choices of who will be in office to make them, which we all make, fully represented. And the public vote will bring us that.
There are other benefits as well. We believe the nature of the campaigns will change for the better. Currently, the field currency in campaigns is to convert your base and, in worst case scenarios, lower opponents’ turnout. Some call this “anger to engage.” But if everyone is going to vote, everyone will listen all the time, parties and campaigns will have to talk to everyone and they will have to convince the real majority that their ideas are the best. Persuasion, not excessive efforts, will be the norm. This, in turn, should help reduce our increased toxic polarization.
Evidence also shows that in countries with universal voting, policies that help reduce inequality get stronger government support and, in our opinion, would be hugely beneficial.
The universal vote is an idea that could take America a long way toward our avowed ideals of fully inclusive democracy. We’re putting the idea of ”100% democracy” forward as a Northstar goal, and we’re eager to get the conversation started.
Miles Rapoport He is co-author with EJ Dion of “100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting.” He is the Senior Fellow of Practice in American Democracy at the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.