November 14, 2011

Is Mandatory Voting a Good Idea?

From Letters, November 13, 2011, The New York Times:

To the Editor:

William A. Galston (“Telling Americans to Vote, or Else,” Sunday Review, Nov. 6) might have it backward regarding the cause and effect between low voter turnout and political polarization.

Many countries have fiercely polarized politics along with high voter turnout. The difference that Mr. Galston missed is that the American system inevitably ensures both polarization and low participation.

Without a parliamentary system, our winner-take-all politics means that most votes are indeed meaningless. For most people, voting does not lead to a greater sense of participation in government, but rather reminds them — over and over — that their voices are not represented.

The problem is not voter turnout. It is a system of government that can never be responsive to the majority of its citizens.

Hartland, Vt., Nov. 6, 2011

[Note:  Rob Richie, Executive Director of FairVote, notes that a parliamentary system, e.g., in Canada, can be based on winner-takes-all results and is therefore not necessarily proportional. The U.S system is both nonparliamentary and nonproportional.]

[See "Basic Steps of Election Reform"]