Thursday, March 29, 2012
Let's bring everyone back in...
So, short of completely overhauling our system – which basically would be mean scrapping our constitution and re-writing it (not a bad idea, but a proposal fraught with its own issues of who to write it and how to change it) – what we need is to change the way the people in this country interact with their institutions; government and other.
One major change that would help connect people more to their political system – and in my opinion, thereby connect them more to all of the institutions in our lives – would be to create a compulsory voting system in this country. Compulsory (or mandatory) voting would be helpful, because not only would it push voting numbers up to more democratic levels (the mid-terms had a 37% voter participation rate – disgraceful), but would also re-engage citizens in the politics and political process. In addition, voter participation on the level that we’re seeing in the Australia (95%), which has a fine-based mandatory voting process, would help weed out extreme candidates, and stifle ascension of highly partisan groups such as the tea party from become major political forces.
Voting day can also be made a mandatory national holiday, so that citizens have no excuses for not turning out to vote, and companies have no excuses for remaining open. Mobile voting centers can be setup to aid elderly or infirmed voters with the process, and those who are absolutely unable to participate may get a waiver through an extensive process of unenrollment, that would need to be re-submitted for every election.
Voting should be compulsory for both local and national elections. The reason this is important is because if we have extremists in our local office, they become our experienced lawmakers, and therefore will tend to move onto the next level. Rick Santorum is a perfect example of this. Santorum is a highly-partisan, ultra-religious extremist, but because he has moved through the levels of politics using a hard Christian-conservative bloc as his base, he’s been able to make his way all the way into a primary fight for the Republican nomination as President of the United States. But Rick Santorum in no way reflects the general feelings or beliefs of even a large minority in this country. His base is small, but fierce; they always vote, and always get their friends to vote. And when no one else is voting, it’s the extremists on both sides that decide both our local and national elections.
The argument against compulsory voting is that it infringes upon our rights. Personally, I feel that this argument is flimsy. There are several things that the government – whether local or federal – requires us to do. We’re required to sign up for selective service. We’re required to pay taxes. We’re required to serve on juries. And there are always caveats to these laws and people who flout the system, but on the whole, the majority of people participate in these activities. In addition, each citizen should only be required to register and show up on Election Day, they have no requirement to vote for a specific candidate, or vote for any candidate at all. There should be options to either write in a person’s own selection, or to completely abstain and select something like “I do not wish to vote”. This would give people who have a moral (or religious) opposition to the voting or political process a chance to withhold their active participation. And for those who say that they don’t want to participate because the system is broken, what is a better way to change the system than participate. The system is what the system is, and if we can’t completely overhaul it, isn’t it better to be able to change it from within.
The arguments against compulsory voting are mainly hyperbolic, and have nothing to do with any real negative impacts on the political process or the country in general. Therefore, to reduce hyper-partisanship, increase voter participation and engagement, and restore democracy to our fragile and disintegrating institutions, it’s time to implement compulsory voting into our local and national electoral processes.