To Vote or Not to Vote

About a week ago, several of us on Twitter were discussing the differences between countries when it comes to voting.  Heidi  kicked off this “blog chain” with her post here from an American perspective, and then Katie posted her Australian perspective here.  I HIGHLY suggest that you read both posts.  Very interesting and thought-provoking.

It was quite a surprise to discover that voting is compulsory in Australia.  Here in the US where our freedoms are so engrained into our beliefs, we would take offense to having the government tell us what to do when it comes to voting.  This is much like the government telling us what junk food we cannot eat, if we can or cannot own a gun, where we can travel to and when.

I came across this tweet this morning:

So why not?  Like Mr. Spiner stated, we are required to perform jury duty.  Especially with something as important as electing the leaders of our country, city, state, etc, why not require people to vote?

I looked up information on compulsory voting, and while wikipedia.com is not always the most accurate source, the information that I came across was fascinating. Currently 23 countries have compulsory voting requirements, but only 10 of these countries actually enforce them.  And interestingly enough, 2 of the countries that do NOT enforce their compulsory voting requirement do NOT allow members of the military or national police to vote (I think that this type of restriction is what we in the US are so afraid of).

And while Australia may fine someone who doesn’t vote (unless they have a good reason to NOT vote such as illness or being out of the country), there are other countries that go as far as to disenfranchise, or suspend, a citizen’s right to vote as a penalty. Other countries will bar citizens from obtaining a passport or may deny a citizen from withdrawing his or her salary from the bank for two or three months.  Would any of these consequences fly in the US.  I think I can answer that with a resounding HELL NO!

As Americans we are pretty proud of the fact that we can pretty much do what we want to do when we want to do it – within reason and within the bounds of the law, of course.

I have one main example as to why .  In the US freedom of religion is such an important and fundamental right that it is addressed in the First Amendment of the Constitution.  Not the Second or the Fifth, but the First.  And for this reason alone the non-compulsory right to vote must remain as it is in the US, as requiring someone to vote may violate their First Amendment right.  There are religions that do not vote either because it isn’t allowed (Jehovah’s Witnesses) or they choose not to participate in anything political typically as a way of being completely autonomous (Amish, Mennonite).  There are even ultra conservative Christian sects that don’t vote in order to keep themselves separate from the “sinful” nature of the world. Requiring any of them to vote would violate their fundamental right to freedom of religion.

But religion aside, I just can’t see that most Americans would be ok with a voting “requirement.”  While it may work for some countries, I just don’t anticipate it ever being a requirement in the US.

Like Katie expressed in her blog, does that mean that other countries change their compulsory voting laws?  Not necessarily.  If it works for them, great.  All I can say is based on the American way of thinking, it would flop here.

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13 Responses to To Vote or Not to Vote

  1. Servetus says:

    Based on what seems to be happening in Florida right now, the U.S. couldn’t handle it if everyone voted. The stream of voters would overwhelm the precincts.

    • You are RIGHT about that!!! 🙂 Excellent point.

      • Servetus says:

        Just to be clear, however, that was basically a sarcastic remark. I think it’s a scandal how few people vote in the U.S., and while I wouldn’t be a fan of compulsory voting, I might support it under the right circumstances.

      • triski says:

        See, I when I started this post I was thinking about the apathy in this country when it comes to voting (and other things). I can see the benefits, but man, I think people would freak out.

      • Servetus says:

        I’m sure they would. To me, that’s the best theoretical reason not to do it. The social contract means that we don’t make laws for others that we would not be willing to agree would be binding on us — and be willing to be punished for should we break them. If I wouldn’t be willing to suffer a penalty for not voting, I probably shouldn’t expect you to be willing to do so. The question is just how we determine what’s in the social contract.

  2. triski says:

    Exactly. I don’t know how we used to do this election thing without early voting.

  3. mersguy says:

    A very interesting point of view Kristi, thank you.
    It raised an interesting question that perhaps if Australia’s population (currently 22,803,023) was anywhere near that of the US or UK perhaps we too would not have compulsory voting.

    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/1647509ef7e25faaca2568a900154b63?opendocument

    • triski says:

      Thats a very good point. One thing I was curious about, is if there is a problem with getting people out in distant rural areas to vote. Do they have some way to accomodate them or do they just have a good reason to not have to vote?

  4. Great post! Australia has pretty tight gun laws too 🙂

    In Australia, religious objections would be a legitimate reason not to vote. Just sayin’

  5. Pingback: I cast my first US vote « DistRActed musings of one ReAlity

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