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:
We live in a free country. We are required by law to serve jury duty. We are not required to vote. Go figure.—
Brent Spiner (@BrentSpiner) November 04, 2012
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.