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Obama: Maybe Mandatory Voting?

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Yesterday President Obama floated an idea our cofounder Norm Ornstein previously proposed in 2012 and 2006: mandatory voting might be the best way to increase America’s lousy voter participation.

Here’s what Norm said back in 2012:

In my view, the best way to ameliorate this malign dynamic is to find ways to enlarge the electorate in primaries and general elections — to move our politics to where persuadable voters in the middle have more impact. If I could do one thing to counter our dysfunction, it would be to adopt a version of the Australian system of mandatory attendance at the polls.

And 2006:

If there were mandatory voting in America, there’s a good chance that the ensuing reduction in extremist discourse would lead to genuine legislative progress. These days, valuable Congressional time is spent on frivolous or narrow issues (flag burning, same-sex marriage) that are intended only to spur on the party bases and ideological extremes. Consequently, important, complicated issues (pension and health-care reform) get short shrift.There’s no question that compulsory voting would be a tough sell. Congress would have to pass a law and the states would have to enforce it. Surveys on the subject regularly show substantial majorities opposed to the idea. Americans don’t like compulsory anything — we value the freedom not to vote.

But going to the polls doesn’t mean that you have to vote for a particular candidate. About three percent of Australians, for example, mark X on the ballot, the equivalent of “none of the above.”

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