Jason Brennan is assistant professor of ethics, economics and public policy at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Ethics of Voting.
Higher voter turnout won’t solve our problems, because high turnout is itself a problem.
If we force everyone to vote, the electorate will become even more irrational and misinformed.
Imagine Betty wants to help people, but has crazy beliefs about how to help them. Betty steals food from the starving. She kicks the injured. She takes money from the poor. Betty has noble intentions, but no one needs her help.
The best scientific studies tell us that citizens act like Betty at the voting booth. Voters have noble intentions. Yet they have systematically false beliefs about basic economics, political science and foreign policy. When We the People vote, we make bad choices, and we get what we choose.
The median voter is incompetent at politics. The citizens who abstain are, on average, even more incompetent. If we force everyone to vote, the electorate will become even more irrational and misinformed. The result: not only will the worse candidate on the ballot get a better shot at winning, but the candidates who make it on the ballot in the first place will be worse.
Most people believe that more voting causes better government. This is an article of faith, not fact. Social scientists have shown that higher quality government tends to cause higher turnout. But higher turnout does not cause higher quality government.
Mandatory voting laws would hurt, but they would not be a disaster. With 60 percent of Americans voting — the majority biased and irrational about politics — most of the damage has already been done.
If we really want to help America, we shouldn’t force citizens to vote. We should encourage citizens to vote well or not vote at all. Don’t ask your neighbor to vote. Instead, ask the ignorant and irrational voters, how dare you?
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Topics: Politics, elections, voting rights act
Every citizen has the right to vote, yet so many people don’t vote, with the turnout at just 64% for the 2008 presidential election, and voter turnout rates decreasing steadily in most established democracies. There are a number of reasons why people may not vote: a lack of understanding of politics, people being busier, a lack of trust in the government, laziness, not caring or even contentment with how things are.
But when people fought so hard to get fair and equal voting rights for all, it should be a legal requirement that every US citizen turns out on election day and votes.
For a start, not voting when you have the right to is disrespectful to a lot of people. It disrespects those that fought and struggled for the right to vote and not be discriminated against, because to not vote is to not value the contribution and sacrifice that they made for all of us. However, it is possible that many people do not value the movements because they are ignored from our own history. The school system should value important suffragettes just as much as presidents so people are more aware of the suffrage and then they would be more likely to want to vote.
It also isn’t fair to many underprivileged or oppressed people all over the world who would give anything for the right to vote, but are denied the important opportunity that we so readily throw away. These people may feel that we are ungrateful what they have, and they would be right, because they would love the chance to have a say in the way their country runs and potentially improve their lives through it, while we don’t bother to vote but then moan if things don’t go the way that we want.
This is another reason that we should have to vote: because otherwise you shouldn’t have the right to complain. If you don’t even try to influence policy in the ways that you can, you can’t then moan about how rubbish everything is. If you’ve done all that you can but it hasn’t worked, however, you and everyone else being critical of the government is perfectly reasonable because things are going wrong despite every citizen’s best efforts.
The main argument against making voting compulsory is that the people that aren’t voting currently don’t care, and will just pick randomly and could make bad choices and undermine the votes of those that thought carefully. However, although people may not actively vote to improve their country, they wouldn’t actively vote to make it worse, so if they had to vote they would put some effort in. If we all had to vote, we would all understand more and the country would be better off.