Consummate dilettantism!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mandatory Voting

I've been thinking this over, and to my mind it seems like a good idea. The basic premise is that voting (both Presidential and Congressional, though not necessarily local) be made mandatory. The problem with voluntary voting lies with the concept known as self-selection bias. It's a simple idea. If all of the people in a given country are asked to vote, only some will; those who vote are naturally more politically active and older, and as such will skew the results. For example, if older people were predominantly Democratic, and younger people were predominantly Republican, then most election results would likely be biased in favor of Democrats.

I suspect, however, that many people will initially recoil in horror at the thought; after all, forcing people to do, well, anything seems by nature wrong. Most people who think this also have no problem with mandatory taxation (which is essentially theft, albeit a theft we've accepted). If mandatory taxation is not immoral, why mandatory voting? Indeed, mandatory voting is perfectly moral with respect to government, as only governments, in the words of the Declaration of Independence,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
are legitimate (with a few important exceptions; Hitler's popularly supported Nazi Germany was in my mind illegitimate). When 60% of the population votes and chooses leader A, whereas a majority of the population as a whole favors leader B, then leader A does not strictly have the consent of the governed.

Another objection to this argument is that some people have grievances against the government and do not vote in protest and principle. I would argue that this problem can be remedied by allowing voters to select no candidate on the official ballot form; they would, however, still be forced to come down to a ballot center or file an absentee ballot and vote. Thus, those adults who do not vote out of laziness would probably select a candidate (circling a name is not very difficult), and those who do not vote out of principle would be able to legitimately abstain.

Some might object that lazy and uneducated voters, forced to select a candidate, would make a stupid decision. This is a legitimate objection. I suggest that the ballot form contain a clearly visible disclaimer, to the effect of
If you do not wish to vote, either on principle or on a lack of knowledge regarding the candidates and issues at hand, you may abstain by checking the line marked "Abstention" below.

The only other problem that I can foresee in enacting this sort of legislation is that it's unconstitutional (though I'm not a law scholar). I can foresee a few activist judges proclaiming otherwise, but such a striking law would have to be a constitutional amendment for legitimacy. I don't think that, with the existence of government, there are any moral problems with such legislation (after all, a constitutional amendment banning smoking would indeed make it unconstitutional, though not immoral), but I could be wrong. Leave a comment!

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