The United States should make it mandatory to vote.
This year, more Americans registered to vote than ever before. Still, millions — at least a third of all registered voters — won't cast a ballot in the 2016 election. And for a country that brags about its democracy, that just isn't right.
Now I know what you're thinking, and what a lot of Americans think: we have our rights and freedoms, and part of that freedom is the right to choose whether or not to vote. I get that, and I appreciate the sentiment. Choice is essential to freedom. Being fined or punished for not casting a ballot does not feel very American.
But how can we be the greatest democracy in the world when so many people don't even participate? According to the most recent Pew Research report, the United States ranks 31st among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development when it comes to voter turnout. In the 2012 presidential election, just 129.1 million votes were cast by the 241 million Americans who were eligible to vote.
If you ask me, that doesn't sound like much of a democracy.
In other countries, such as Australia, there is compulsory voting. As a result, 91 percent of the population participates in elections. If you don't send in your ballots for federal, state, and local elections, you get fined about $100. They make it worth it to go out of your way, learn about your elected officials, and get behind someone.
That last part is key, though: we don't just want uninformed voters showing up at the poll.
That's another reason many Americans wouldn't support a system that punishes you for not voting, because they fear far too many uneducated and uninformed voters will cast ballots, maybe even without a care as to who they're voting for. In my mind, that isn't a reason not to vote, that's just a reason to get informed.
Imagine if another 110 million people actually voted, even in just the federal elections. It would literally rewrite the entire script on American elections. Perhaps third-party candidates would get legitimate shots at winning. Grassroots candidates like Bernie Sanders may be able to make it out of a primary race. And all Americans, young, old, from every corner of the country, could connect with each other through politics, and then feel as if their voice was heard.
If not for anything else, mandatory voting could reignite an interest and investment in government that our country is sorely lacking. Right now, Americans view the government more negatively than ever before. People feel like our leaders aren't interested in bettering our lives, instead just doing what they need to do to advance their own careers.
Amidst that distaste for government, Americans have lost sight of all the things the government does for us. Perhaps that's why when someone like Donald Trump says he avoids paying taxes, he gets cheered instead of jeered.
With mandatory voting, particularly when it comes to state and local elections, Americans might once again see what their country can do for them. If voters, most importantly young and minority voters, were forced to get behind and support issues or propositions or laws, they'd get the opportunity to see their vote change the world around them. Right now, it doesn't seem like that's commonplace in American politics.
In fact, the complete opposite seems to be true: state and local representatives are so frequently ignored that they can push their own agendas without the people's consent, sometimes even enacting laws that they know their constituents would reject outright.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, America should make voting mandatory because a vote is a choice about what to do with your money. In 2015, the federal budget alone was $3.8 trillion. Forty-six percent of that money came from income tax, which means everyday Americans' tax money comes out to trillions of dollars.
While trillions of dollars is a lot of money, it also doesn't seem to be enough to motivate people to vote for how they want us to spend it. If it were, perhaps 110 million eligible voters wouldn't have stayed at home in 2012.
America should make voting mandatory. Not because it'd make us more free, but because it would make us more democratic. And there's nothing more American than that.
Cover photo: Flickr