Why Mandatory Voting Is a Bad Idea

Freedom means the right to ignore the state and live peacefully.


President Obama thinks that forcing us to vote might be a good idea. That he could favor punishing people for not voting—which means taking their money by force and imprisoning them if they resist—is unsurprising. The essence of government is violence—aggressive, not defensive, force. Government is not usually described in such unrefined terms, but consider its most basic power: taxation. If you can't refuse the tax collector with impunity, you are a victim of robbery. It doesn't matter that government claims to render "services" if you don't want them.

Most of us learn young that violence is wrong except in defense of self or other innocent life. To those who say society without government would be problematic, I reply that most of us also learn that even a good end cannot justify a bad means. Besides, most of the ills that government "protects" us from—such as economic distress and terrorism—result from its own policies.

Aside from the violence inherent in the system, mandatory voting has conceptual problems. Enthusiasts of modern government often say that voting is a right—the most sacred right in some people's eyes. [More sacred than the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?] It's also said to be a duty. Can it be both?

Having a right means you may freely decide to take—or not take—an action without forcible interference by anyone else, including people in the government. Your right to the car you bought signifies that you are free to use it peacefully, or not use it at all. It makes no sense to say that your right to your car obligates you to use it or face punishment. Anyone who talks that way simply does not understand what a right is. A right, then, differs from an enforceable duty.

The story is the same with voting. If one has a right to vote, the idea of making the exercise of that right mandatory is absurd. No matter how many good consequences Obama dubiously foresees from compulsory voting, they can't change the fact that forcing people to exercise a right makes no sense. It's a sad commentary that he is not ridiculed widely for his suggestion.

If voting is a right, it can't be a duty, and if it's a duty, it can't a right. Perhaps it's neither.

I've assumed people have a right to vote, but let's not be too hasty. It's an odd right, indeed, because it entails participation in the process by which government officials are chosen. But as we've already established, government's essence is aggressive violence. Can you have a right to participate in what would be condemned as a criminal operation if it were run "privately"? Can you have a right to help determine who will govern others against their will?

If for the sake of argument we concede the right to participate in the political system, shouldn't we have to acknowledge the corollary right not to participate? I don't mean just the right not to vote, but the right to opt out of government altogether—voting, taxation, war, regulation. Yet government does not let us theoretically free people opt out of individual programs (try opting out of the Mideast wars or Social Security), much less across the board.

In other words, no matter how often we're told that the government exists by the consent of the governed, it really does not. Were you asked to consent? Please don't say that remaining in the country counts as consent, for that would assume what is here disputed: that before any specific consent, the government has legitimate jurisdiction over the territory known as the United States of America. In fact, consent is merely presumed, and nothing you can do will ever be taken by the government as legitimate withholding of consent. Yet if that is true, then nothing you can do could logically constitute consent either. To repeat: if nonconsent is impossible, so is consent.

Individual freedom in moral communities requires not an impotent "right" to cast one vote among multitudes, but the right to ignore the state and live peacefully.

NEXT: The State Is Spying on You Right Now. Where's the Outrage?

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  1. “…but the right to ignore the state and live peacefully.”

    A sensible sentiment. We need the government at all levels to recognize its obligation (not discretionary “right”), to ignore us a whole lot more.

  2. The left doesn’t care about the arguments in the article. They know that choosing not to vote is predominately because of either apathy or ignorance.

    If the apathetic and the ignorant can be forced to the polls, leftist politics and politicians would win almost every time because, on the surface, their policies have a lot of appeal to those who are unable or unwilling to think them through.

    More money for public schools? Absolutely, kids gotta learn, right?
    Gun control? Sure, no one wants to get shot.
    Repeat ad infinitum.

    1. Exactly. What progressives don’t bother considering is the very bad things it says about their philosophy when their philosophy appeals to groups that are the laziest or the least informed about politics. (Note: I don’t mean those people are lazy or ill-informed in their daily lives, merely that they don’t know much or care much about politics so they don’t really think policies through).

      When your policies appeal to the most ignorant in society to the extent that you think the best way to win is by forcing the ignorant to go to the polls, doesn’t that kind of imply that your policies are a bit, well, idiotic and poorly thought through?

      1. Idiotic and poorly thought out? What do you mean? Leftist policies solidify and increase their power, and that’s all that matters. Power is an end, not a means.

    2. Indeed, Obama didn’t even try to hide the naked self-interest behind the proposal, with his comments about how the electoral map would be “changed” and how things would be easier for him.

      1. “Indeed, Obama didn’t even try to hide the naked self-interest behind the proposal,”
        Would there be a point in trying to hide it? I mean it’s one thing to ignore the elephant in the room it’s another to ignore the elephant eating your popcorn.

    3. People who are ignorant or apathetic about politics will vote based upon input from the cool kids and celebrities, who no doubt will support the left. So yeah, leftists definitely would support mandatory voting since it will ensure they are in power for perpetuity.

      1. You’ve got the religious whackjobs who voted for Bush because Jesus. About 30 million of them.

        1. You are way too fixated on the religious, but you sort of have a point. There are plenty of dumb-ass Republicans who vote with little information or thought too, and tend to follow a different set of “cool kids”. But I think the left really has the better strategic position as far as that goes, given how dominant they are in the popular culture. And it shows in the differing views on various voting regulations.


        3. Re: Peter Caca,

          You’ve got the religious whackjobs who voted for Bush because Jesus. About 30 million of them.

          It couldn’t be because Al “Waterworld” Gore. Or John “I never met a flip-flop I didn’t like” Kerry. It had to be because of Jesus.

        4. 30 million religious whackjobs?

      2. Wrong. Compelling people to vote increases (in no particular order):

        1. blank ballots
        2. ethnic voting (candidate whose last name most resembles your own)
        3. votes for joke candidates
        4. (depending on ballot structure) votes for most prominently placed candidates
        5. “no” on ballot Qs

    4. If the apathetic and the ignorant can be forced to the polls, leftist politics and politicians would win almost every time because, on the surface, their policies have a lot of appeal to those who are unable or unwilling to think them through.

      That’s a better indictment of democracy a means of governance than as an indictment of non-voting anarchists. And is it not the case that every single “western democracy” has been sliding left unabated since basically ever? It’s a feature of the system, not a bug that we could work out. Dumb ideas are easier to fathom than good ideas for the vast majority of people. In a democracy the cream of the crap floats to the top because of that fact.

      1. I wasn’t thrashing those who choose to not vote for good reasons, as anarchists or those who are simply unhappy with their choices, do, so I”m sorry if it came across that way. I just get the sense that most, not all, nonvoters don’t vote because they don’t give a damn and only have a vague sense of what’s going on and, for those people, good on them for not voting.

        As for being an indictment against democracy in general, I think you may have a point there, unfortunately.

        1. I don’t think you came across as thrashing anyone for the record. And in all fairness I probably came across too harshly myself. I think we’re pretty much on the same page.

      2. If democracy were responsible for that trend, it would’ve happened much faster. It might not be “1 man, 1 vote, 1 time” most places, but surely it would’ve resulted in communism within 3 or 4 election cycles in most cases.

        The “left” (& some other idealists) may favor mandatory voting, but mandatory voting doesn’t particularly favor the “left”. Nor does it particularly favor voting for the “cool”, because people who vote only because they have to don’t know which candidates or issues are “cool”.

    5. No, because the opposite policies can be phrased in a way to have a lot of appeal to those unable or unwilling to think them thru too. Just because a policy has superficial appeal doesn’t mean it’s bad.

      Libertarians flatter themselves to think our policies aren’t adopted because people don’t think as much as we do. That’s got nothing to do with it. Keynesianism, for instance, is extremely sophisticated in theory; however, it’s also sophistic.

      1. You’re correct, Libertarian policy can be phrased in a simplistic fashion but, from what I’ve seen, this usually isn’t done: the policies are marketed on their merits for the most part.

        1. But many policies with plenty of merit are simplistic! “Do what you want.” “Don’t fuck with people.” What could be simpler?

  3. Leave enough acorns lying around…

  4. “Vote for me or I’ll lock you in a cage!”

    That’s what I’m hearing.

    1. I’m hearing, “I’ll be slightly less likely to lock you in a cage if you vote for me!”

    2. What I’m hearing is that the same president whose DOJ rightfully complained about poor black people being unfairly fined in Ferguson, Missouri wants poor black people to be unfairly fined so that he can insure that America becomes a left-wing one-party state.

      I used to think Obama was just an idiot, but it’s become pretty obvious that he’s actively malicious.

    3. Anyone know what the penalties are for not voting in Australia?

        1. If I were stupidly rich, I’d go around paying people $25 not to vote. Just for laughs.


  5. “It’s a sad commentary that he is not ridiculed widely for his suggestion.”

    President Fuckwit has a perfect record of idiocy. Not one single sound idea or policy, ever. Yet he has been fawned over, praised, elected and re-elected for his entire career. Every time he has a new brainfart he is cheered. Was Richman excoriating him when he was a state senator voting against people’s natural right to defend themselves? The middle east is descending into bloody chaos as a direct result of Obumbles and this is what Richman chooses to criticize?

    Whataboutism is no excuse.This is too little, too late. Every journalist who supported this turd or failed to criticize him since 2008 should fall on a sword. I don’t mean that metaphorically.

    1. So Obama has not meddled in the Middle East ENOUGH? Look how well our Iraq nation-building worked 2003-09. They greeted us with flowers! You’re really an idiot.

      1. “So Obama has not meddled in the Middle East ENOUGH? Look how well our Iraq nation-building worked 2003-09. They greeted us with flowers! You’re really an idiot.”

        Given that many of the problems in the Middle East are the result of Obama letting the French guide him into overthrowing the Qaddafi regime and then Obama provided weaponry to Syrian rebels that helped bust up that country, the problems in the Middle East are hardly the result of Obama being a non-interventionist.

        1. Did you enjoy providing the ant with your aphid juice, Irish?

      2. You’re like the kids on Charlie Brown. No matter what anyone says all you hear is “Whah wah wah, wah Boooosh.


      4. He didn’t say anything of the kind. He in fact implied that Obama has meddled too much, although he didn’t say that either.

        The middle east is descending into bloody chaos as a direct result of Obumbles

        You fail the most basic reading comprehension test.

      5. Your boy is as much a failure or worse than Booooshhhh. Admit it or go back under the bridge. If Oblamo would have listened to his military advisers instead of getting a new one every time they didn’t kiss his ring, the middle east might not be at the boiling point it’s at.
        All that is kind of old news though…even blaming any of our intervention in that area is tripe. This area has been backwards for thousands (rinse and repeat) of years, and will continue to be til they start realizing you don’t decapitate others because they eat bacon.
        Long live bacon, it will be the downfall of radical moooslims, proggie bitches, and fat ol’ meh.

    2. Unfortunately, very few journalists have swords these days.

  6. The Christ-Nuts mobilize and vote for their special interests. If we had a parliamentary system smaller groups would be more encouraged to vote in order to establish a government. Right now libertarians are powerless.

    1. The Christ-nuts, the gun-nuts, the abortion-nuts (on both sides) and the union-nuts all do it. But the prog-nuts are becoming the biggest special interest group of all, nationally, and as far as I can tell their special interest is just power for themselves.

      1. The Prog-Nuts never get what they want.

        They wanted single-payer and got Romneycare. They want protectionism and got free-trade TPP Obama. They wanted out of the Middle East and got the Droner-in-Chief. They wanted to nationalize the banks and got Obama privatization of banks.

        1. The Christ-nuts get far less of what they want than the prog-nuts do. They want outlawed gay marriage and they’re getting legalization. They want outlawed weed and are getting legalization. They want creationism in schools and are losing handily. Etc.

          The progressives don’t get everything they want, but they move the dial in a direction of larger government. Christian Conservatives have lost every social issue in the last 20 years, but you’re such a dipshit that you’re still gibbering about a Christian Taliban that inexplicably continuously fails to arise.

          1. There’s one “social” dimension in which a certain “conservative” sector has moved things over the past ~30 yrs. their way: They’ve made child pornography a “thing”. They’ve moved society (& gov’t policy) into prudishness as concerns age groups that hardly anybody had been thinking about before then: minors. & did it so subtly, they managed to get a sector of “liberals” to think of it as their issue too.

            They haven’t succeeded in moving the needle towards prudishness generally, as they’d’ve liked, but as concerns the youth, they have.

            Come to think of it, in the USA at least, they also rolled back gun control considerably over that time. Gun control showed up anomalously in the WSPQ if you want to use it diamond-chart style to gauge “L-R”, in that it’s mostly been the “right” that was against it, while “against” moves you leftward on the chart, which was based on the apparently incorrect assumption (which looked fairly good some decades ago, but may not have been true even then, due to hidden agendas) that the “left” favored “social liberty”.

          2. ” Christian Conservatives have lost every social issue in the last 20 years, ”
            If the term “conservative” (in the political sense) means anything it means “Someone who is going to lose the argument, and lose it forever.”.

        2. None of them get all of what they want. The Christian right certainly isn’t getting any more of what they want than the progressive left lately.

        3. Re: Peter Caca,

          They wanted to nationalize the banks and got Obama privatization of banks.

          You mean they weren’t private before?

          Logic. It’s a bitch.

          1. TARP, in taking over all the senior preferred stock in the nine largest banks in the country, did in fact nationalize the banks in 2008.


          2. Lol. As if.

        4. The Prog-Nuts never get what they want.

          Then why do I pay into a myriad of deeply harmful welfare programs? The list of dumb shit that progressives get to have go their way would take more text than I could fit into a post or two or ten on this board.

  7. No hat tip for Lysander Spooner?

  8. Obviously, I think mandatory voting is a terrible idea for several reasons.

    But didn’t Australia accidentally elect a libertarian largely because people who didn’t give a shit were required to vote?

    1. Yes, but he probably won’t survive the next election because apparently the order you appear on the ballot is randomized. He won the election because he was at the top of the ballot and got a bunch of votes from apathetic voters because of that, but it won’t help him next time.

      1. Yeah, not an argument for mandatory voting. But an amusing consequence.

      2. But might informed, caring voters not be satisfied w his performance enough to re-elect him?

    2. They have a parliamentary system that is quite different from ours.

  9. If this law were to pass. Not only would I refuse to vote, I woukd do everything I could to create a swat barricade situation out of it if the absurdity if that doesn’t wake anyone up than what the hell would?

  10. Abstention is voting. As in, “none of you motherfucking douchebags is good enough to polish my monocle, much less pass laws that affect me”.

    1. If they would put that option on the ballot, I might start voting again.

      1. In those exact words.

    2. I believe it was our own Brewster who in the 1980s said “None of the Above.” Genius film.

      1. The last couple of election cycles I have put a NOTA sign in my front yard. I used to be a “I need to vote just so I can bitch about government type”. Then I realized being a principled non-voter was marginally better since I’m not tacitly approving of the policies of any winners I manage to pick, and I can still bitch about government.

  11. Voting is such a bizarre ritual, essentially delegating a power we do not have (theft, violence) to a government we did not contract with.

    A very peculiar institution, all things considered.

    1. Well I hate to burst your bubble Scarecrow, but I have a special costume that allows me to plunder my neighbors. I got it at the Halloween store.

  12. Obama wants mandatory voting because it would allow the federal government to take control of a process granted to the states in the Constitution. Democrats want to take advantage of low information voters who can be bought with Obamaphones and other promises of free stuff. Of course, the real intent is to break the GOP lock in the red states. Democrats cannot impose their progressive vision for the US until the break the back of the GOP which controls more state legislatures and Governorships as well as try to stop the “red” tide in the House and Senate. If Obama thinks it is a good idea, you should always look for an ulterior motive because there is always one to be found. Obama and progressives do not care about the people because in their minds we are all dumb asses. They just want the power to control us, period.

    1. It’s not so much about pols buying votes as much as it is about voter ignorance about politics. The odds of anyone vote making a difference is almost 0, and there isn’t any reason for most people to have a strong interest in politics. Ultimately uninformed voters are swayed be emotional appeal and this works well for politicians of all stripes. For the politicians it’s only a matter of determining which heartstrings to pull in a given constituency.

      1. Typos, so many typos…. Someday we’ll be able to edit comments.

    2. That wouldn’t work, & I don’t think Obama’s that dumb. If low information voters could be bought w such stuff, why wouldn’t they already be voting? There’s no reason to think compelling the unwilling to vote will bring in more grateful “free stuff” voters than any other voters. Compusory voting would work against the great GOTV machines the incumbents tend to have.

  13. Vote or die.


  14. Now mandatory voting is indeed stupid, but what about the opposite? Should we Starship-Troopers the government?

  15. I see no difference between compulsory voting and Adam Lanza.

    I also think the point of the proposal, as with all things Obama since the mid-terms, is to feed a steady stream of Red-Meat bait to his political opposition so that they’re always talking about stuff *he’d rather they be talking about* so that the Dem base is perpetually reminded that the GOP hates everything good and right and true and even dislikes ‘voting’. How can you dislike voting??

  16. But, easy rider problem!

  17. Hands Up, Don’t Vote!

  18. Why Mandatory Voting Anything Is a Bad Idea


  19. In my opinion, the whole election process is a scam. Through internal arrangements and agreements withing the government, manipulation of public opinion, nothing is changing. The only situation when voting is significant is when the governement screws up seriosly and there is need for government resignation. It’s true that even after this nothing will change, but it will keep politicians on their toes

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