No, Compulsory Voting Doesn't Make Election Outcomes More Legitimate

Why should mediocre candidates get the benefit of forced balloting?


Credit: hjl / photo on flickr

I must confess at the start to be somewhat baffled by nearly every argument and claim presented in Nicholas Stephanopoulus' piece at The Atlantic, "A Feasible Roadmap to Compulsory Voting."

The very first sentence is based on a host of unsupported assumptions about democracy and representation: "Not enough people vote." This is simply an assertion. It's a very popular assertion, no doubt, and there are certainly many people who feel this way. I don't want to act as though Stephanopoulus is inventing a concern out of the blue. But it's nevertheless non-factual.

Beyond that opening, I think what I'm most baffled about is that Stephanopoulus spends several hundred words explaining how mandatory voting could be implemented in America in phases based on this assumption that we need more people voting, and yet at no point does this piece ever engage in why people who are registered to vote sometimes don't vote. Here's the opening just to show how actually disengaged the piece is in truly exploring voting:

Not enough people vote. It's a perennial source of concern in American politics. There's no shortage of reforms designed to address the problem, but one idea that seems particularly promising, at least in theory, is compulsory voting. It would produce much higher turnout for the obvious reason that it requires people to vote. It's long been dismissed, though, as an impossible pipe dream, unlikely to ever happen in the United States. But if reformers were to start at the municipal level, they could set into motion forces that might lead to its nationwide adoption.

Start with some statistics: In years with presidential elections, voter turnout peaks at just above 60 percent. In off-year elections, turnout dips to 40 percent or less. In November 2014, only 36 percent of eligible voters went to the polls—the lowest share in more than 70 years. Participation this paltry calls into question the political system's legitimacy. It also hints that election outcomes might be quite different if more people bothered to show up.

So he raises the issue that low turnout threatens the legitimacy of elections, no doubt meaning that the winners of these races didn't really garner significant support from the constituency. But his solution is the government forcing citizens to cast ballots. How does this add legitimacy to the outcome? If the outcome of elections would be "different" if more people turned out to vote, but they don't, then why should the election outcomes be different? Why should lackluster candidates who fail to capture the interest of voters be "legitimized" by compulsory voting?

That's what galls me most about these arguments—the assumption that the purpose of voting is to serve the needs of the political class to determine a "winner." Legitimacy, according to Stephanopoulus, is just mathematics, not an evaluation of the passions or causes that brought out huge voters for the Democratic Party in 2008 that had disappeared by 2014. What could have possibly happened between that time period to make people stop caring enough to vote? Maybe that's the threat to "legitimacy," perhaps?

Anyway, I've ranted angrily about the insulting nature (and civil rights violations) of trying to force American citizens to vote here, and how it favors mediocrity in candidates. As an aside, I also doubt Stephanopoulus' strategy would work, as municipal politics is extremely different from national politics in terms of defining "partisanship" to the point that municipal-level politicians and workers, regardless of party affiliations, have huge incentives to keep election turnout down to maintain power. Vaguely saying that state and federal politicians could "dangle rewards" like endorsements and donations to local politicians to get them on board ignores that those state and federal politicians also rely on endorsements and donations directed from those local leaders in return to also stay in power. Political patronage does not flow just one way.

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  1. No, Compulsory Voting Doesn’t Make Election Outcomes More Legitimate
    Why should mediocre candidates get the benefit of forced balloting?

    If they can get the benefit of forced campaign contributions, why not the benefit of forced balloting too?

  2. Not enough people vote.

    The wrong people vote?

  3. *lights the Cytotoxic signal*

  4. I like the people who think their vote means something. They’re just so adorable.

    1. When everyone’s a voter, no one will be.

      1. When voting is compulsory, only the criminals… wait, what?

        1. You know who else compelled voting for criminals? Did I do that right?

          1. If your ‘for’ meant “voting for criminals” as opposed to ‘by’ criminals, you did everything right.

            1. Oh good. That is what I meant.

    2. If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal. — Emma Goldman

      Although Ms Goldman wasn’t exactly my favourite kind of anarchist, she had something there.

      1. To her credit, she disavowed her support for prior communist regimes realizing that a dictatorship of the proletariat was, in the end, a dictatorship.

        1. Apparently Lenin himself couldn’t assuage her fears over suppression of free speech with an explanation of revolutionary necessity.

  5. It’s the $20 “nominal” fine that galls me. That’s a good chunk of change to some people. People who, say, might have to work on election day, all day.

    Then what if the $20 teeny-tiny fee isn’t paid?…….


    2. Carotid restraint

      1. Bringing back ‘the carotid’, published in the annals of “survival sciences” courtesy of policeone.

    3. I wonder what Stephembopulous has said about voter ID requirements in the past. I always hear it’s onerous and unreasonable to expect poorer Americans to get ID or even get to the polls on election day. But they could definitely afford a $20 fine if they forget they were supposed to vote.

      1. No no no …. if you’re fined $20 for not voting, what happens when you vote twice? Three times? Four?

        Use your imagination. Remember, it’s the Democrats, they’ve got something up their left sleeve. (Republicans have it up their right sleeve.)

    4. Then what if the $20 teeny-tiny fee isn’t paid?…….

      You get the gubmint you deserve. The joke’s on you!

      Seriously, these twits never think this through beyond the most superfical level. Of course, the magic of gubmint rules will make this all better. Magic!

      We’re ruled by the Pakleds.

    5. If you wanted to avoid the fine, could you just take the ballot, go into the booth and just not fill it out?

  6. So now they WANT people to have to show identification to vote?

    1. Forget it, Bee.

      It’s Snufalupagustown


      Sure seems like a lot of the same arguments against requiring ID to vote could be used against compulsory voting, especially its disparate impact on the poor.

      1. And of course, how can you hold people accountable for not voting unless you require people to prove their name when voting…i.e. voter ID.

        1. And have a database of everyone who is eligible to vote. Which probably exists already in some form, but I really don’t think giving more local bureaucrats access to it would be a net positive for liberty.


    Vote early, and vote often!

    *stuffs ballot box, ol’ skool style*

    1. I can think of places to stuff that ballot box.

  8. What kind of a lunatic thinks fining people for not voting is a good idea? I was too poor to get to the polls and the government fined me for it.

    These people are dangerous morons.

    1. Well, they’ve already started fining people for not buying insurance on the commercial market.

    2. Automatically deducting the fine from welfare checks would do wonders for Democrat turnout.

    3. Automatically deducting the fine from welfare checks would do wonders for Democrat turnout.

      1. Post early, post often, it’s the Squirrel Way.

  9. These people are why we have a second amendment

    maybe that’ll just be the default answer to these wanna-by tyrants

  10. If people choose not to decide, they still made a choice….

    If forced to vote i’d spoil my ballot.

    1. Yeah, I’d be tempted to write in something incredibly offensive and violent on my ballot. Like, what kind of damage, specifically and in great detail, Warty’s Doomcock of Doom can do you yo mama’s vag.

      1. That’ll show the machine.

        1. No, it’ll offend the old biddies with nothing better to do with their retirement than volunteer for the local election board

        2. In the small town I live in there are no machines and someone would read it.

          So I know what I’m doing with my next ballot. Maybe I should go vote this evening afterall.

    2. you misspelled “soil”

    3. If forced to vote I’d put some of this stuff on my ballot:–do0?t=1m

  11. It is interesting that none of the mandatory voting jackasses ever seem to note that crappy candidates and a VERY limited amount of the political spectrum being offered have anything to do with low turnout.

    1. That’s because they *like* the candidates.

  12. No, Compulsory Voting Doesn’t Make Election Outcomes More Legitimate

    Lot’s of truth in that.

    Although I’m a big flaming liberal, I’m a registered republican that votes against the favorite in the Primary.

    1. How sincere of you. It’s almost like you don’t want to compete on the basis of actual ideas.

        1. Shut it down. This is the pinnacle of H&R right here.

        2. Event horizon attained.

        3. Most honest H&R comment ever.

  13. Let’s be clear – this isn’t about supporting the interests of a generic “political class” – it’s about supporting the interests of *Democrats.* Here is a key passage:

    “In November 2014, only 36 percent of eligible voters went to the polls?the lowest share in more than 70 years. Participation this paltry calls into question the political system’s legitimacy. It also hints that election outcomes might be quite different if more people bothered to show up.”

    The assumption – probably correct – is that the non-voters tend to be Democrats, so if fewer people vote, more Republicans win. Stephanopodopolous wants “election outcomes [to] be quite different” than they were in the Congressional elections of 2014.

    The rest is just eyewash.

    Maybe the Dems should think about why it is that so many of their potential voters don’t vote.

    Those of us who aren’t Democrats shouldn’t be so upset that possible Democratic voters are staying home.

    1. When Democrats don’t get elected, Republicans do. We can’t win.

    2. Maybe the Dems should think about why it is that so many of their potential voters don’t vote.

      Because they’re poor and oppressed, you fascist teabagging shitlord! That’s why we have to fine them if they don’t show up to exercise their rights!

  14. Want people to vote? Pay them.

    Give people a ticket after they vote that if their number is drawn nets them some serious cash. How much and how many winners depends on the type of election and what the government(s) involved can afford.

    Or allow the parties to bring people by the busload to polling stations and hand people cash after they vote. For the parties that might turn out to be cheaper than running a normal campaign.

    1. Or promise that, if elected, you’ll give them stuff.

      Wait, they do that already.

      1. The difference being this is cash in hand right now.

        1. What’s free food, chopped liver?

          1. Food doesn’t grow on trees you know!

  15. Participation this paltry calls into question the political system’s legitimacy.

    If only.

  16. If I was forced to vote and wrote “Fuck off, slavers” on my ballot, would that be considered a problem?

    1. They have mandatory voting in Oz, and they don’t really seem to care if you spoil your ballot or turn it in blank. As long as you turn in the form, they don’t care what’s on it. Legitimacy!

      1. What’s the penalty for not turning one in?

        1. You have to live in Australia.

        2. A fine, escalating from there as all penalties do.

  17. Jesus this local ballot I’m filling out is a fucking cabal of criminal misfits and SEIU thugs.

    I need some advice, do I choose:

    o Proven Progressive Leadership


    o A Progressive Voice for Seattle

    1. In the spirit of the Nation’s advice column, go find a bridge

    2. None of the above for all offices.

      Vote for repeal of laws.

      Vote for reduction of taxes.

      Vote against tax increases and new laws.

      1. Thanks, Tarran, but I’m not exactly new around here.

    3. I’d chose C: Go fuck yourselves

    4. Ok, finally, a race where I can reluctantly check one. The guy who says he wants more accountable policing. right after a tract about how the $15 minimum wage isn’t enough.

      Jesus fuck me sideways.

      1. Don’t do it. He’ll fuck you on the policing and the minimum wage. Just vote none of the above.

        1. You’re right. I wonder if I can steam the envelope back open.

    5. Why are you even bothering?

      1. Believe it or not, there are some tax repealing initiatives on the ballot (which don’t stand a chance) but at least I can hope.

        Also, if I don’t put my NO vote on I122 (linked to above) I woudn’t be able to live with myself, even though I’m sure this time next year I’ll receive my “democracy voucher” in the mail that I will be forced to give to one of the Progressive Voices for Seattle.

    6. Oh yippee, two candidates running against each other who say they’re going to make housing more affordable by limiting growth!

      Ok, commentariat, start selling me on where you live… I’ve given 30 years of my life and money to this city and I’m seriously considering a move.

      1. I’m in the people’s republic of Massachusetts. It’s not much of better.

      2. I live in a van down by the river…care to join me?

        1. You got any Lone Star or Pabst Blue Ribbon… nothin’ snooty.

          1. Ooh, I suppose you’d like a crystal decanter too, Your Majesty!

            I got Thunderbird, and sometimes Cousin Billy shares some of his moonshine.

      3. Philly suburbs. Schools are actually really good for public, but your congressperson would be Chaka Fattah (for now) and the people, me excluded of course, are quite rude. Oh, and all the sports teams suck

      4. The weather is better here, and the politics are only slightly better. But you have to leave your guns behind.

        1. The weather is better here, and the politics are only slightly better. But you have to leave your guns behind.

          How true that is, on the weather. Sorry, I need to be able to shoot back when the crazy reaches factor 11.

      5. Vancouver is like Seattle except it takes us abot ten years to adopt your horrible ideas. And, if you get Nexus and don’t mind driving a few* hours, you can keep your job!

        *such a handy word, “few”, covers so much ground…

      6. Manchester, NH. It’d be nicer if all the folks who wrecked MA wouldn’t move up here to create a second Bay State.

      7. I’m in Spotsyltucky. It is a weird mix of Frednecks and Federales. On the plus side we kicked out Cantor once we were added to his district.

    7. The People’s Liberation Front of Judea is the only rational choice.

    8. Huh, here’s a school board position where a guy wants to remove Attorney Client privilege for the district unless there’s board approval. Hmm… a tie-their-hands vote?

    9. Do what I did – vote for Goodspaceguy.

    10. I usually just write in my own name when there isn’t a candidate that appeals to me.

      1. Isn’t it illegal to be running for more than one race? Is that allowed? Can I really be on 7 out of ten races?

      2. Oh, but in all seriousness, I’m looking into seeing what qualifies me as being able to receive “democracy vouchers”. I’d love to give them to myself.

        1. You have to be a democrat, duh. It’s right there on the label. 😉

  18. What would really be cool is if every potential (all registered voters, we’ll say) vote were deemed to have been cast in favor of the incumbents, and votes actually cast for an alternate candidate were subtracted from the landslide.


  19. What is this – make a post about everything I AM-linked to day?

  20. I’m in California and vote conservative so on the national level my vote is useless due to the electoral college and all the dem’s in Southern Cali. Every bond I vote against gets voted for every stupid law they want to pass gets passed there is almost no reason to vote in Cali other than to hope that my representative tries to defend the 2nd amendment and keep the other Calis from taking more of my money and water.

    1. As a NYer I concur. And I’ve been writing in my brother and old neighborhood buddies for the past several elections now (well the past few I participated in).

      1. Another NYer here. My mom is for some reason horrified at my views on voting. (Namely, that it’s largely useless in practice.) When I point out that NY will go for the Democratic candidate regardless of what I do, she acknowledges the intellectual strength of that point, but remains horrified…as they say, you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

    2. …taking more of my money and water.

      and guzzaline.

  21. It seems likely the unspoken presumption is that non-voters will disproportionately vote Democratic if forced to vote. That explains both the motivation of the policy and the reason they won’t discuss the motivation of the policy.

    1. It also explains why Republicans refuse to make voting any easier.

      1. If Democrats forced all people to vote, does that make it easier?

      2. I don’t actually disagree with this.

        Remember, folks, Politics Without Romance? is an acronym, not an initialism.

      3. How does things like voting ID prevent democrats from voting (specifically blacks is the usual culprit) but not pubs or whites?

        Maybe you are a wee bit racist?

  22. Just draft people into office. When their term is up there’s a vote and if they win they can one more term, if they lose by a little they are out and someone is drafted to take their place but if they lose by a lot they go to jail. And if they only get 3% or less of the votes they get executed.

    1. So, you’re advocating drafting and then killing libertarians?

      Or is my sarcasm meter broken here?

  23. Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you:

    1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.

    2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.

    3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.

    4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.

    5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.

    1. 6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.

      Let us pause in this sequence of cases to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master. Perhaps the 10,000 even will be kindlier than the benevolent master in case 2. Still, they are your master. However, still more can be done. A kindly single master (as in case 2) might allow his slave(s) to speak up and try to persuade him to make a certain decision. The 10,000-headed monster can do this also.

      7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.

      1. et us pause in this sequence of cases to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master.

        And the masters are chosen from the other slaves?

    2. 8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)

      9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

      The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?

      1. The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?

        The one where enough slaves got free HBO and student loan forgiveness?

  24. I haven’t read the article. I haven’t read the comments.

    This is all I have to say: Voting is political speech. You can’t compel speech, especially political speech.


    Now, I am off to take my wife out. All of you have a very good afternoon and evening.

    1. Assassination is not the way to deal with your marital problems.

      1. *narrows gaze, holds breath, steadies hand, squeezes trigger*

    2. If voting is speech, how come non-citizens, felons, and minors are forbidden from doing it? How come everyone is forbidden from doing it more than once?

  25. Read the comments to the article to see a Reason superstar being the same derpy person he is here.

  26. I think the people that want forced voting fantasize about all the people being forced to vote voting for their guy. I think they’d be unpleasantly after all those ballots were counted. Write in campaigns would be much more viable for one thing. Anyway, the outcome wouldn’t be as predictable as these people imagine.

    They think people don’t vote because they’re lazy and apathetic. No, most non-voters don’t vote because the candidates that make it onto the ballot are rarely worth voting for.

    1. unpleasantly surprised, that is

  27. I’m looking out the window at ~ a foot of fresh snow I’m definitely not ready for.

    So I’ve got that going for me.

    1. Someone sculpted a foot out of snow and left it in your yard? I wouldn’t be ready for that either.

    2. Close to 70 here in the Catskills today.

  28. The right to free speech includes the right to stay silent.

    1. You’ll speak and you’ll like it, punk.

  29. So he raises the issue that low turnout threatens the legitimacy of elections, no doubt meaning that the winners of these races didn’t really garner significant support from the constituency.

    And this is why I want fewer people voting. The elections are never legitimate. I want the turnout to reflect that.

  30. How ’bout restricting voting to taxpayers only–and getting rid of compulsory taxation instead?

    No representation without taxation!

  31. Wait, this article was by *Nicholas* Stephanopoulos, not George.

    I can see why a Starfleet officer would think it’s OK to order people around, and…

    Wait, I got the wrong guy. The article was by another Nicholas Stephanopoulos. He’s a law professor, not a political operative like George.

    1. He’s an election-law attorney who focuses on things like gerrymandering and the like. He’s not a Democratic Party partisan.

      Here is an article he wrote in the New Republic, making the case for Instant Runoff Voting.

      “The memory is still enough to give Democrats the shakes: In 2000, George W. Bush won Florida (and thus the presidency) even though 50.5 percent of the state’s votes were cast for Al Gore or Ralph Nader. Bush won, in other words, despite the fact that an outright majority of voters preferred somebody else. In a two-way Bush-Gore race, there is virtually no doubt that Gore would have prevailed: The 100,000 or so votes that Nader received would have gone heavily to Gore, handing him the presidency.

      “Bush claimed the Sunshine State because, by law, the candidate who gets a plurality of votes there wins, even if no one gets a majority. This is the election norm in most jurisdictions across the country?but it borders on the undemocratic.” etc.

      1. He should stick to opposing gerrymandering. Getting rid of it would do a lot to increase voter turnout.

        As for IRV, say hello to Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem.

        In short, the theorem states that no rank-order voting system can be designed that always satisfies these three “fairness” criteria:

        If every voter prefers alternative X over alternative Y, then the group prefers X over Y.
        If every voter’s preference between X and Y remains unchanged, then the group’s preference between X and Y will also remain unchanged (even if voters’ preferences between other pairs like X and Z, Y and Z, or Z and W change).
        There is no “dictator”: no single voter possesses the power to always determine the group’s preference.

        1. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  32. Also from the comments: Is this from somebody here? Because it feels like it’s from somebody here. Especially the name.

    FYTW ? a day ago
    I refuse to vote. I won’t pay your fine, and I won’t go quietly to jail.

    Now what? Are you going to garnish my wages? Put a lien on my property? Shoot me? All because I’m unwilling to grant your shitty elections with your shitty candidates the patina of moral legitimacy that comes from my casting a ballot?

    1. Nah, it’s just that everybody sounds like a libertarian when the leftists are brainstorming about how best to oppress them.

      If democracy is two wolves and a lamb arguing about what’s for lunch, libertarianism is the logic all lambs use to try and convince the wolves not to eat them.

      It’ll last on their pet issues anyway. Once they outnumber the wolves, they’ll be all about declaring it wolf hunting season.

  33. Participation this paltry calls into question the political system’s legitimacy.

    What happened to teh MANDATE, and “Suck it, losers, we’re in charge now?”

    1. “participation this paltry” referred specifically to participation in the 2014 elections. Are you saying the Republican Congress has some kind of mandate, you Koch Brother?

    2. It may, in fact, call into question the system’s legitimacy. But papering over the problem by compelling votes just hides the legitimacy problem, it does not solve it.

  34. Compulsory voting is perfectly legitimate policy for a democracy but perhaps un-American. It’s also a distraction from talking about needed election reforms that nobody can seriously disagree with.

    When your ideas aren’t popular, you want people who agree with you doing most of the voting. That’s the beginning and end of libertarian hostility to Democracy and Republican hostility to election reforms.

    1. Is that you in the comments to that story, Tony? Appealing to authority and talking about how good a thing this would be?

      Tony ? a day ago
      If you read the article, you would realize that the author already addressed that concern by noting you can simply cast a blank ballot, thereby expressing nothing. There shouldn’t be anything unconstitutional about using a minor punishment to compel you to exercise your rights, especially when there are reasonable exemptions to ensure that the requirement isn’t too onerous.

      1. compel you to exercise your rights

        What’s going on in this person’s head?

        1. You have the right to remain silent. If you speak up, you will have the shit beaten out of you. For your protection.

        2. Compel you to get a gun!

        3. Well you know.

          You have the right to free speech, so we can compel you to say whatever we want.
          You have the right to remain silent, so we can compel you to never protest.
          You have to right to raise a family, so we can compel you to produce more tax cattle.

          Etc etc etc…

          1. You have a right to a quick trial so lets ensure you are prosecuted for something!

      2. Not me.

        Lovely-there’s more than one out there.

    2. Compulsory voting is perfectly legitimate policy for a democracy

      If it were a democracy, you’d have a vote to determine if you’re going to have forced voting. It would be the height of irony if that vote had an exceptionally low turn out. But it wouldn’t. It would have a huge turnout where those that usually don’t vote show up to vote the measure down.

    3. Compulsory voting is perfectly legitimate policy for a democracy[.]

      No one has to accept your premise. And even if one did, your premise shows how ugly democracy is from a moral and individualistic point of view.

      […]but perhaps un-American.

      That pesky republican form of government, I tells ya!

      When your ideas aren’t popular, you want people who agree with you doing most of the voting.

      Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it is good or just. Jesus, Tony, that’s a lesson one learns as a child.

      1. Just because you deem something good and just doesn’t mean you get to impose it on other people. Democracy is the only known way to obtain consent fairly for policies that will affect everyone.

        1. Democracy is “rule by the people”; if you are imposing your will on the people then by definition, they aren’t ruling.

          1. That’s why I pretend to find libertarians’ hostility to democracy so puzzling.

            1. What’s puzzling about not wanting to be ruled?

              1. By that you mean imposing a form of society almost nobody wants on everybody against their will. Or explain what you do mean.

                1. What imposing are libertarians doing here? Not wanting to be ruled by you is not imposing their views on you

                2. explain what you do mean

                  If democracy is “rule by the people” then anyone who doesn’t want to be ruled would have a problem with democracy.

        2. We are indeed little totalitarians, trying to impose upon others the freedom to vote or not.

        3. Just because you deem something good and just doesn’t mean you get to impose it on other people.

          It does if 51% of the people who showed up to vote that day agree with me. Right?

          1. The essence of democracy is compulsion based on nothing more than 51% of the population’s say so.

            1. No. Not the population. 51% of those who voted. Maybe. At least 51% of the votes as they were counted.

          2. You tell me your better alternative. You guys talk about 51% like it’s so evil and arbitrary. But what if it’s 90%? Do you get to overrule them because you’re that special? If it’s just 51%, it shouldn’t take too much work to change the minds necessary to reverse the policy you don’t like.

            1. It’s more morally just when 90/100 people want to steal from the other ten compared to when 51/100 people want to steal from the other 49?

              1. It wouldn’t be stealing if it were legal.

                1. Why not? So if 90% of individuals thinks (or more accurately, feels) that forcibly removing my possessions from me is OK, that’s not stealing? Because they said so?

                  1. Stealing is the unlawful taking of someone else’s property. Since all societies everywhere since the beginning of time have always had one scheme of distributing resources or another, merely taxing or whatever is not stealing. Stealing is and only is what the law says.

                    Otherwise you’re doing what I claim: declaring that you get to define stealing for everyone else.

                    1. And why is the law merely what 90% of individuals say it is?

                    2. Because that’s fairer than the 10% opposition saying what it is.

                    3. If that’s what fairness is, then fairness is evil.

                2. It wouldn’t be stealing if it were legal.

                  Pure comedy gold! Is this SF? He’s a talented write, no doubt, but this area isn’t necessarily his forte`.

                3. Yes it would, stealing is a moral concept. If the law legitimizes theft then the law is unjust, it cannot make theft not be theft.

                4. It wouldn’t be rape if it were legal.

                  It wouldn’t be discrimination if it were legal.

                  It wouldn’t be slavery if it were legal. I suppose there was no slavery in the US, then. Since it was legal for most of it’s existence, and post-emancipation proclamation, it was legal in the Confederated States, which had seceded from the county that made it illegal.

                  1. I get the point, but you want to define theft to include things like taxation, and you don’t get to get away with that. I could just as legitimately define theft to include property rights. It’s easy enough to talk about legalized slavery, but legal theft? Put aside your ideological fixations and that would be semantically OK.

                    1. but you want to define theft to include things like taxation, and you don’t get to get away with that.

                      Why the hell not?

                      I could just as legitimately define theft to include property rights.

                      No you can’t.

                    2. “I could just as legitimately define theft to include property rights.”

                      No you cannot. You cannot take rights and turn them on their heads by playing with the law. You have not made property rights illegitimate, you have perverted the law.

                    3. You can imagine legalized slavery, but you can’t imagine legalized theft?

                      It’s easy if you try, moron.

                5. So you would be cool if we voted to loot your house cause you know democracy?

                  1. Who’s we?

                    1. Who’s we?

                      Doesn’t matter. A large group of people. (or small, it really doesn’t matter) Yes, you get a vote too. Sorry, you were outvoted.

                    2. The majority

            2. “Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How’s that again? I missed something.
              Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let’s play that over again, too. Who decides?”

              ? Robert Heinlein

              Maybe we should limit the scope of government deciding things, because the answers to these questions are dumb

              1. Heinlein is wrong. It’s not based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one men (though that’s not an incredible argument by itself). It’s based on the assumption that if government is going to do shit to you, you should have a voice in who is doing that shit and what that shit will be, and that voice should be equal to everyone else’s, because that’s the essence of fairness, and nobody here has described a better alternative. Just changed the subject to fantasy bullshit like “what we want is nobody doing shit to anybody!” as if that even means anything.

                1. If you are one voice in a million, then your voice counts for about nil. Then it just becomes a means for the more bloody minded to salve their consciences about running roughshod over their fellow man.

                  1. What. is. the. alternative? Even if you say government shouldn’t be involved in the environment, building roads, regulating business, or whatever, that’s still a choice to make. Who makes it if not a majority of eligible voters? Someone’s got to describe this wonderful freedom-promoting alternative finally or I’m going to start believing you don’t really have one.

                    1. Someone’s got to describe this wonderful freedom-promoting alternative finally or I’m going to start believing you don’t really have one.

                      The US Constitution was a very good start, as far as any relevant historical examples are concerned, and it quite notably did not establish a majoritarian government of unlimited power.

                    2. Well, government had lots of power, but you’re right in that it didn’t seek the consent of all the governed. I’d be a little perplexed if you endorsed the reasoning behind that particular policy.

                    3. The consent of all the governed is no more sought nor obtained than it ever was.

                    4. Then you should be happy.

                    5. I am happy that the government is not as oppressive as that of North Korea, China, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and a host of other places with shitty governments that claim to speak for all of the people. Maybe you’ll explain what the fuck your point is, but I doubt it.

                    6. That many if not most questions are not the government’s business. That “democracy” is not an unlimited writ of power and anything done in its name does not have an automatic assumption of legitimacy.

                    7. Tony:
                      “What. is. the. alternative?”

                      It’s not about alternatives, Tony. It’s about realizing that democracy isn’t self-legitimizing.

                      Earlier, you said that forcing people to vote would be completely legitimate, but was too “unamerican” to fly here. That’s just a sideways way of saying that there’s no way in hell the people would democratically choose to force people to vote.

                      So, you’ve claimed that forcing people to vote would be legitimate, but, since you said it fails the democracy test, it’s also illegitimate. So, which one is it? Does it fluctuate between legitimacy as people change their minds? Or, does it achieve some special uber-legitimacy because you declare it to be so?

                      It’s not about alternatives, Tony. It’s about realizing that democracy isn’t some inherently legitimizing, fairness awesomeness. See practically every rant about plutocrats who have legally “stolen” our democracy, etc. Well, not really, because stealing can never be legal, right? Legal slavery doesn’t achieve special legitimacy through democracy, and neither would rape, or murder, or theft.

                      One can easly realize that most eminent domain abuse is legal theft, but for some reason, you just can’t fathom legal theft. Gee, I wonder why.

                      Oh yeah: taxes.

                      So, you’re forced to adopt bullshit legalism with a sprinkling of democracy fairies that’s so bizarre, that, by the time you’re done, it’s completely OK for Trump to steal a widow’s house, by your arguments.

                      Bravo, you deep thinker.

                    8. Well said, Brian.

                2. the essence of fairness

                  Speaking of meaningless fantasy bullshit…

            3. Do you get to overrule them because you’re that special?

              90% of people just voted for you to be continually ass raped. Well, 90% of people who bothered to show up for our vote. Bend over, unless you think you’re special.

        4. Democracy is merely a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end is liberty. Where democracy ceases to deliver liberty, democracy is no longer legitimate.

          And before you say, “but we need democracy to decide what ‘liberty’ means,” know that reason and logic determine what liberty is. I’ll give you a hint: “liberty” does not mean one’s ability to force another to participate in democracy.

          1. I personally believe right-thinking modern people should work to maximize human well-being (liberty being an important component of that). But since there are no alternatives to democracy that aren’t one version of tyranny or another, I don’t know what you’d replace it with if it stopped delivering the liberty you want. Just make you dictator for a while?

            1. Who are the right thinking modern people?

            2. When “democracy” is defined as you have it (some arbitrary “majority” gets its way), then it is tyranny just the same. The 51% fucking over the 49% is not democracy any more than the 1% fucking over the 99% or the monarch fucking over everybody else.

              1. Certain types of fucking over are wisely removed from simple majority control. But if 90% can’t vote to fuck over 10%, then the alternative is what? Hope that a deity has descended to tell us what we can and can’t do?

                1. [T]hen the alternative is what?

                  Resistance, Tony. Resistance. Armed if need be. See the American Revolution.

                  1. …which set up the world’s model democracy. WTF? Who are the generals in your little resistance? What cause are they fighting for? Do I get a choice in the matter, or are you going to line dissenters up against walls and shoot them?

                    1. Except that the Founders were the one’s who “imposed” what was then the most limited form of government ever devised. It wasn’t at all the “51% decides” bullshit you’ve been touting as the fairest form of government.

                2. There is no god to rule us; your problem is you think you can make one.

                3. Tony:

                  Certain types of fucking over are wisely removed from simple majority control.

                  Translation: yes, majority rule is the best thing there is, except for all the ways its bad which I deem wise to have removed. I assume there are similar qualifiers for fairness and equality right? Most if not all of the law describes exactly how to treat different kinds and types of people differently, from murderers to billionaires. Good, just, fair equality can only really be equal so far, right?

                  So, democracy, equality, and fairness are right and good, but only when they are agreeing with you, and when they’re not, it’s bad, bad, bad.

                  In other words, democracy isn’t self-legitimizing. So, you’re agreeing with us, while you pretend that you don’t. Whatevs.

                  But if 90% can’t vote to fuck over 10%, then the alternative is what?

                  In the first large-scale government survey measuring Americans’ sexual orientation, the NHIS reported in July 2014 that 1.6 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent considered themselves bisexual.

                  If you want to push for the inherent righteousness of overwhelming majorities over small minorities, then you go ahead with that. I’m sure that’s never gone wrong, ever, in the history of minorities.

                  1. I mean, really, Tony, does it not bother you in the slightest when you understand that, the only way you can get basic human rights in the US is if you suck enough majority cock such that they become pleased, and vote for you to have basic human rights?

                    I mean, I know you probably can’t think of an alternative, but can you still see the lack of legitimacy in that?

            3. right-thinking modern people

              Can I get a Poe’s Law ruling?

              1. Can I get a Poe’s Law ruling?

                The answer has long been “it’s a sockpuppet”; you treat it as serious only to the extent such a fiction humors you.

        5. You are the one promoting imposing things on people. We just want to have our right to be left alone recognized.

          1. Do you not have a vast policy agenda that would affect everyone in the jurisdiction you want to apply it to? Lowering taxes, repealing laws, reverting to shiny metal currency, etc.? How do you do that without imposing things on people against their will?

            Do you even think things through or are you content to live on platitudes alone?

            1. How is getting rid of laws and taxes imposing things on people?

              Unless your idea of imposing is not allowing you to satisfy your urges to control others

              1. Because most people don’t want to live in anarchy and are quite happy to trade paying taxes and having laws for not having to live in a nightmarish hellscape.

                1. Who is advocating anarchy?

                  For some a nightmare is living around gays…if the majority decided to send gays to gulag would you support?

                  1. No, he wouldn’t, because as he says above, “[c]ertain types of fucking over are wisely removed from simple majority control.” Meaning, he faults us for not believing in something that he himself does not believe in: pure democracy. It’s contradictions all the way down.

                2. Most people are happy to force others to do their bidding? Again, how the fuck is that legitimate or fair to the minority?

                3. Because most people don’t want to live in anarchy a consensual world and are quite happy to trade [forcing other people into] paying taxes and having laws [enforced on other people] for not having to live in a nightmarish hellscape world where other people make better use of freedom than them.

                  Indeed, if “most people” wanted to pay taxes and have laws, you wouldn’t have to force them to do it. I’d wager that there is nobody who sincerely agrees with every tax and every law on the books; in other words, we have a society governed by the accumulation of whatever cruft didn’t rise to the level of widespread public outrage.

                  1. This. Tony and his ilk believe “acquiescence” equals “this is what people want,” akin to “tolerance” equals “forced association.”

    4. Compulsory voting is perfectly legitimate policy for a democracy

      You keep using that word…

    5. Tony:

      “It’s also a distraction from talking about needed election reforms that nobody can seriously disagree with.”


      So when do we begin transitioning from a two-party, winner-takes-all system, into a multi-party system?

      When do we reform the district system such that people have the right to form represented political coalitions with like-minded others, whether or not they happen to live in the same damn zip code?

      That would all result in an increase in fairness and equality, and by your definitions, that should improve human well-being.

      So, when do we start?

      The answer is: never. Because the power structure doesn’t like other power structures, and the only democracy permitted is within that power structure.

      Yet, somehow, elections are oh-so legitimate.

      People who understand impossible alternatives are still right, even when the current fuck-up with its own limited democracy isn’t going to pick it up and run with it any time soon.

  35. I have an idea. Take the total estimated population for an area. For all of those who don’t vote, their ballot will be replaced by randomized computer voting.

    In a two person match, it makes it possible for the unpopular guy to win. So if you really really want someone to win, you have to make the effort to vote. On the other hand if you don’t care, it could make things more interesting. The randomize voting would represent that not caring sentiment.

  36. I might vote if they didn’t use voter registration lists to select potential jurors.
    The two things should not be related.

    1. Around here they use that and driver license registration.

      1. Maybe I could avoid actually being on a jury by saying that I assume that police and prosecutors are always lying. Then I would probably end up on a six month long civil trial.

  37. Put “NONE OF THE ABOVE” on the every ballot item and I’d vote in every election. Because then I’d have something to vote for.

    1. Only works if “None of the Above” is a legitimate option; that is, if “None of the Above” wins the election, all the candidates are disqualified and we start over with new ones. Repeat if necessary.

  38. Doesn’t turning in a blank ballot defeat the purpose of compulsory voting anyway? If the mere act of submitting a blank piece of (electronic) paper qualifies, then why doesn’t the act of staying home qualify?

    Stephanopoulus’s authoritarianism boner is showing.

    1. It’s small but aggressively probing.

    2. Most people would fill out the ballot if they were already there.

      The voting machine can also be set up to refuse to submit your ballot until it’s completely filled out.

  39. Rather than all this voting nonsense, we should sell lottery tickets to wannabe government officials. All proceeds go into the Treasury. Any candidate (and his supporters) would be free to buy an unlimited number of chances.

    1. Just so long as everyone who loses the lottery gets wedgied on live TV.

      That should discourage *some* candidates from filing.

      And encourage others.

  40. Remember when “reform” meant changing the government to get rid of corruption or inefficiency? Now the left uses it to refer to forcing private citizens to do what the government wants them to do.

  41. Or maybe voting and democracy are inherently idiotic.

  42. Hmmm. I’ve never commented at The Atlantic before in my life. I tried to post something and it told me that I was blacklisted by The Atlantic. Weird.

    1. The Department of Pre-Thoughtcrime is on the case!

    1. Obviously Tuesday is the best day for an election. Duh.

  43. Participation this paltry calls into question the political system’s legitimacy.

    Because clearly the real problem isn’t that the majority of people may not think the regime is legitimate … because who would be so surly as to not embrace being ruled by sociopaths? Unpossible!

    1. There are many policies that, if implemented, would increase turnout

      Shooting non-voters for the Dear Leader appears to be the default choice for most nations to go with this approach … eventually. Not necessarily right away. Gotta get their guns first.

  44. “It’s long been dismissed, though, as an impossible pipe dream, unlikely to ever happen in the United States.”

    That pesky 1st Amendment protecting people’s speech rights AGAIN.

    If we are to have compulsory voting, as distasteful a notion as that is, it must come tied to having “none of the above” as an option for every office, for those people whose not voting were expressing dissatisfaction with all candidates.

    1. I’m going to guess that will *not* be part of the forced-voting proposals.

      1. I am afraid I have to agree with you on that, but we can hope, can’t we?

        1. We’re lucky they give us as many as *two* options on the ballot.

          1. I have had ballots (for judges usually, not even a write in line) that did not have that many options.

  45. Tony supports compelling people to exercise their rights. Tony do you support compelling others to say keep and bear arms? You know since it is a right. Maybe we can start a program for taxpayers to buy guns for people who dont have them and police can stop people to make sure they are packing heat. If they arent they will be fined

  46. Tony you seem to be all about democracy. Would you support democracy if the 51% voted to send gays to the gulag? Since it is what the people want. Do you understand why the united states is a republic with a constitution?

    Me thinks tony would not support compulsory voting if it resulted in republicans winning all the time

    1. Tony?

  47. Participation this paltry calls into question the political system’s legitimacy.

    God knows we can’t have that.

    Can you imagine what the world might look like if people began to question the divine right of kings representative majoritarianism as a moral political order?

  48. TL,DR. Includes primaries in compulsory voting?

  49. Sounds like a solid plan to me dude.

  50. No problem.

    Provided that NOTA – None of the Above – is included last on the ballot, and is allocated all the votes that are spoilt, as well as the those of the voters who decline to vote, which means every vote that is not explicitly given to one of the other candidates.

    NOTA also needs to be properly implemented, so that if NOTA wins, then nobody gets to fill the position and it stays like that until the next regularly scheduled election.

    This would means NOTA would probably win most elections. Imagine, no politicians telling you how best to run your life…

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