Mandatory Voting Will Build Resentment, Not Democracy

Fining non-voters would show that government is all about forcing people to do things just to make politicians happy.


American democracy—or, at least, the California simulation of it—requires that even disinterested and actively hostile non-voters mark a ballot so government officials can gin up participation numbers, says Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael). Levine has introduced a bill that would make voting compulsory, with civil penalties for the non-compliant. It's a proposal that seems guaranteed to make disaffected non-voters become even less impressed with a sketchy political process.

If passed, the measure would "require a person who qualifies and is registered to vote to cast a ballot, marked or unmarked in whole or in part, at every election held within the territory within which the person resides and the election is held. The bill would require the Secretary of State to enforce this requirement," according to the summary.

In defending the bill, Levine points to the 20-plus supposedly healthier democracies around the world that have some sort of compulsory ballot-marking on their law books. The number is a bit vague, since several countries have experimented with mandatory voting, then dropped it, while others implement it only regionally, and still others have it on the books but don't bother with enforcement.

"Can a country be considered to practice compulsory voting if the mandatory voting laws are ignored and irrelevant to the voting habits of the electorate?" asks the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. "Is a country practicing compulsory voting if there are no penalties for not voting? What if there are penalties for failing to vote but they are never or are scarcely enforced? Or if the penalty is negligible?"

Belgium and Singapore, for example, threaten to punish non-voters by, ummm, not letting them vote in subsequent elections.

Apparently, that all sounds awesome to Assemblyman Levine.

"Democracy is not a spectator sport – it requires the active participation of all its citizens," huffed Levine in a press release. "California is a national leader on expanding voting rights to its citizens. Those rights come with a responsibility by registered voters to cast their ballot and make sure that their voice is heard by their government."

"Heard by their government?" But doesn't refusing to vote say something loud and clear in and of itself? As a form of speech, refusing to cast a ballot would seem to be an expression of disinterest in or opposition to the political system—certainly clearer than scribbling on a ballot just so you don't have to pay a fine.

That actually happens a lot in Australia, the one country fans of mandatory voting keep citing because it's a more-or-less functioning democracy with consistently high (over 90 percent) voter turnout and enforced financial penalties for scofflaws. Voter guides in Australia instruct people on the right way to express their disgust and disinterest on their ballots.

"If you leave the ballot paper blank, or fill it out incorrectly, or draw a dick and balls on the page instead of numbering the boxes, then that's an informal vote. It doesn't count," advises the Australian radio current affairs program Hack. "If you number each box in the order that the candidates appear, that's a donkey vote—and it definitely counts in the overall tally."

That guide advises grudging voters on the proper way to cast a thoughtless, low-effort donkey vote because Australia offers something that California doesn't: ranked voting among numerous competing parties and candidates. If your first choice doesn't make the cut-off, your vote passes to your second choice, and so on, down the line.

California, by contrast, has a top-two primary system, which often results in a general election ballot featuring "rival" candidates from the same party—usually Democrats, given the state's current political tilt.

"Millions of California voters saw same-party races on November's ballot and left the space blank," the Los Angeles Times reported in 2018. Among those races was the U.S. Senate contest between Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Democrat Kevin De Leon.

"This is the system that helped Levine keep his seat in 2018: He defeated another Democrat, Dan Monte," Scott Shackford pointed out last month.

These kinds of contests, The New York Times insightfully notes, raise "a high school civics class question: should voters have a choice of two different philosophies?"

Nah, says Assemblyman Levine. Make 'em vote, because … because …


"The bigger the voter pool, the stronger the contract is between citizens and leaders," insisted economist Dambisa Moyo in an October 2019 New York Times op-ed calling for mandatory voting.

Are we really supposed to believe that the social contract is strengthened by threatening people with fines unless they mail in a sheet of paper with "a dick and balls on the page"?

Levine's bill says you're off the hook if you "cast a ballot, marked or unmarked in whole or in part." He seems content so long as he can to point to a stack of envelopes and crow, "That's participation! Ain't democracy grand?"

Rather than reinforce some mythical contract between voters and politicians, mandatory voting would seem more likely to further erode connections and build resentment. "Participate in our bogus process or else" seems designed to sour people on voting and politics, not build enthusiasm.

There may be more to it. Popular belief has it that non-voters lean left, so if you could get them to the polls, you could tilt American elections to Democrats like Levine (economist Moyo alludes to this in her piece). But survey results are iffy on this point.

In the U.S., non-voters generally do prefer Democrats—but not in battleground states, where they lean Republican. And voters are generally split on presidential preferences for the 2020 election: were they to vote, 33 percent say they would support the eventual Democratic nominee, 30 percent would vote for Trump, and 18 percent for somebody else, according to The Knight Foundation's "The 100 Million Project."

And what, exactly, would be the advantage in California, where the ballot is already thoroughly rigged? Levine would force more voters to the polls so they could choose between him and clone-him, just to avoid paying a fine.

Mandatory voting isn't likely to build respect for democracy or make sure that anybody's voice is heard by the government. But fining non-voters will do an effective job of demonstrating that government is all about forcing people to do things just to make politicians happy.

NEXT: Oregon Tried To Silence This Engineer’s Red Light Camera Research. Now Experts Say He Was Right All Along.

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  1. Reminder: We are now in day #3 of the Reason blackout of Trump making a deal to end the war in Afghanistan after 18 years.

    1. Reason isn't reporting on what I think is important! Waaaaah!

      1. Ending the war in Afghanistan isn't important? Gee weren't you just recently complaining Trump still hadn't ended the war in Afghanistan? You accuse others of being blind Trump followers but not appear to show your true colors.

        1. Too local, amirite?

        2. I thought you Trumpistas said we should only pay attention to what Trump did, not what he said.

          A peace treaty for withdrawal of "most of" 12,000 soldiers over 18 months is not an action, it is just words ob paper. I'll wait and see, thank you very little.

          1. I was reading it could possibly be all 14,000 by the end of the 14 months, it really is up to the Taliban now. Trump told them he is willing to leave if they don't act like assholes (until after we leave). But I doubt your concern is about the Taliban acting like assholes but more about your inability to rarely give credit to Trump.

          2. And BTW, Trump did sign the agreement not just say he would.

            1. I recall several times where the Trumpista mantra was that merely signing pieces of paper did not count, at least when non-Trumps signed said pieces of paper. That was not action, it was just meaningless gestures of no import.

              1. You can't even give him half credit can you? Something along the lines that signing the paper is more than any other President has done, and you hope he follows though but you will reserve judgement until then? No instead you attack anyone who even remotely supports Trump's actions and sound like a total partisan douchebag in the process.

                1. It's a weird attitude.
                  It's like they're so offended, or threatened, by the mere fact that someone might be a fan of Trump, or even just support the majority of what he does.
                  It's moral preening of the oddest sort - "I must prop myself up by passionately hating everybody who doesn't hate everybody."
                  Reminds me of a line from Simpsons, the episode Homer goes around Lollapalooza taking cannon balls to the gut:
                  Grungey genXer1: "Oh yea, that's cool."
                  Grungey genXer2: "Are you being sarcastic?"
                  Grungey genXer1: "I don't even know anymore."

              2. “Trumpista mantra”

                Lol. A true symptom of TDS.

              3. *Not* a Trumpista, but I do believe Trump really wants us out of there, unlike Obama, who didn't move an inch on Guantanamo in 8 years after an election year promise. Then again, Trump has been full of shit on other things, like ending the abomination of obamacare. And he's spent just as badly as Obama.

                Otherwise... I'll take Trump any day over the current crop of pro-heavy-government, pro-heavy-regulation, pro-war, pro-intervention, pro-nanny-state, pro-PC, anti-America, anti-liberty, anti-gun douchebags that have run this country into the ground for the past 30 years.

                Until, of course, he bankrupts us all. But yeah, until that happens, I'd rather not have one of those other assholes who will also bankrupt us all.

        3. They did an article on the proposal. Maybe they're waiting to see what pans out. If it does, and that's a serious "if," then I await their analysis. But the lack of an article is exactly what I said. Not what they consider to be important. I don't know what's in their minds. Neither do you.

      2. Very important national issues that Reason has reported on while ignoring the end to the longest war in American history:

        "Trump's Proposed Cuts to Farm Subsidies Don't Go Nearly Deep Enough"

        "Joe Biden Wins South Carolina Primary, Slowing Bernie Sanders' Momentum Before Super Tuesday"

        "Gloria Alvarez Is Fighting Socialism in Latin America"

        "'Specialization Is for Insects'"

    2. They still haven’t figured out how they also want to criticize him for something he isn’t doing in the same article.

      1. Talking points arent out yet. Wait for the criticism to show up on msn, then reason will give the "libertarian" case on why the msm is exactly correct.


      They reported on the deal, but they haven't reported on the signing yet. But there wouldn't be much to add other than, "It's signed, now."

      If you want in depth analysis of the deal, it's long term effects, it's odds of success, etc., well, you may have come to the wrong magazine.

    4. The Taliban have already backed out.

  2. This is especially rich from a Californian, a place that has rigged their process such that in a lot of places you get to vote for the Democrat or the other Democrat.

    No longer do you have the option of simply ignoring the shit sandwich you've been presented, Marc Levine will force you to take a bite.

    1. Single-party rule is never, ever a recipe for civic disaster. Stop complaining, serf.

    2. "Rigged their process", forsooth. I'd say that far worse rigging occurs in the states where the voter has to choose between a D and an R. In those states, the most rabid members of each party have disproportionate power in the primaries; when the general election rolls around, the voter has to choose between a radical progressive and a radical conservative. In California, this means that the crazy progressive gets elected; in Oklahoma, it'd be the crazy conservative.

      No. If I were stuck with living in California, I'd want the present system. Rather than voting for a Republican who couldn't possibly beat a far-left Democrat, I'd like to be able to vote for a less-far-left D who might have a chance of winning.

      1. How do you explain all the people who got elected who aren't radicals then? If it always worked that way, we'd literally have a bunch of white supremacists and actual communists in charge. I harbor no love for politicians but even I'll admit most of ours aren't THAT bad, although the Democrats are giving it the ol' college try.

        1. This is Reason.

          All Republicans are saints. All Democrats are radicals.

  3. This might actually be pretty cool. If over 50% don't vote, and after being forced to vote they all wrote in "Bill The Cat" or something, then like total backfire!

    1. I remember reading an article about how the mandatory voting in Australia results in a lot of ballots being submitted with nothing but penises drawn on them.

      I, for one, welcome our new drawn penis overlords.

      1. You sir, win the internet today.

      2. Wonder if anybody though to make cock and ball ink stamps to make it easier.

        1. I'm more concerned about whether the scanning machine knows how to interpret it or not.

          The veins are particularly important, if they're not being accurately captured it's a perversion of democracy.

      3. I'm with you friend.

      4. Yeah, just furthering the patriarchy, I can't even...

    2. Write in votes are AGAINST THE LAW in California.

      They are literally not counted. That's "literally" as in actual fact, not figuratively as in wishful thinking. WRITE IN VOTES ARE NOT COUNTED.

      Because a write in candidate once won an election. Can't have that.

      1. Well, what good are elections if the people running them don't have any control over who wins (or which two candidates are allowed a chance at winning)?

      2. If voting actually mattered we wouldn't be allowed to do it.

        The logical conclusion of course is that because it doesn't matter we must be forced to do it.

  4. >>Those rights come with a responsibility by registered voters to cast their ballot and make sure that their voice is heard by their government.

    lol. you *owe*, Pedro. vamos.

  5. So let's see what other system forces people to vote but only offers one party to vote for... Hmmmm anyone?

    1. my Iranian buddy thinks their system is cute.

    2. #literallyHitler

      Which means it’s gonna be Trump’s fault somehow.

      1. I was thinking Communist China and NoKo (and the old USSR) but your reference works as does the Ba'ath party in Iraq prior to 2003 (in fact I remember reading a story in the lead up to Iraq stating Iraq was more free/engaged then the US because they had something like 99% voter participation and Hussein was more popular then Bush because he had 100% of the vote).

  6. ""If you leave the ballot paper blank, or fill it out incorrectly, or draw a dick and balls on the page instead of numbering the boxes, then that's an informal vote. It doesn't count."

    Dick/Balls 2020!

    1. I'm still hoping for a Deez Nuts comeback.

  7. And then, to reduce the massive carbon footprint of everyone actually going to the polls, they will just pre-mark all ballots for democrats?

    Win-win. Win for the environment, win for democrats.

  8. We will pretend to vote and the politicians will go on pretending to represent us.

  9. "marked or unmarked in whole or in part"

    What the hell does that mean? Word salad at its political best.

    1. Yeah, it would seem that all ballots fall into that category from the moment they're printed.

      Then again, it's a California Democrat we're talking about and I think you're being too hard on him, no one has ever asked him to make sense before so you can see why he's having a hard time with it.

    2. It means if you go through the motions, but don't actually vote, you are all good.

  10. "Rigged" because it makes no sense to have two top two people where it will easily go to the one who is a Democrat. I'm sure you'd love it if it were a Republican state though and had that system.
    I don't get the point- if they already don't care then they won't care on this either. It's not gonna make it any worse and it stands to chance they might actually start giving a crap and doing their civic duty. There really aren't any downsides other than you being all miffed for no other reason than to write this article.

    1. No downsides, other than the government forcing you to do something.

      Fuck off slaver.

    2. So you are okay with forcing people to vote but limiting their choices to a single party? If so I hear China is pretty nice and Cuba has some great beaches.

      1. I'm still kind of torn on this. We are all already limited to some fairly small number of parties on the ballot. Effectively 2 in most cases. So having two candidates from one party doesn't seem that much worse in a state where that party is pretty sure to win anyway.
        I think the big problem is only having two candidates on the ballot. It wouldn't be all that much less of a constrained choice if there was only one democrat and one republican on the ballot. I think what they ought to do is to have the top 3 or 4 candidates from the primary on the ballot. And if no one wins a majority, take them all out and shoot them and try again.

        1. Not sure what state you live in, but every state I've voted in (AK, ID and MT) usually has 3-5 candidates for the top offices often 3 or more for lower offices.

          1. In CA we get exactly two, write-ins forbidden.

    3. And the obvious downside of the next step, since voting is mandatory illegals must be able to vote as well. (Wouldn't want them breaking the law!!)

  11. So the Babylon Bee is ahead of the curve with their Pinky & the Brain bumper sticker?

    1. Well yeah, they're America's Paper of Record.

    2. Pretty sure Pinky had it more together upstairs then Biden.

      1. Narf.

  12. I'd like to think there's no way this bill would stand in the courts. Surely it would be struck down on first amendment grounds, invoking compelled speech, petition and assembly, and/or freedom of association precedent.

    1. I don't know; it could be seen as a form of conscription.

      1. Well yeah... we Republicans/Democrats are in a constant state of war with those Democrats/Republicans. A mandatory voting army is necessary for the preservation of our nation. Especially with the most important election of our lives coming up (perpetually).

    2. Today's law students are tomorrow's judges. This law may not pass Constitutional muster today but believe me, 40 years from now the attitudes of the federal and Supreme Court is going to be a lot more progressive.

      Just keep massaging the language of the law and trying different arguments before a judge. Eventually it'll get the stamp of approval from the courts.

      1. In 40 years I will be long gone...but I worry about my nieces and nephews.

    3. The law would get passed and enforced and then a few years/decades down the track the Supremes might get around to looking at it, or not. Then it might possibly be struck down, or not.

  13. I ponder my choices.

    Register to vote, and not vote, and make 'em come and get me.

    Register to vote, send in a dick and balls.

    Don't register to vote, because that's legal.

    1. For now...

    2. Your'e limiting your options. You could draw a pair of tits, or you could even put a novelty sticker of some poop on it.

  14. "... make sure that their voice is heard by their government."

    If I lived in California, I'd invite him to sit in my living room so I could harangue him until I ran out of energy. I'd be sure my voice was heard.

    1. Personally I try to keep vermin outside of the home, but to each their own.

  15. there must be a money angle to this other wise who cares if some people don't vote.

    1. The teachers union is playing the long game. They figure if everyone has to vote, the government will be forced to close schools two days in a row to accommodate the increase; extra paid day off!

    2. Its about that "pact" thats been floated to give electoral votes to national "popular vote" winner. Run up the total votes in CA and you can negate almost all of the states in flyover country.

  16. "That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. "
    JS Mill

  17. What would happen if a bunch of people showed up with lawn chairs then just camped out in the voting booths?

    1. Overtime for the police.

  18. Dear government,

    F off. And when you get there F off from there too. Then F off some more. Keep F-ing off until you get back here. Then F off again.

    1. BTW, the latest FiveThirtyEight primary model output has No One in a solid lead (1 in 2 chance of winning nomination).

      I'll vote when No One is actually on a ballot.

      1. I think that might be one of the most effective possible election reforms. Always have "none of the above" as an option.

        1. I'd be all for NOTA as an option on all ballots. Although, the LP (and any other minor party) could kiss any chance at reaching 5% goodbye if there were a generic protest vote option.

          1. I'll take it. I think NOTA has a much better chance of winning than an LP candidate.

            1. and could probably do a better job... if we're being honest.

        2. And if NOTA wins, the other candidates are ineligible for the next election for that position. Screw this "same old jerkwad running again and again".

          (I'm tempted to say that they're permanently ineligible to run for election, but off the top of my pre-caffeine head I suspect there are legal issues with that.)

  19. I have a solution: add the “None of the above” choice.

    If the nones have it, they get no representation...

    and no taxation!

    1. Friendly amendment: make a rule that says if a majority of voters sit out the election it is ruled invalid and nobody is elected.

      1. And the candidates for that election are prohibited from ever holding a government position (elected or paid).

      2. I think they have that rule in Serbia or some place.

      3. AWESOME IDEA..... If less than half really doesn't care if the "agency" exists or not - it'll be eliminated! Totally awesome idea...

        Except with today's election of agency heads being completely at the whim of politicians - we'd need a broader ballot initiative to cover every topic of the gov.

  20. I'd accept mandatory voting if choices were always required to include a "Vacancy, By Firing Squad" option.

  21. Drawing a dick and balls on the ballot is probably considered rape in California. But I can still wipe my ass with it, since it is public property like the San Francisco sidewalks.

  22. I'm all for this on ONE condition: We add a "none of the above" option to every ballot, and if you lose to NotA, your office is immediately disbanded.

  23. Note that it only requires *registered* voters to vote.

    The end result will be purging the registration lists of everyone except the people who currently vote in primaries.

    Would could go wrong?

  24. So what would the penalties be for not voting? Jail, we won't have enough of them. Holding your tax refund, what about people who don't get one? Loss of voting rights? Well they didn't care enough to vote anyway. What about people that use not voting as a protest about the poor candidates both parties offer? Wouldn't they then be political prisoners, which is against our laws? Stupid idea.

  25. I will willingly accept mandatory voting if I can have a meaningful, enforceable none of the above* option in every election.

    *None of the above gets to win. If NOTA wins a new election must be held and all candidates who lost to NOTA are barred from the new election.

    Stretch Goal: Any candidate that comes in behind NOTA on any election is permanently banned from seeking any elected office.

    1. Better stretch goal - firing squad for said candidates.

  26. If he thinks marking a ballot is the same as "active participation", he's even dumber than the people who elected him.

    1. ^^^^ THIS!!!!

      It's like forcing people to sign hidden-content contracts (i.e. based entirely on a lottery ticket number) that would result in legal consequences.

      Hey - I don't know anything about genetic research so what in the world makes you think I would need to have any say as to which chromosome works better where.

      Of course the end-game will be how many party politicians can get on the ballot for a better-luck-of-the-draw lottery ticket.

  27. The entire intent of California's action is to undermine the Electoral College.

    It'll start with upping California's ratio of votes to electoral votes, vis a vis places like Wyoming. They also expect to boost the Democrats' popular vote margin.

    After the EC is abolished, they hope to have a leg up on stuffing the popular vote over other states that haven't made voting mandatory.

    1. Precisely. Im not sure why others arent making that connection.

      1. Because it's conflating two distinct proposals that have nothing to do with each other?

    2. And all any candidate will need to do is pander to CA and NY, and they will win. Even more than they do now.

  28. Very simple way to increase voting participation while simultaneously reducing taxes and removing deadwood from DC....
    1) End payroll withholding for all taxes, so that everyone must write a check or enter a credit card to pay their taxes
    2) Make the due date the first Monday in November

    1. +1000000000000

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  30. That was a cock and balls before submitting. I gotta work on that.

  31. Democracy itself builds resentment, and should be condemned by all who value peace within a social order, especially libertarians

  32. Voting in US presidential elections is a fool's errand. Nothing changes, and only continually gets worse. I figure the $1.85 in gas savings for not driving to the polling place is more than I will get from any garbage candidate.

    Choosing between hippo shit and rhinoceros shit just doesn't appeal to me.

    If they force me to go with the threat of a fine, I will go, and my write-in vote will be for "fuck you".

    1. "I figure the $1.85 in gas savings for not driving to the polling place is more than I will get from any garbage candidate." --- Oh, I don't know; I saved a good $1K on Trumps tax decrease which more than made up for the gas to the polling place and back.

  33. There are millions of americans who are not allowed to vote. The first step in showing how important voting is would be to make it an actual right of citizenship, not a privilege to be handed out or revoked at the whims of individual states.

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