Reuben Doyle-Newe, Alice Mao, Joshua ParkAnthonyHonors Literary Analysis and Composition II – 323 January 2018P3: Group 1st Draft: Mandatory Voting: NegativeImagine a woman of color who lives in Alabama on polling day.
While initially ecstatic at the increased exposure their minority group would receive, the reality is far from the egalitarian reform she had envisioned. She can’t afford to miss work, as election day is not a federal holiday, but the only polling place in her county is an hour’s drive away with a line that is already wrapped around the building. There have been flyers all over town spreading contrary information about candidates she does not know nor care about, and while she is frustrated at not being able to make it to the booth, the potential consequences are now hanging over her head.
From fines to a drivers’ license suspension, she will be hurt by a law created to ensure civic equity. Mandatory voting is the practice of forcing all eligible citizens to vote, regardless of their personal interest or knowledge of politics. In other countries such as Australia, its enforced with a fine or the suspension of one’s driver license. This practice would be both unconstitutional and misguided to impose in the United States, given that the majority of citizens are uninformed and indifferent towards politics. Mandatory voting should not be implemented in the US as it violates the First Amendment, drastically increases uninformed votes, and despite its foundation on equality, it would be vulnerable to abuse stemming from historical injustices. Mandatory voting is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment’s principle of free speech. Voting is defined by Merriam-Webster as an expression of opinion in response to a poll (Vote). It is one’s voice in politics, and a definite endorsement of a single candidate.
Therefore, voting is speech, and should be protected. The Supreme Court stated that the First Amendment protects “the right to speak and the right to refrain from speaking, as both are complementary components of …’individual freedom of mind,'” (Wooley v. Maynard). Compulsory voting infringes on the freedom not to speak, which directly correlates to the freedom to speak, and therefore infringes the First Amendment. Additionally, Annabelle Lever, a doctor of philosophy, logic, and scientific method notes that that forcing citizens to vote also eliminates the choice of not voting at all (Lever). This removes the option of a neutral stance and forces people to participate in a government they may or may not want to be involved in. The United States Constitution was founded on democratic ideas of freedom, and the addition of mandatory voting would disrupt the ideals that the United States was built upon.
As stated by the Constitution and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, the First Amendment protects people from being compelled to speak. Aside from being unconstitutional, mandatory voting drowns out genuinely attentive voters with a slew of uninformed and uncaring voices. In a country so politically polarized, 74% of Americans cannot name all three branches of government, and over 37% cannot name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment (Americans Poorly Informed). When the majority of the U.S. lacks knowledge in basic civics, pushing indifferent or uninformed voters to the polls would end disastrously because the voting results would not correlate towards the true voice of the people. According to Pew Research Center, 67% of Americans partially or completely relied on social media for news in 2017 (Shearer, Gottfried). While this is not directly negative, those who do not vote often are not involved in politics and are more inclined to absorb empty political rhetoric than to seek out accurate information.
Politicians can take advantage of this to spread misinformation or pander for votes. This can already be seen in the most recent presidential election where the winning candidate “relied on digital advertising to get his message out” (Allison). While media corporations have their reputation at stake for posting false or biased information, social media is not held to the same standards of credibility. The explosion of social media as a news outlet has gained much skepticism in recent years, especially as it is designed to succinctly and crudely deliver news (Shirky). While the population is being forced to vote based on their knowledge found on social media, uninformed or undetermined citizens to vote, which, “dampens the voice of the majority” (Geffner). Undecided voters who would not usually choose to vote will be forced to make an important choice that they may not be informed about.
The intent for mandatory voting is to have the voice of the people be heard, but if 45% of the population forced to participate in the voting system with no real intent on who to vote for, then it is obvious that the outcome of the election will not be the true voice of the people (Desilver). Therefore, uninformed voters’ choices do not reflect the view of the general public, and in fact are more likely to reflect a politician’s ability to advertise. Those who support mandatory voting believe it would bring equality and shine light on minorities’ opinions, and while it works towards a ethical goal, it can easily in turn into a tool to further suppress marginalized groups. Historically, the U.S. has supported the War on Drugs and the more recent requirement of voter IDs. While these policies stated aims are noble, they have actually been used to suppress black vote. All government policies should be evaluated based on how it could be abused as well as what it hopes to accomplish.
In fact, in states where Republican voter suppression is widespread, voters who already have a hard time trying to vote at all due to selectively stringent voter ID laws and inadequate polling booths. As mentioned earlier, other countries that have already implemented mandatory voting such as Australia has penalties ranging from fines to the suspension of drivers’ licenses. While fines may seem like a small price to pay, they are harsh on those already financially disadvantaged, and ends up hurting the very minorities a mandatory vote is trying to protect. In fact, non-payment of fines has been used in places such as Alabama to warrant arrests, driving with a suspended license is illegal as well. It potentially becomes just another entry point into the prison pipeline, and to make things worse, those who are incarcerated or on parole cannot vote at all (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/19/opinion/the-racist-origins-of-felon-disenfranchisement.
html ). Through the criminalization of those who abstain from voting, this policy can be manipulated to strip vulnerable minories of the right to vote and to add more pressure into their lives with unreasonable penalties, all while maintaining a front of equality. The First Amendment protects the right to speak as well as the right not to speak.
The freedom not to speak is defended on multiple occasions by the Supreme Court, and forcing unwilling or reluctant citizens to the polls would be disastrous. This is just one plausible example of what these controlling policies can do at the hands of a government that cannot be trusted to abuse them. Although former Jim Crow states are used as an example, racism is nationwide, and should not be downplayed as a significant factor in the electoral system.
The First Amendment is the very foundation of this country, and protecting it to the fullest is of utmost importance. In order for the U.S. democratic system to run smoothly, voters need to be informed and decisive with their votes, and confirm that the candidate they pick truly reflects their personal views.