Compulsory Voting and Participation in Politics: Opinion Essay

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Voting and participation in politics have always been essential in Democracy. In an article called “Democracy in Brief” there is a section that talks about where the word Democracy comes from and best explains what Democracy is, and that specific section of the “Democracy in Brief” article states that “ Democracy, which derives from the Greek word “demos,” or “people,” is defined, basically, as government in which the supreme power is vested in the people. In some forms, democracy can be exercised directly by the people; in large societies, it is by the people through their elected agents. Or, in the memorable phrase of President Abraham Lincoln, democracy is government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” (“Democracy in Brief” 1.)

There are two forms of Democracy which are direct Democracy and representative Democracy. Direct Democracy is a form of Democracy in which there are no elected or appointed officials and instead citizens participate in making decisions. In the “Democracy in Brief” article, there is a section that best explains Direct Democracy, and the section of “Democracy in Brief” article states that “In a direct democracy, citizens, without the intermediary of elected or appointed officials, can participate in making public decisions. Such a system is clearly most practical with relatively small numbers of people—in a community organization, tribal council, or the local unit of a labor union, for example—where members can meet in a single room to discuss issues and arrive at decisions by consensus or majority vote.” (“Democracy in Brief” 6,8). In a representative democracy, citizens elect officials to make decisions for the good and interest of the public. In the article “ Democracy in Brief” there is a section that best explains representative democracy and the section of “ Democracy in Brief” states that “ However, today, as in the past, the most common form of democracy, whether for a town of 50,000 or a nation of 50 million, is representative democracy, in which citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programs for the public good.” (“Democracy in Brief” 8). There are consequences for not participating in voting which can either be a good consequence or a bad consequence depending on the outcome and political landscape and situation. In an article called “The Dynamic Consequences of Nonvoting in American National Elections', there is a section that states that “In sum, the policy consequences of unequal nonvoting may not be restricted to those created by electoral outcomes. If voters and nonvoters respond in different ways to political and economic events, they will send different signals to government about their policy preferences. Policymakers might then respond to either the preferences of the electorate or the preferences of the public as a whole. If policymakers respond disproportionately to the cues sent by voters, differences in voters’ and nonvoters’ preferences have important policy consequences even if the effects of nonvoting on election outcomes are marginal.” (Ellis, Ura,Robinson 228).

The main reason why I chose this specific section from “The Dynamic Consequences of Nonvoting in American National Elections” article is that this specific section best explains what consequences can happen when not participating in voting. Democracy cannot be sustained when so few people participate in the political system is that there will be very little government progress and drastic consequences to society. In an article called “Democracy Without Participation: A New Politics for a Disengaged Era” there is a section that best explains on how Democracy cannot be sustained when so few people participate in the political system and the section states that “ Furthermore, interest among citizens in informal forms of political participation characteristic of this new era of governance conforms to wider patterns of inequality and inactivity in that take-up among citizens as a percentage of the citizen body as a whole is not only very low but also overwhelmingly dominated by members of economically advantaged groups. Liberal democratic states are characterised by low and, often, declining rates of citizen participation in formal and informal political activities, and the business of governance has been increasingly centralised within elite institutions, and conducted in a language, and according to rules, that ordinary citizens cannot speak and do not understand. Democratic decision-making has become disconnected from the citizen body in general, and disproportionately so from poorer citizens who do not engage in even the minimal opportunities which still exist for them to voice their concerns (Mair 2013). Indeed, the decline of grassroots and broad-based membership organisations has had a disproportionately negative impact on poorer citizens, and further entrenched their exclusion from democratic politics. The professionally run, centrally managed elite organisations which have replaced traditional mass-membership organisations are less suited to mobilising grassroots activists from less advantaged, less educated, backgrounds or representing their interests in elite political discussions (Skocpol 2004a, b; Skocpol and Jacobs 2005).” (Parvin,36). The main reason why I have chosen this specific section of the “Democracy Without Participation: A New Politics for a Disengaged Era” is that this section best explains on how Democracy cannot be sustained when a few people participate in the political system and also this section mentions on how society is changing and also how society is greatly affected when a few people participate in the political system which shows clearly that a Democracy cannot be sustained when a few people participate in the political system.

There two primary reasons why people don’t vote more in the U.S is due to the voters themselves and voting laws. The main reason why voters themselves are the first primary reason why people don’t vote more in the U.S is that voters have different beliefs, opinions and can also have different government views on issues and situations that are going on during the time. In an article called “Why Don’t More People in the U.S. Vote?” there is a specific section that states that “Generally, the older you are and the more wealth you have, the more likely it is that you will be a voter. However, young-adult voters turned out in record numbers in the 2018 midterm election, increasing early voting rates 188 percent over the 2014 midterm election. Aside from age, education and income level remain the best predictors of a person’s likelihood to vote. According to the New York Times, those most likely to vote have an annual income from $50,000–$100,000. White people and those between the ages of 40– 64 are the most likely to vote in the race and age groups, respectively. However, black voter turnout has increased at least 20 percent since the mid-1990s. Throughout the 1800s, about 80 percent of those qualified (i.e., white males) actually voted. Toward the end of the century, particularly after the Civil War, many states set up obstacles to voting such as poll taxes, literacy tests, residency requirements, and annual registration fees. These obstacles were primarily directed against Southern blacks as part of segregationist state laws (known as Black Codes and, later, Jim Crow laws). In the 19th century, many Northern states also enacted laws that prevented black men from voting and passed laws to make voting more difficult for white workers who were recent immigrants and who spoke little English. As a result of these obstacles, voting levels nationwide went down from 79 percent in 1896 to 49 percent in 1920. The 15th Amendment prohibiting racial discrimination in voting in 1870 and the 19th Amendment giving women the vote in 1920 expanded the franchise to more and more Americans. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protected minorities’ right to vote in the South where state laws had deliberately undermined and violated the 15th Amendment since 1877. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Still, voter participation in the United States has declined. Compared to other developed nations in the world, the U.S. has very low voter turnout. Belgium leads the world in voter turnout with a rate of 87.2 percent of eligible voters in a recent national election. The U.S. trails far behind with its rate of only 55.7 percent in 2016.” (“Why Don’t More People in the U.S. Vote?”, 1).

The main reason why voting laws are the second primary reason why people don’t vote more in the U.S is that states can be very strict and different with their voting laws. In an article called “Why Don’t More People in the U.S. Vote?” there is a specific section that states that “Some experts link the decline in voting to bureaucratic obstacles. In their 1988 book Why Americans Don’t Vote, sociologists Frances Piven and Richard Cloward point out that when Americans are registered to vote, they show up at the polls 80 percent of the time. They argue that despite legislation that potentially opens the polls to nearly everyone, obstacles to voter registration continue to affect turnout at the polls. Poor people and minorities tend to be less likely to register to vote. Their lack of voting tends to create a vicious circle. When the poor and minorities refrain from voting, politicians do not feel obligated to address their concerns. Because politicians don’t speak to their needs, these groups risk becoming even less interested in politics. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 was based on the assumption that voting is a fundamental right and that it is the duty of government to promote the exercise of that right. The act was designed to encourage potential voters to register and to remove discriminatory and unfair obstacles to voter registration. It requires states to register voters with three methods. Eligible citizens can register: • When applying for or renewing a driver’s license. This so-called “motor-voter” method is used in about a dozen states. • With a mail-in application. • At public assistance agencies and agencies that provide services to people with disabilities. In addition, election officials must send all applicants a notice informing them of their voter registration status. Supporters of the National Voter Registration Act, mostly Democrats, argued that the measure would help register 90 percent of all eligible Americans. Because non-voters tend to be poor, young, or from racial or ethnic minorities, many election observers believed that an increased voter population would aid the Democrats, traditionally the party of choice for those citizens. Opponents of the bill, mostly Republicans, expressed concern that it would dictate to the states how they must register their citizens. They also predicted that multiple registrations would contribute to fraud. Other opponents contended that voters who aren’t interested enough to participate in the electoral process would not make informed decisions on candidates. Despite the controversy, the law went into effect in 1995. Voter registration increased just before the 1996 presidential election. But voter turnout continued to fall. By the time of the U.S. presidential election in 2016, the gap between the number of registered voters (86.8 percent) and actual votes cast by eligible voters (55.7 percent) had widened considerably. That gap can be partially explained by voter suppression tactics that were either not contemplated, or not resolved by the 1993 law. Too few polling places or insufficient ballot resources can cause voting lines to take hours, too long for those who vote during lunch breaks from work. Certain states have passed legislation requiring voter IDs, and many of these laws restrict the kinds of IDs that qualify. For example, Texas allows gun permits but not student IDs to qualify. And the process for obtaining such voter IDs can be difficult and expensive. Certain states, like Idaho and Nebraska, have cut 5–7 days from early voting dates. In Arizona, it is a felony to turn in another person’s mail-in ballot, even with the voter’s permission. Iowa and South Dakota have made it more difficult for people with criminal convictions to re-establish their voting rights. Some states do not allow a person to vote early at all without an excuse. These restrictions – requiring significant time, money, or both to address – tend to have discriminatory effects on people from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds and on people of color.” (“Why Don’t More People in the U.S. Vote?”, 1,2).

I believe that everyone should not be forced to vote due to the fact we all have moral values, beliefs, opinions, and also political views. There is compulsory voting which means that you must vote by law or face strict consequences for not voting or missing windows of voting registration. There was a U.S supreme court case where the U.S supreme court ruled against the state of Oklahoma stating that it was unconstitutional to have compulsory voting which at the time the state of Oklahoma had a strict 12-day one-time voter registration window which was found to be discriminatory against Black citizens of the state of Oklahoma due to the penalty of being permanently banned and barred from voting due to missing the 12-day one-time voter registration window and also a previous grandfather clause law that the state of Oklahoma had against the black citizens of the state of Oklahoma at the time. In an article called 'Compulsory Voting.' there is a specific section that states that “Compulsory voting is an electoral process in which voters are compelled by law to vote. In the United States, there is no legal requirement that eligible voters cast a ballot on election day. This practice was held unconstitutional in a 1939 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Lane v. Wilson, which stated that penalties for not voting are invalid and in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. However, other countries have instituted systems of compulsory voting.” (Utter, Glenn, Strickland).

The specific parts of the U.S constitution that deal with voting are “ Amendment 15:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

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Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The third of the 'Reconstruction amendments', the 15th Amendment was adopted in 1870 and was intended to guarantee the voting rights of former slaves and other African-American citizens. However, many states found ways to circumvent the amendment's purpose by instituting poll taxes, literacy tests, race-restricted primary elections, and other discriminatory criteria. This discrimination was eventually held illegal by the 24th Amendment, several major Supreme Court cases, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” (“The United States Constitution: Introduction.”) , “ Amendment 17:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

Before this amendment's adoption in 1913, senators were elected by state legislatures, which led to perceived corruption in state politics and a movement to allow citizens to directly elect their senators. The amendment passed with little opposition, but it had the unintended result of causing confusion about how to replace senators who left office before the end of their terms. Consequently, there have been several efforts to repeal the amendment entirely.” (“The United States Constitution: Introduction.”), “ Amendment 19: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920 after a decades-long women's suffrage movement. The key part of this amendment is its requirement that every state allow women to vote. Prior to this, while several states already allowed women to vote, many others did not.

The amendment overruled an 1875 U.S. Supreme Court case, Minor v. Happersett, which had held that the 14th Amendment did not require states to allow women to vote.” (“The United States Constitution: Introduction.”), Amendment 24: Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, was intended to prevent southern states from forcing poor voters to choose between paying an often-unaffordable tax and losing their right to vote. This amendment was necessary due to a 1937 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Breedlove v. Suttles, which had found poll taxes to be constitutional.

In the 1966 decision Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, the Supreme Court declared that this amendment applies to all elections, not just federal ones.”(“The United States Constitution: Introduction.”)

Works Cited

  1. Utter, Glenn H., and Ruth Ann Strickland. 'Compulsory Voting.' American Government, ABC-CLIO, 2020, americangovernment2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1732166. Accessed 25 Aug. 2020.
  2. “Democracy in Brief: In Brief Series.” GPA Publications, 30 June 2017, publications.america.gov/publication/democracy-in-brief/.
  3. Ellis, Christopher R., et al. “The Dynamic Consequences of Nonvoting in American National Elections.” Political Research Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 2, June 2006, pp. 227–233, doi:10.1177/106591290605900205.
  4. Parvin, P. Democracy Without Participation: A New Politics for a Disengaged Era. Res Publica 24, 31–52 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11158-017-9382-1
  5. “The United States Constitution: Introduction.” Research Guides, law.tamu.libguides.com/c.php?g=513904.
  6. “Why Don’t More People in the U.S. Vote?” Constitutional Rights Foundation, N.D www.crf-usa.org/the-challenge-of-democracy/governance.
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Compulsory Voting and Participation in Politics: Opinion Essay. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/compulsory-voting-and-participation-in-politics-opinion-essay/
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