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Editorial Commentary: Ken Ciboski

Who Benefits From Mandatory Voting?

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At a town-hall style meeting in Cleveland this past week, President Obama sparked a discussion in which he said that requiring Americans to vote would have a “potentially transformative” effect on the political map of the country.

The president was undoubtedly referring to the unequal pattern of political participation in America. He stated that mandatory voting would change this pattern with more young people, more less educated people, more poor people, and more racially diverse people casting a ballot.

Some voting studies demonstrate that the mass of nonvoters would be more likely to vote Democratic if mandatory voting were implemented, so such a law could work to the benefit of the Democratic Party.

Perhaps the president was also thinking about the fall 2014 United States House races, when about 5 million more Republicans than Democrats cast ballots. Republicans usually vote in higher proportion to their numbers than do Democrats.

Voting studies also demonstrate that most Americans who vote or participate in politics have higher incomes and more education than people who don’t. The fall 2014 election had a 37 percent turnout, the lowest in 72 years.

Is the president suggesting that we follow the lead of at least 18 countries in the world which require all eligible citizens to show up on election day or pay a fine? Such a potentially “transformative” proposal raises constitutional questions because the First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees the right not to vote - or to “speak” by not voting.

But in the end, the fact remains that most non-voters could vote if they wanted to do so, but have no interest at all in voting - and want little to do with politics.