The Allen County Democratic Party is having a group discussion on the Electoral College in late January, and Jack Morris said, “Don’t just bring opinions; do some research.” So I will have some posts about the Electoral College as I continue to learn more about that, but my not-very-informed opinion at this point is that we would do better to increase the number of voters in our current system than to throw out our current system for an election based strictly on the popular vote. Voting rates are, not surprisingly, much higher in countries where voting is compulsory compared to where it is voluntary:

turnout-compulsory-versus-voluntary-countries

Nicholas Stephanopoulos / Data: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

But voting rates are also higher in most other developed nations where voting is voluntary, so there is a cultural element as well—my Finnish friend told me that voting is compulsory in Finland, but as I was researching this, I found that this is not actually correct. The fact that she believes it to be compulsory suggests a culture of voting so strong that it is socially and morally compulsory, even if not legally so. A Pew Center study found that the United States ranks thirty-first of the thirty-five developed, democratic countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for voter turnout, and only five of those thirty-five nations have compulsory voting laws (see the list of OECD nations here and the list of nations with compulsory voting laws here.

Looking at a map of the nations with compulsory voting laws suggests that the well-developed democracies in Europe do not need them:

countries-with-compulsory-voting_mapbuilder2

Compulsory voting laws might be most effective, and most needed, in nations with low rates of voting, where the government wishes to create a culture of voting and democratic participation.

The United States, where only 53.6% of the voting-age population voted in the 2012 election, is clearly a nation that needs to do better, but there is ample evidence that the Republican Party does not want higher voter participation, so that would provide a roadblock to making these laws. Nicholas Stephanopoulos, however, in an Atlantic story from 2015, offers an ingenious idea for a Democratic-led process of making compulsory voting laws. He recommends that cities should start by obliging their residents to vote in municipal elections, which will coincide with state and national elections, thus boosting turnout for those races, too. Statewide political parties will then react by making it compulsory to vote in state elections, because otherwise the blue-leaning cities will skew voting results for the whole state. It looks not only like a good idea (as nationwide compulsory voting laws would be), but like a practical idea, and that’s even better.

Rachel E. Hile

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