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Make Voting Mandatory

Author: Peter R. Orszag
June 20, 2012


The U.S. prides itself as the beacon of democracy, but it's very likely no U.S. president has ever been elected by a majority of American adults.

It's our own fault -- because voter participation rates are running below 60 percent, a candidate would have to win 85 percent or more of the vote to be elected by a majority.

Compulsory voting, as exists in Australia and more than two dozen other countries, would fix that problem. As William Galston of the Brookings Institution argues, "Jury duty is mandatory; why not voting?"

Mandating voting has a clear effect: It raises participation rates. Before Australia adopted compulsory voting in 1924, for example, it had turnout rates similar to those of the U.S. After voting became mandatory, participation immediately jumped from 59 percent in the election of 1922 to 91 percent in the election of 1925.

The political scientists Lisa Hill and Jonathon Louth of the University of Adelaide note that "turnout rates among the voting age population in Australia have remained consistently high and against the trend of steadily declining voting participation in advanced democracies worldwide."

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