The Case for Universal Voting
A timely and paradigm-shifting argument that all members of a democracy must participate in elections, by a leading political expert and Washington Post journalist
Americans are required to pay taxes, serve on juries, get their kids vaccinated, get driver’s licenses, and sometimes go to war for their country. So why not ask—or require—every American to vote?
In 100% Democracy, E.J. Dionne and Miles Rapoport argue that universal participation in our elections should be a cornerstone of our system. It would be the surest way to protect against voter suppression and the active disenfranchisement of a large share of our citizens. And it would create a system true to the Declaration of Independence’s aspirations by calling for a government based on the consent of all of the governed.
It’s not as radical or utopian as it sounds: in Australia, where everyone is required to vote (Australians can vote “none of the above,” but they have to show up), 91.9 percent of Australians voted in the last major election in 2019, versus 60.1 percent in America’s 2016 presidential race. Australia hosts voting-day parties and actively celebrates this key civic duty.
It is time for the United States to take a major leap forward and recognize voting as both a fundamental civil right and a solemn civic duty required of every eligible U.S. citizen.
Washington Post columnist Dionne (Code Red) and Harvard Kennedy School fellow Rapoport present a persuasive argument for mandatory voting in the U.S. Universal civic duty voting would "engage all American citizens in our democratic experiment," the authors contend, while deterring efforts which often target communities of color to restrict voting rights and eligibility. Dionne and Rapoport explain how expanded mail-in voting, the loosening of restrictions on absentee ballots, and other reforms made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to record levels of participation in the 2020 presidential election. Citing the example of Australia, where the country's universal voting system is complemented by the festive atmosphere of community events such as an election day sausage sizzle, the authors argue that making it easier to vote means that more people will do so, and that compulsory voting will lead to election results that genuinely represent the will of the people. Detailing how such a system would work in the U.S., Dionne and Rapoport propose small fines for failure to comply, incentives to encourage participation, and measures to prevent the accidental enrolling of ineligible voters. Backed by copious data and a firm grasp of the legislative process, this is a cogent call for rethinking the electoral process.