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Should Voting Be Mandatory?

Here's an interesting idea: Perhaps we should prevent the ideological extremes from setting the agenda in American politics by making voting mandatory.

“You have a kind of reinforcement where politicians appeal to more ideologically inspired voters, who then reinforce politicians who respond to them,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and doing research on this problem. It’s not easy to interrupt a vicious cycle. It’s one of the hardest things to do in life — and certainly in politics.”


Galston’s solution is a fairly radical intervention: Make everyone vote. If the people who turn up voluntarily at the polls reinforce our worst political instincts toward conflict and obstruction, we could dilute their influence by roping absolutely everyone into the process.

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I don't think mandatory voting would end conflict and obstruction. Sometimes, obstruction isn't about actual ideological differences or appeasing a constituency, but simply about preventing the other team from scoring points. Opponents of the health-care reform bill created excuses to oppose it by caricaturing it as "socialism" when it was actually pretty similar to Republican proposals from years past. That's because they hoped blocking it would be "Obama's Waterloo."

That said, mandatory voting would help. In fact, I can't scrape up a good reason not to make voting mandatory. At the very least we should make voting days holidays.

Image: Vote!, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from kristinausk's photostream

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