A question on quorums and unrepresentative elections

In almost any legislative body — from the U.S. Congress to a middle-school student council — if only 10 percent of the members are present, they lack a quorum and cannot have a binding vote.

Robert’s Rules of Order defines a quorum as “protection against totally unrepresentative action in the name of the body by an unduly small number of persons.”

That’s a just measure reflecting a concern for justice. It’s wrong to pretend that “totally unrepresentative action in the name of the body” is the same thing as the expression of that body’s collective will. Rules requiring a quorum thus seem both logical and necessary. In America’s Congress, a simple majority (usually) constitutes a quorum. The Senate can’t vote unless at least 51 senators are present. That means, for example, that my senators — Bob Casey and Pat Toomey — can’t sneak into the chamber late at night and pass the “Mandatory Annual Pilgrimages to Pennsylvania” bill by a unanimous vote of 2-0.

Quorums just make sense. That’s why legislatures, councils and boards the world over have them.

And it’s why, perhaps, primary elections ought to have them too.

Reindeer herder Kerry Bentivolio is the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s Michigan district. This is not a situation that pleases most Republicans in Michigan or nationally, but it’s one they’re stuck with.

This isn’t an unusual situation for either party. We’ve seen quite a string of goofy, accidental candidates winding up as the standard-bearers for their parties following victories in poorly promoted primary elections — votes that are binding, but hardly representative. Bentivolio won a primary that involved less than 10 percent of voters in the district.

That’s the same kind of meaningless voter turnout that led to Christine O’Donnell’s surprise primary win over Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware. O’Donnell had a few thousand fired-up supporters who turned out to vote. Castle had tens of thousands of supporters who assumed he would win and thus didn’t bother to vote.

Castle’s loss provided grist for a too-easy lecture on civic responsibility and the importance of voting, yada yada yada. And that’s all true and legitimate. If a majority of voters can’t be bothered to show up, they can’t complain that the election outcome doesn’t represent their views.

The complacency of Delaware’s Republicans worked out well for Democrats in that case. Castle would have been a shoo-in in the general election, but his primary loss resulted in Chris Coons’ victory. I’m happy about that, personally. Coons is a smart, honest and capable man. He’d dutifully agreed to be his party’s sacrificial lamb and now, instead, he’s a U.S. senator.

But there’s still something disturbingly undemocratic about a process that allowed a tiny fraction of the state’s registered Republicans to deny the rest of the state — including the majority of Republicanss — the chance to make the choice they seemed to want. Yes, sure, we must all Learn Our Lesson about the responsibility of voting in primary elections. Tut-tut, tsk-tsk, etc. But this finger-wagging lecturing doesn’t change the fact that this dismally ignored responsibility produced a “totally unrepresentative” result.

I’m focusing here on Republican examples, but again this is a problem that regularly afflicts both parties. I’m highlighting GOP examples here because  for me, as a Democrat, it might seem self-serving to complain about unrepresentative-but-binding results from Democratic primaries with a tiny turnout. Such results in Republican primaries actually benefit my side of the aisle, but such short-term benefits don’t outweigh my discomfort with the dubious pretense that elections in which almost no one participates should still be treated as wholly representative and binding.

So here’s my question: Should there be some kind of quorum-like requirement for primary elections? Would it be good or helpful or more democratic to institute some kind of minimum standard for participation below which any election could not be deemed legitimate?

What if we had a rule that said a primary election needed to involve at least 20 percent of a party’s registered voters in order to be binding? Instead of the current system — in which no one votes and a winner is declared from that inadequate sample — the parties would announce that the participation threshold was not met and would schedule a run-off in, say, two weeks.

I realize such run-offs would involve a substantial expense. Elections aren’t cheap. Perhaps some of that expense could be charged to the party whose members’ lack of participation squandered the money spent on the initial balloting — a potential incentive to ensure that missing the “quorum” would be rare.

I’m guessing this is another of those matters where there’s a large and glaring problem I’m overlooking, but since I’m overlooking it, I don’t yet know what that problem is.

So help me out here: What’s wrong with this idea? What are the best reasons there should not be such a quorum or threshold for participation in elections?

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  • Jim Roberts

    I see no problem with requiring a quorum for primary election. Honestly, it’s a good idea for elections of all kinds. The only difficulties I can see related to difficulty with enforcement, and while those points are valid, they shouldn’t prevent movement towards this.

  • Emcee, cubed

    I’m still a big fan of mandatory voting, so long as there is I-choose-not-to-cast-a-ballot option. I certainly understand a “non-vote of no confidence”, but I feel like saying “I’m not going to vote” should require active action, rather than be the default. 

  • Becca Stareyes

     I’d also say that all voting, but especially mandatory voting, should make it exceedingly easy to both register and submit a ballot.  Whether it be multiple days of voting, making Election Day a national holiday so as many people as possible don’t have work, or easy ways to request ballots by mail in all states* — I don’t care as long as anyone who wants to vote can get a ballot and vote. 

    * New York’s laws are more restrictive than Nebraska’s.  I voted absentee in ’04 from Nebraska because the Democratic Party encouraged it so that there’d be more of a paper trail.  I looked up NY’s absentee laws and I wasn’t even sure I could unless I had an excuse beyond ‘it’s easier than walking to the polls’.  Maybe it’s just a confusing website. 

  • PurpleAardvaark

    For general elections, we should adopt the Australian model and fine people who fail to vote and to allow those who dislike all the candidates on the ballot, there must be an option to vote for “None of the above”.

    For primary elections — well the whole Republicrat monopoly on ballot access and the fact that these private organizations have their private elections financed by the public is inherently corrupt so caring about a quorum is pointless.  A more appropriate method is to have open primaries where any registered voter can vote for any candidate available.  Positions on the primary ballot must be allocated only to those who file petitions and the rules for petitions shall not be different for any candidate — all must obtain the number of  signatures prescribed by statute.  Here too, voters should be required to participate to ensure that “crossover” voting is available to everyone.  If there is a desire to restrict the number of positions in the general election, the Instant Runoff system of ranking candidates by preference can be employed.

  • aunursa

    For general elections, we should adopt the Australian model and fine people who fail to vote

    I disagree.  For some people, their choice not to vote is a political statement, one that cannot be expressed by a “none of the above” option.  For others, they don’t think that their vote matters, or they don’t see any difference among any candidates.  While I believe that each eligible voter should become informed on the issues and candididates and should cast a vote, I would oppose any system that penalizes those who, for whatever reason, choose not to participate.

  • Ross Thompson

    While I believe that each eligible voter should become informed on the issues and candididates and should cast a vote, I would oppose any system that penalizes those who, for whatever reason, choose not to participate.

    Really, the idea is the you make people go to the polling booth and not participate there, rather than not participating at home (or sending a mail-in vote that declines participation, or whatever other voting methods exist). We can argue over whether the wording should be “None of the above” or “Decline to vote”, or what have you, but I don’t think you’re disagreeing with the basic concept so much as its implementation.

  • aunursa

    We can argue over whether the wording should be “None of the above” or “Decline to vote”, or what have you, but I don’t think you’re disagreeing with the basic concept so much as its implementation.

    No, I do disagree with the basic concept.

    Some of those who don’t want to participate may do so for reasons other than inconvenience.  The option to vote by mail or internet is not the issue.  The statement they are making is not a matter of “none of the above”.  They do not want to participate in the system.  However much I disagree with them, I do not want them to be penalized for their choice, their statement.

  • Carstonio

    Why shouldn’t people who fail to vote be penalized? While a representative democracy should make it as convenient as possible for citizens to vote, ultimately all citizens have a responsibility to participate in the voting process to the best of their ability. They’re not entitled to deliberately opt out of participation. If they don’t wish to participate, they might as well just forfeit their citizenship. Or at least, forfeit their right to complain about laws and regulations they don’t like. That’s like a citizen who makes a comfortable living finding ways to not pay any taxes but still feeling entitled to use the public roads and enjoy protection from the military and police.

  • aunursa

    ultimately all citizens have a responsibility to participate in the voting process to the best of their ability

    Why?

    As a matter of citizenship principle, they’re not entitled to deliberately opt out of participation.

    Why not?

    That’s like a citizen who makes a comfortable living finding ways to not pay any taxes but still feeling entitled to use the public roads and enjoy protection from the military and police.

    No it’s not.  The government cannot maintain roads without tax revenue.  The government can certainly maintain roads without the votes of people who do not wish to participate.  Their non-participation in no way discourages others who do wish to participate from casting their votes.

  • EllieMurasaki

    As a matter of citizenship principle, they’re not entitled to deliberately opt out of participation.
    Why not?

    Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Either you are part of The People or you are not. If you are, you need to act like it, which includes voting, though there does need to be a ‘none’ option in every election to account for the possibility of all the candidates being dipshits. If you don’t want to act like it, I’m sure there’s ways to relinquish your US citizenship. Applying to be a citizen of your new homeland, if nothing else.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    The government cannot maintain roads without tax revenue.  The
    government can certainly maintain roads without the votes of people who
    do not wish to participate.  Their non-participation in no way
    discourages others who do wish to participate from casting their votes.

    What the government is or isn’t able to do isn’t the issue. A more important question seems to be the role of the citizenry in government.

    One possible answer is to fund government, e.g. by paying taxes. Another possible answer is to elect government, e.g. by voting for government representatives.

    You seem to be saying that citizens have a responsibility to fund government, but not to elect it. Carstonio is saying citizens have both responsibilities.

    Personally, I’m more inclined to Carstonio’s view here. We don’t just pay the bills; we hire and fire. It’s part of our job responsibilities.

  • aunursa

    You seem to be saying that citizens have a responsibility to fund government, but not to elect it.

    Correct.  While I wish that all citizens did participate in electing our government, I consider it immoral to penalize anyone who chooses, for whatever reason, not to participate.  If you want to penalize American citizens for not voting, you need to amend the U.S. Constitution.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I consider it immoral to penalize anyone who chooses, for whatever reason, not to participate.

    For what reason? For sake of argument, all polling places are fully accessible, no one has to take unpaid time off in order to vote, everybody who can’t get to their polling place can vote by mail and/or put their name and address on a list so that a poll worker can pay a visit to collect the ballot, etc etc absolutely no barriers to voting save whether one wants to do it: who is hurt by having to cast a ballot?

  • aunursa

    It has nothing to do with access.

    I support the right of people to dissent from popular opinions and not to take part in patriotic expressions.  There are times when the government must be able to mandate that citizens perform actions that they don’t wish to perform (pay taxes, serve on juries, register for the draft).  There are other times when it would be nice but not necessary for citizens to perform actions that they wouldn’t otherwise perform.  I consider it immoral to mandate participation in such instances. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Voting, like paying taxes and doing jury duty, is a citizen’s duty. How one votes is patriotic expression, and one is perfectly free to express disgust with all the candidates on the ballot by voting for none of the above, but if one can vote then one must vote, and all effort must be put forth to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote can and will.

  • aunursa

    Paying taxes and serving on juries are required by the U.S. Constitution.  Moreover the tax collection process and court system would not operate if these functions were optional.  By contrast the electoral process is not adversely affected by the choice of some citizens not to participate.  The outcomes of elections may be affected, but not the process itself.

    Since all voting is done by secret ballot, how one votes is not expression, patriotic or otherwise.

    if one can vote then one must vote

    Why?

  • Ross Thompson

    There are times when the government must be able to mandate that citizens perform actions that they don’t wish to perform (pay taxes, serve on juries, register for the draft).  There are other times when it would be nice but not necessary for citizens to perform actions that they wouldn’t otherwise perform.  I consider it immoral to mandate participation in such instances.

    How do you decide what falls into which category? For example, I feel it’s immoral to force people to go to war against their will; you apparently have no problem with a draft. How do we decide if joining the armed forces should be mandated, or merely encouraged?

  • aunursa

    How do you decide what falls into which category? … How do we decide if joining the armed forces should be mandated, or merely encouraged?

    It is generally recognized that one role of a government is to protect the citizens from external military threats.  The Constitution grants Congress the authority to declare war and to raise an army and a navy.  It is clearly established that this authority includes the ability to conduct a draft.  While our leaders have determined that the current all-volunteer military can adequately protect the people, it is certainly within their scope of powers if they determine that it becomes necessary to institute a draft.

    I feel it’s immoral to force people to go to war against their will

    The Supreme Court has ruled that those who have a moral or religious objection to serving in a war can avoid military service.

  • Ross Thompson

    It is generally recognized that one role of a government is to protect
    the citizens from external military threats.  In order for the U.S.
    government to carry out that role, the Constitution grants Congress the
    authority to declare war, and raise an army and a navy.  It is clearly
    established that this authority includes the ability to conduct a
    draft.  While our leaders have determined that the current all-volunteer
    military can adequately protect the people, it is certainly within
    their scope of powers if they determine that it becomes necessary to
    institute a draft.

    So a draft is moral because it’s legal, and if the Constitution included language allowing the government to mandate voting, then requiring people to vote would also be moral?

    I feel it’s immoral to force people to go to war against their will

    The Supreme Court has ruled that those who have a moral or religious objection to serving in war can avoid military service.

    And this is achieved by them making some kind of positive declaration on their part, right? They don’t just not turn in their draft papers? So this is exactly the same model people are suggesting for voting?

  • aunursa

    So a draft is moral because it’s legal, and if the Constitution included language allowing the government to mandate voting, then requiring people to vote would also be moral?

    No.

    A jury summons is moral because it is necessary for the government to carry out its constitutionally mandated function of guaranteeing defendents a trial by a jury of peers.  A draft is moral if it is necessary in order for the government to carry out its constitutionally mandated function of protecting the nation from foreign or domestic military threats.  A requirement that all citizens vote is immoral because 100% participation is not necessary for the selection of federal office holders and some citizens have moral objections to voting.

  • Ross Thompson

    A jury summons is moral because it is necessary for the government to carry out its constitutionally mandated function of guaranteeing defendents a trial by a jury of peers.  A draft is moral if it is necessary in order for the government to carry out its constitutionally mandated function of protecting the nation from foreign or domestic military threats.  A requirement that all citizens vote is immoral because 100% participation is not necessary for the selection of federal office holders and some citizens have moral objections to voting.

    See, I believe that the draft is not necessary to protect the nation, and is therefore (by your reasoning) immoral, whereas universal voting is required for the selection of officials (for exactly the same reason universal enrolment in jury pools is required), and therefore it is moral.

    How do we decide which of us is right?

  • aunursa

    I believe that the draft is not necessary to protect the nation, and is therefore (by your reasoning) immoral

    I agree.  Currently the draft would be immoral, since an all-volunteer military is sufficient to protect the nation from military threats.  However there may come a time in which a draft would be necessary; at that point it would be moral to have a draft.  

    whereas universal voting is required for the selection of officials (for exactly the same reason universal enrolment in jury pools is required), and therefore it is moral

    Why is universal voting required for the selection of officials?  And if universal voting is required, would you allow a voter to hand in a blank ballot?  And if you would allow it, how would a blank ballot satisfy the reason for universal voting while not casting a ballot would not satisfy that reason?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    A jury summons is moral because it is necessary for the government to carry out its constitutionally mandated function of guaranteeing defendents a trial by a jury of peers. A draft is moral if it is necessary in order for the government to carry out its constitutionally mandated function of protecting the nation from foreign or domestic military threats. A requirement that all citizens vote is immoral because 100% participation is not necessary for the selection of federal office holders and some citizens have moral objections to voting.

    No, the difference is that you don’t care about one of the aforementioned duties.

    While I’m here, let me climb up on my pacifist soapbox, give apologies to the vets in the room, and call absolute bullshit on the argument that a draft is necessary in order for the government to carry out its function of protecting the nation.

    We had two referenda about conscription back in WWI (both were defeated). The government at the time wanted to bring in conscription to fight WWI. It was not necessary to defend our country; it was desired in order to make more people available to kill Germans and Turks. Killing Germans and Turks was not necessary to our national security. It was something we did because pip pip tally-ho the Empire old boy.

    Conscription was brought in anyway (an issue that the government fell over, btw). Australian conscripts first fought overseas in Vietnam. Dropping bombs on Vietnam was not necessary for our national security. We dropped bombs on Vietnam to keep in America’s good books.

    If all wars were just wars then I might accept your line about conscription being morally necessary. Hell, if any wars were just wars I’d give you a pass. But just because at various times our government believes it is expedient to go kill some people does not make conscription moral.

    And oh my god it is a whole world away from dragging your arse to a polling booth or to a mailbox to put a piece of paper in a slot.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Speaking of conscription, it’s been a dicey issue here in Canada as well, mainly due to the Quebecois feeling decidedly different than the English-Canadians about what war they wanted to fight (mainly because the Quebecois felt with sone justification they were not regarded as full participants in Canadian society because of economic domination by English Canadians). Since WW2 though, we’ve only ever had a volumteer military, so that issue, thankfully, no longer exists.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I can understand that.

    One of the undercurrents in the WWI conscription debate was that Australia had a large population of Irish migrants (or children of Irish migrants). They formed the bulk of the underclass, were discriminated against in various forms, and were damned if they were going to be sent off to fight England’s foolish war.

    Gough got rid of conscription back in 1972, and I don’t recall it ever seriously being raised since.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    The Supreme Court has ruled that those who have a moral or religious objection to serving in war can avoid military service.

    That’s nice. It’s still interesting that you didn’t include conscription in your personal categorisation of immoral requirements, but anyway–under Australian law your duty to vote can be waived if you have a moral or religious objection to voting. So what’s wrong with our system?

  • aunursa

    It’s still interesting that you didn’t include conscription in your personal categorisation of immoral requirements

    I regret that I did not make clear: It is immoral — when it’s not necessary to carry out the government’s obligation to protect the nation.

    So what’s wrong with our system?

    I’m not familiar with the Australian system.  What is the penalty for not voting?

  • Ross Thompson

    I regret that I did not make clear: It is immoral — when it’s not necessary to carry out the government’s obligation to protect the nation.

    When is it necessary? Who makes that decision? If the government decides that it’s necessary for them to give themselves the power to re-introduce the draft, and I feel that it’s not necessary (and is therefore immoral), what happens?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’m not familiar with the Australian system.  What is the penalty for not voting?

    As I said before, if you don’t turn up or lodge a pre-poll or postal vote, you’re up for a fine on $20. It’s a token amount–less than the fine for sticking your feet on the seats on the train. If you have an actual religious or moral objection to voting you can advise the Australian Electoral Commission of this and you will be given an exemption.

    The upshot is that no one who seriously objects to voting on moral principles (yet somehow manages to allow themselves to live in a democracy but that’s another story) is forced to, but the AEC goes to great lengths to make sure that everyone is able to vote, and we get 95% turnout.

  • magpie (lurker)

     Also, they don’t fine you straight off.  You get a letter asking how come you didn’t vote?  Write your reason here, signed, dated and witnessed by a JP and send it back in reply-paid envelope.  That’s what I did once, and didn’t get fined. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I support the right of people to dissent from popular opinions and not to take part in patriotic expressions. There are times when the government must be able to mandate that citizens perform actions that they don’t wish to perform (pay taxes, serve on juries, register for the draft). There are other times when it would be nice but not necessary for citizens to perform actions that they wouldn’t otherwise perform. I consider it immoral to mandate participation in such instances.

    Wait, you think it’s immoral to require citizens to vote but not to force them into professionalised violence?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    If you want to penalize American citizens for not voting, you need to amend the U.S. Constitution.

    Can you clarify the connection? All kinds of legal obligations accrue to me as a U.S. citizen that aren’t established by means of a Constitutional amendment. What makes the obligation to vote, should we wish to establish one, different?

  • aunursa

    Alas, I may have erred.  Within the confines of the Constitution, each state determines its own voting procedures.  Thus each state could determine whether to adopt mandatory voting.  A constitutional amendment may be required to mandate voting nationwide.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

     While I wish that all citizens did participate in electing our government, I consider it immoral to penalize anyone who chooses, for whatever reason, not to participate.

    I live in a country with compulsory voting and think it’s a good idea.

    I consider it immoral to support policies that have the effect of letting people die from preventable health conditions because they don’t have insurance. So opinions on what is or is not immoral vary.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    ultimately all citizens have a responsibility to participate in the voting process to the best of their ability

    Why?

    Sing it with me, comrades!Personal responsibilitah!Not just for racial minorities and single mums!

  • aunursa

    aunursa: Why [do all citizens have a responsibility to participate in the voting process]?
    Sgt. Pepper: Personal responsibiltah!

    Non-responsive.  Can anyone else explain why all citizens have a responsibility to participate in the voting process?

  • EllieMurasaki

    ‘Personal responsibility’ pretty much covers it, actually. If you are over the local age of majority, you are capable of communicating to others and of understanding things communicated to you, and you want the benefits of living in a democratic society, then you have the right and the responsibility to participate in that democracy.

  • aunursa

    Why do you have the responsibility to participate in a democracy?  Why can’t you just let other people who are more interested in participating make those decisions?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I did not prepare enough Banish Idiocy spells today, I see. Can someone else explain the free-rider problem to aunursa, please?

  • RavenOnTheHill

     Well, for one thing, if everyone doesn’t participate, the politicians get to pick their voters.

  • RavenOnTheHill

     Well, for one thing, if everyone voted, the politicians wouldn’t be able to pick their voters. That’s what’s done now: the pols decide which voters they want to turn out and work at turning them out. Mandatory voting would end that.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I believe candidate Romney has some strong opinions on personal responsibility…

  • Carstonio

    Government exists largely because citizens can obtain things working together that they cannot obtain individually. Decision-making is a form of work, and when citizens deliberately choose not to vote, they’re effectively making others bear an extra burden but still receiving benefits from those decisions. 

    Imagine a group planning a party, and one member refuses to participate in any of the planning, but attends anyway and spends the entire time grousing about the food and the entertainment. That’s the same selfish impulse as if the member refused to contribute any dishes for a pot luck but still stuffed hir face at the event.

  • aunursa

    Decision-making is a form of work, and when citizens deliberately choose not to vote, they’re effectively making others bear an extra burden but still receiving benefits from those decisions.

    On the contrary.  When citizens deliberately choose not to vote, those citizens who do care and do take the time to study the candidates and the issues don’t have their votes cancelled out by apathetic voters and ignorant voters.

    And there’s absolutely no extra burden for those who choose to vote because of those who choose not to vote.  On the contrary, your vote counts more (as a percentage of the entire vote) and your wait in line will be no longer because of their absence.

    (Which is not to suggest that I want citizens to be apathetic and ignorant of the issues and candidates or that I want fewer citizens exercising their right to vote.  I wish everyone were as interested in the election as we are here.)

  • Dan Audy

    (Which is not to suggest that I want citizens to be apathetic and ignorant of the issues and candidates or that I want fewer citizens exercising their right to vote.  I wish everyone were as interested in the election as we are here.)

    I find the veracity of that statement doubtful along with your claims that you really want people to vote but ‘darn it making it easier for the vast majority of the population is bad because it oppresses the minuscule minority that want to protest the system and can’t do so by publicly protesting the system because…reasons’.

    You vigourously support a political party that is devoted to suppressing the ability to vote amongst groups that are most impacted by difficulties voting.  Your party engages in extreme (and highly unethical) gerrymandering (though the democrats do as well to a lesser extent) to prevent large portions of the population from having a meaningful vote.  Your party would lose most elections if polls based on ‘registered voters’ were correct rather than likely voters or the lesser number who actually do show up on election day.

    I don’t believe that you genuinely support peoples right to not vote for what are in several examples direct consequences of the Republican party undermining democracy.  Your claims are unbelievable and self-serving.

  • aunursa

    Participation includes educating oneself on the candidates and issues.  I trust that an educated citizenry will make the best choices.  while I value citizen participation highly, I value the right of individuals not to participate even higher.

    At any rate your skepticism regarding my desire that citizens participate in the electoral process is irrelevant.  My desires are not subject to verification by you or anyone else.  [EXPLETIVE DELETED]

  • Carstonio

     I never claimed that votes are cancelled out or that they count less when some citizens deliberately choose not to vote. I was using metaphors to show that citizens owe the nation their full participation in the democratic process, because they receive benefits of citizenship. The responsibility is a shared one. The citizen who chooses not to vote is essentially asking for something for nothing.

  • Ross Thompson

    Some of those who don’t want to participate may do so for reasons other than inconvenience.  The option to vote by mail or internet is not the issue.  The statement they are making is not a matter of “none of the above”.  They do not want to participate in the system.  However much I disagree with them, I do not want them to be penalized for their choice, their statement

    Enlighten me, as I’m genuinely not seeing your point: What message are they trying to send that could not be sent by going to the polling place and saying “I am not voting”? Is there some arrangement of words that could be on the ballot (or that they could give to the people that check them off on their list of registered voters) that would satisfy this message?

    More to the point, if they have an actual message to send, why would they want to deliver it in a way that the people in charge hear as “I’m lazy and I don’t care who’s in charge”?

  • JenL

    Enlighten me, as I’m genuinely not seeing your point: What message are they trying to send that could not be sent by going to the polling place and saying “I am not voting”? Is there some arrangement of words that
    could be on the ballot (or that they could give to the people that check them off on their list of registered voters) that would satisfy this message?

    To me, at least, going through the process of going to the polling place, showing ID, signing the book, getting a ballot, and then turning it in – that’s participating in the process, in a way that some people wouldn’t want to do.  No matter what options you give them (“none of the above”, “I’m not voting”, or “Joannie Loves Chachi”), I’d be uncomfortable with requiring that a person show up, present ID, and sign in. 

    And that’s not even touching the stricter ID rules going into place in so many states….

  • Ursula L

    I’m inclined to get rid of voter ID laws entirely as a requirement of proof before voting.  Voting is a right.  You show up, you’re presented with the requirements for legally voting.  You swear or affirm that you meet those conditions.  You vote.  

    If people voting more than once is a problem, and can be proved to be a statistically significant problem, then purple dye on your thumb, or the like, is sufficient proof that this person has voted today and may not again.  

    If someone thinks that you don’t have the right to vote, they have to prove it.  They’re accusing you of a crime (voting when you don’t have the right to) so they have to prove it to the standards of criminal law.  Beyond a reasonable doubt.  

    The burden of proof belongs on those preventing voting, not on those who are voting.  

  • Michael Cule

    On the other hand Ursula, I entirely agree with your comments on Voter ID. And the point about the burden of proof is a good one that I wish the idiots in the Supreme Court had thought of.

  • Ross Thompson

    To me, at least, going through the process of going to the polling place, showing ID, signing the book, getting a ballot, and then turning it in – that’s participating in the process, in a way that some people wouldn’t want to do.

    What if we get rid of the “getting a ballot” and “turning it in” stages? That id, you demonstrate your identity, get noted as present, and announce you’re not voting. Would that be more acceptable?

    I’m assuming that voter ID can be solved, as aunursa is confident that the people pushing for stricter ID laws are going to do everything they can to help the underprivileged to get acceptable ID, and I’m happy to concede the point, for argument’s sake.

  • JenL

     

    What if we get rid of the “getting a ballot” and “turning it in” stages?
    That id, you demonstrate your identity, get noted as present, and
    announce you’re not voting. Would that be more acceptable? 

    And we have officially reached the point where I don’t know enough about why someone might choose to not participate …   From one website I pulled up about Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia (where apparently you have to vote or give an acceptable reason why), they’ll register, not vote, and explain why on the “tell us why we shouldn’t fine you” letter they receive a few weeks later.  Don’t know if that would be somehow different from showing up and giving the explanation on the spot.

    But the person I had at the back of my mind when describing the “I don’t want to participate” is that conspiracy theorist who thinks the entire system is corrupt, and who doesn’t want to hand over ID.  I doubt there are many of those people in real life, but … if I didn’t want to vote in one particular election, it would bug that I have to go in and show ID to a collection of overly-cheerful nosy neighbors.  (On a good day, the folks that work my precinct are just a little *too* chipper for my taste at 7 a.m.) 

    And which elections would be required?  The Presidential elections?  Gubernatorial? (In my state, that’s 2 years off the Presidential cycle.)  Special elections (most Mays and some Novembers, even in off years)? 

  • Isabel C.

    Y’know, I’m really okay with ignoring the desires of conspiracy theorists when making national decisions.

    I’m also okay with having fluoride in our drinking water. 

  • RavenOnTheHill

    Citizenship has many responsibilities; voting seems to me both a less onerous and more important one than paying taxes. Why, of all responsibilities of citizenship, does this one is it important that it not be mandatory?

  • JenL

    Citizenship has many responsibilities; voting seems to me both a less
    onerous and more important one than paying taxes. Why, of all
    responsibilities of citizenship, does this one is it important that it
    not be mandatory?

    A mix of thinking a) that it can be problematic to get to the polling place (which absentee ballots could take care of), and b) that someone who was required to go vote, who doesn’t want to be there, isn’t likely to vote based on logic or reason. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which is what the ‘none of the above’ option is for.

  • JenL

     

    Which is what the ‘none of the above’ option is for.

    Oh, see, I consider that a vote based on logic and reason.  Lots of folks would pick something at random, or just pick the opposite of what someone they don’t like has said.  Unless you put it at the top of the list for each position/issue.  Now, that’s an idea…

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     The way US politics are right now, if we instituted mandatory voting, we could just do away with elections and give it to whichever candidate’s party had the most registered voters, since  it’s been years since elections really hinged on who persuaded the most people to choose them as the candidate they voted for; it’s really been about which candidate motivates the most members of his party to come out to the polling places. (That is, I don’t believe a significant number of voters are actually going to decide who to vote for. The actual decision facing the majority of voters is not “Do I vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?” but rather “Shall I vote for My Guy, or shall I stay home?”)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    if we instituted mandatory voting, we could just do away with elections
    and give it to whichever candidate’s party had the most registered
    voters

    I’m not sure how many people registered in party A who currently don’t vote would actually vote a straight part A ticket if forced to vote, given that party registration is a far more public fact.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m not sure how many people registered in party A who currently don’t vote would actually vote a straight part A ticket if forced to vote, given that party registration is a far more public fact.

    Isn’t always possible, anyway. I’m registered Green. My ballot will have Green candidates for President/VP, US Senate, US House, and Governor. No smaller races. I wouldn’t be able to vote straight ticket if I were a Democrat, either, because there’s no Democratic candidate for this state Senate seat.

  • Ursula L

    I’m not sure how many people registered in party A who currently don’t vote would actually vote a straight part A ticket if forced to vote, given that party registration is a far more public fact. 

    Even for those who do vote, I wouldn’t expect a straight party-line vote.

    I’m registered Democrat – it’s the most effective way for me to promote viable progressive candidates, by voting in the Democratic primary.  When possible, I vote for Democratic nominees on the Working Family Party’s line, to give a boost in signal towards more progressive platforms – no candidate is going to win on those lines, but Democrats who win may notice that they’re getting votes on the more progressive lines that they’re running on.  If a candidate is running on any of the party lines that I know to be specifically anti-choice, I won’t vote for them on any party line, but I’ll look for a better option that I know isn’t signed up to screw with my medical care.  

  • EllieMurasaki

    someone who was required to go vote, who doesn’t want to be there, isn’t likely to vote based on logic or reason.

    Fair enough if being required to vote changes a ‘don’t want to vote’ to a ‘must vote’. If it changes a ‘can’t vote’ to a ‘must vote’, that’s a different story. A lot of people are ‘can’t vote’s. When I worked full time at Subway, the only reason I could vote without losing pay was the voting booths opened at seven and my shift didn’t start till eleven. I couldn’t have afforded to lose pay. (Still can’t, but I’m a state employee now; we get Election Day off.) And a lot of polling places are schools, and a lot of poor folk are parents, and if the schoolkids are on holiday so that they’re not trying to eat lunch where people are voting…

    So, yeah. Absolutely for mandatory voting. Provided that every race on every ballot has a ‘none’ option, and provided considerable effort is put in to remove obstacles between people and the ballot box. Though both those conditions would be good things to do even without mandatory voting.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/09/17/rush-limbaugh-says-welfare-recipients-turn-out-to-vote-in-force-they-really-dont/

  • RavenOnTheHill

    Some people already don’t vote based on logic or reason. There’s a huge amount of political science to this point, most of it in fairly heavy tomes. But try this article: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/08/30/040830crat_atlarge.

    What mandatory voting does is take away the ability of political parties to pick their voters–they have to campaign to everyone.

  • RavenOnTheHill

    Many people already don’t vote based on reason; there is much political science to this point, mostly in weighty tomes, but try this New Yorker article: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/08/30/040830crat_atlarge.

    What mandatory balloting does is keep the parties from picking the voters they like; they have to address everyone.

  • AliciaB

    I think the issue that makes people uncomfortable is that voting is closely associated with your personal opinion, and it makes some of us a little squirmy to essentially compel someone to take a side. (I realize that this is *not* what mandatory voting is like at all, but I was talking more about perception). 

    If a party then decides to let all members elect the candidates – that’s their rule. If they decide that the ten party leaders will meet in a closed room and select the candidate with the highest chance of winning – that’s their method, too.

    That’s technically how it works in the US. There is no law that requires them to have primaries; they choose to do it for a variety of historical reasons but if they wanted to they technically could decide to choose the candidates via coin toss or fencing matches. In fact, not even every district uses a primary system — some use caucuses, and even the ones that use the same type of system (primary or caucus) apportion the results in a wildly different way. It’s part of the reason why the last GOP primary was so strange and why there was so much debate as to how many ‘delegates’ each candidate earned. 

  • Münchner Kindl

    Citizenship has many responsibilities; voting seems to me both a less onerous and more important one than paying taxes. Why, of all responsibilities of citizenship, does this one is it important that it not be mandatory?

    1. There are a lot of duties to citizenship that are required for a democracy to properly work that are nevertheless not enforced with punishments because checking up on them would be difficult or impossible, and it’s expected that citizens know how important participation is for the democracy to work at all.
    2. Going to vote in an election is the least and smallest part of a responsible educated citizen in a democracy. We don’t (for good reason – it was abused) check if the people who come up to vote actually know anything about the candidates or parties they are voting for, although that’s an unspoken requirement not to elect a foot powder, a guy in a coma or a certified insane candidate http://www.cracked.com/article_19046_the-8-most-successful-politicians-who-werent-human.html .
    3. There are a lot of other secondary requirements to make voting useful, that is, worthwhile to have an impact, that are also not mandatory: a free press that does its duty as watchdog, instead of mouthpieces who neglect fact-checking; easy access to non-scam IDs; easy rules about place of residence regarding voting rights; voting rights for disenfranchised like criminals…

  • aunursa

    What message are they trying to send that could not be sent by going to the polling place and saying “I am not voting”?

    Why I don’t vote: My vote won’t make a difference

    Why I don’t vote: I don’t wish to choose a master; I want to be my own master

    Why I don’t vote: Choosing the “lesser of two evils” is morally dubious

    Why I don’t vote: If you vote, you’re responsible for the problem (George Carlin)

  • Ross Thompson

    Why I don’t vote: My vote won’t make a difference

    Why I don’t vote: I don’t wish to choose a master; I want to be my own master

    Why I don’t vote: Choosing the “lesser of two evils” is morally dubious

    Why I don’t vote: If you vote, you’re responsible for the problem (George Carlin)

    And why would someone wanting to send those messages not want to tick a box saying “I am choosing not to vote”? There could even be a write-in section where they could provide their reasons for not voting? Why is going to the polling booth to not vote worse for any of these people than staying home to not vote?

  • aunursa

    Perhaps the non-voter considers participating in the voting process — even by selecting “None of the above” or “I choose not to vote” — a tacit acceptance of the validity of the voting process, acceptance that he does not wish to offer.  It would be like a defendent who refuses to rise when required by a judge because the prisoner does not recognize the authority of the court.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If he does not wish to recognize the validity of the voting process then he is perfectly free to change his citizenship to somewhere that hasn’t got a voting process.

  • Carstonio

    Defending the conscience of a type of citizen who may not even exist? That’s too much like the self-appointed spokespersons who claim to defend the consciences of Catholic employers over the contraception mandate, critics who aren’t even employers, when many of the Catholic employers themselves already offer the coverage.

  • aunursa

    Defending the conscience of a type of citizen who may not even exist?

    May not exist?  It took me two minutes to Google “why i don’t vote” and post the top four linked responses in my post at 3:22 PM yesterday.  That you question the existence of citizens who choose not to vote for reasons other than inconvenience does not invalidate their existence.

  • Carstonio

     I mean citizens who have a moral objection to voting. In All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward claimed that deciding not to vote in the 1972 election enabled him to be more objective in reporting, and Carl Bernstein rightly argued that this was silly. Woodward’s stance confused opinion with bias, not recognizing that a reporter’s job means preventing the former from turning into the latter as much as possible.

    My point still stands – you don’t want citizens to be ignorant of the issues or to deliberately shirk their responsibility to vote yet you defend the irresponsibility of their choice. Almost like you’re describing the stance of a consumer and not a citizen.

  • aunursa

    No, I do not defend the irresponsibility of their choice.  I defend their right to make that choice.

  • Carstonio

    You might possibly have a point if we were talking about a legal right. I’m talking about what I call a moral right since I don’t know what else it would be called. The idea that voting might go against someone’s conscience is ridiculous – it’s not like the ballot is asking voters whether Person A or Person B should be killed. It’s the same ridiculousness with the arguments against contraception coverage. Both arguments define the conscience so broadly that it would be almost impossible to live in a society without going against the conscience.

  • aunursa

    You might possibly have a point if we were talking about a legal right.

    But we are talking about a legal right.  Currently American citizens have the right not to vote.  Every other comment I’m responding to on this thread is from someone who argues that citizens should not have that right — that they should be required to vote or else penalized by the government.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Currently American citizens have the right not to vote. Every other comment I’m responding to on this thread is from someone who argues that citizens should not have that right — that they should be required to vote or else penalized by the government.

    Did you miss the bit where we said over and over again that the requirement should be to hand in a ballot? No one cares if there’s anything on the ballot, and a blank ballot is not a vote.

  • aunursa

    Did you miss the bit where I provided links to people who wrote thoughtful essays explaining why they have a moral objection to participating in the voting system at all?  Presumably that includes handing in a ballot.

    And if a blank ballot is not a vote, then why should they be required to hand in a blank ballot?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Did you miss the bit where I provided links to people who wrote thoughtful essays explaining why they have a moral objection to participating in the voting system at all? Presumably that includes handing in a ballot.

    And I repeat, those people are not required to be US citizens. If they object to handing in a ballot, which we don’t know, because you haven’t found out, you have simply presumed.

  • aunursa

    So you’re gonna revoke their citizenship?  Oh that’s right, you’re the leader of the the “love it or leave it” contingent.

  • EllieMurasaki

    There is a difference between ‘it is a citizen’s duty to do this and everyone who does not want to do it should move somewhere that they don’t have to do it’ and ‘it is a citizen’s duty to do this and everyone who does not do it should be kicked out of the country’. For illustration, no one is proposing revoking the citizenship of anyone who puts millions of dollars in an overseas bank account rather than do their citizenly duty of paying taxes on that money.

  • Ross Thompson

    And if a blank ballot is not a vote, then why should they be required to hand in a blank ballot?

    Because it makes not voting an active rather than passive act. It stops it being the default without forcing people vote if they don’t want to.

  • aunursa

    I don’t understand why it’s necessary to force people to take an active step in order not to vote.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Did you miss the bit where I provided links to people who wrote thoughtful essays explaining why they have a moral objection to participating in the voting system at all? Presumably that includes handing in a ballot.

    I saw that. And my response was that they need to get over themselves.

    It might be useful to note here that I’m not a liberal like you guys (including you on selected issues, aunursa). I’m further along the communitarian line than most people, so I don’t have a fundamental problem with people being required to do stuff they don’t necessarily wanna do muu-uum!

  • EllieMurasaki

    Something I don’t understand. Who is being hurt by having to hand in a ballot? We’re not talking about the people who lose pay if they take the time to stop by their polling place, nor the people who discover too late for absentee-balloting that they don’t have transportation to their polling place or that the polling place is not set up to handle someone with their particular disability, nor even the people who are being intimidated out of voting by True the Vote’s insistence on putting a white watcher in every majority-minority polling place. We’re talking about the people who have no barriers between them and voting but who object to doing so. Who is being hurt by making those people go hand in ballots?

    If the answer is ‘no one’, which I strongly suspect it is, then where is the moral case against mandatory voting?

    And the people who don’t want to participate in the system at all, okay, fine, don’t, but if they want their objection to hold water they have to not participate in the system. If they want the benefits of citizenship and they’re able to pay its costs, they have to pay its costs, and really handing in a ballot is a very minor cost.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Since when is “It’s not that bad a burden, and you haven’t justified your objection to me” a sound basis for public policy?

  • EllieMurasaki

    It is demonstrably harmful to every disadvantaged group I can think of offhand to have the set of people who vote contain a higher percentage of people who support policies that hurt disadvantaged people than the set of adult citizens contains. Compared to that, the harm done by having to hand in a ballot is…what, exactly?

  • Anon_Ymous

    My father (who self-identifies as Conservative, but since this is Australia that means he’s about as far right as your Democrats, or almost) answered my question about why we have a mandate to hand in a ballot – why shouldn’t people be allowed to stay home rather than hand in a blank paper if they just don’t care?

    Dad told me it was because of the history of racism in this country – that if people could decide not to turn up to vote, then neighbourhoods where people had a slightly darker shade of skin were likely to be visited by those who would “encourage” them to not bother (often these encouragements would get quite heated). Since no one could look at the ballot submitted, they were still allowed not to participate if they really felt like not participating (my brother tells me he writes Daffy Duck every election), but no one would know if they had or not, and it stopped bad things happening.

    Dad also told me about his time in Indonesia (some 40 years ago, now) where elections were held by taking voting booths to the farms, asking those voting for the incumbent (Suharto) to come forward first to vote… and then mysteriously not having time to take everyone else’s vote. Dad sais that requiring *everyone* to vote prevented this kind of corruption, too.

    Personally, I’m a far left hippie, so I think that your system does NOT work, and the reason it doesn’t is because it disenfranchises so many of the poor, who can’t afford to take time off work to vote, and then basically goes “Oh well” when the numbers are low. You say that :

    “A requirement that all citizens vote is immoral because 100% participation is not necessary for the selection of federal office holders and some citizens have moral objections to voting.”

    but I disagree. I think it IS necessary to have 100% participation to achieve a non-corrupt election – and yes, by extension I believe that means that America’s current election system is inherrantly corrupt.

    You have rules that prevent the poor and the dark skinned from voting. You have poverty and wealth inequality which keeps it this way. You have a health care system that only protects the richest of the rich. Your system is horrific, it patently does NOT work, so your arguments are void from faulty premises.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You have rules that prevent the poor and the dark skinned from voting. You have poverty and wealth inequality which keeps it this way. You have a health care system that only protects the richest of the rich. Your system is horrific, it patently does NOT work, so your arguments are void from faulty premises.

    QFT

  • Carstonio

    the reason it doesn’t is because it disenfranchises so many of the
    poor, who can’t afford to take time off work to vote, and then basically
    goes “Oh well” when the numbers are low.

    Pretty much the same response to health care coverage, as you probably agree. Government has a compelling interest in increasing voter participation, just has it has a compelling interest in increasing health coverage. Disgusting when people insist that they favor those goals but oppose any government attempt to achieve them. Apparently they skipped over “establish justice” and “promote the general welfare” in the Preamble. Almost like they see no distinction between “acts of nature” and systemic, preventable injustices.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     It seems very strange to see an argument when aunursa is arguing with someone, and it’;s the other person who is hell-bent on forcing people to do something against their will and dismissing out-of-hand any objection anyone might have to being forced to do  it as illegitimate.

    Personally, no, I do not think it solves anything to compell people to vote in and of itself. It would just increase the percentage of low-information voters. It might give us the government we “deserve” by permanently electing people who appeal to anger and hatred, but I’m not particularly looking forward to it.

    In our current state, mandatory voting would only make our epistemic partisan problems *worse*, not better,, and I also think you have scant basis for taking for granted that mandatory voting would somehow inherently reduce the vote suppression and systematic disenfranchisement we see now, rather than “Republicans make it impossible for minorities to vote, and then add insult to injury by fining them for it.”

    It’s something we _could_ choose to do _after_ we’d fixed the preexisting systemic problems with our system, but as it stands, it’d make things far worse before it made anything better.

    (If it weren’t for our country’s shameful history with such things, I’d be faster to propose basic tests of competency before someone was allowed to vote, enough to demonstrate that you are voting based on the same consensus reality as the rest of us. Because frankly, no, if you think Obama is a kenyan-born muslim, your vote shouldn’t be counted.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    It’d be stupid to institute mandatory voting without first ensuring no voter suppression and a none-of-the-above option for every election. I’ve said that several times. And I’m really not seeing how being required to hand in a ballot is different from being required to show up for jury selection or, if one might owe the US taxes, to send the IRS a 1040.

  • Carstonio

    Actually, none of my posts have endorsed the idea of forcing citizens to vote. I don’t know if that’s the right tactic, particularly if incentives have not been tried. My point all along is that Aunursa’s arguments against such forcing go against the principle of voting as a civic responsibility. Highly questionable when someone whose conscience is allegedly not bothered by something acts like a paladin for the consciences of others.

  • aunursa

    I would appreciate it if you would remind me of the last debate in which I was arguing in favor of forcing people to do something against their will.  Because alas, I cannot recall it. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    I would appreciate it if you would remind me of the last debate in which I was arguing in favor of forcing people to do something against their will. Because alas, I cannot recall it.

    Do you assume that all infant boys want to have a bit taken off their penis, then, even though they have no way of telling you yes or no?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I dunno Ross; our cultures aren’t that different yet we with our mandatory voting  seem to have a somewhat less divided electorate than you lot.

    And as I mentioned before, with mandatory voting the government has a duty to make sure everyone can vote. Putting up barriers then fining people stuck in them lands the government in court.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Is there supposed to be a difference between “I do not want to vote for any of the people running in this election” and “I do not want to vote in this election”? Because I’m not seeing it. Anyway, people who want to opt out entirely can always move to some other country–or is that only allowed for people who want to go to Canada to escape too-socialist Obamacare?

  • aunursa

    Is there supposed to be a difference between “I do not want to vote for any of the people running in this election” and “I do not want to vote in this election”?

    In some cases, the reason is neither of those.  They refuse to vote in any election.  The reason may be “I do not want to participate in the electoral process” or “I do not wish to validate the government by my participation” or “I don’t care which candidate wins”.  Or the reason may be something else.

  • EllieMurasaki

    They refuse to vote in any election. The reason may be “I do not want to participate in the electoral process” or “I do not wish to validate the government by my participation” or “I don’t care which candidate wins”.
    If you don’t care, then vote ‘none’ on everything. If you don’t think the government is valid–not currently run by the wrong people but actually not legitimate–there’s other governments. Go pick one.

  • aunursa

    “America — Love it or leave it,” eh?

  • EllieMurasaki

    “America — Love it or leave it,” eh?

    I prefer ‘my country, right or wrong: if right, to be kept right, and if wrong, to be set right’, with leaving as a last-resort third option. But someone who wants to keep or set right their country is obligated, at an absolute bare minimum, to cast a ballot every few years. If you don’t want to do that, then yeah, ‘love it or leave it’ seem to be the only available choices.

  • Lori

     

    For some people, their choice not to vote is a political statement,
    one that cannot be expressed by a “none of the above” option.  For
    others, they don’t think that their vote matters, or they don’t see any
    difference among any candidates.   

    The needs of this (tiny) group of principled non-voters could be addressed by having a box for “I decline to vote”.  The people who think their vote doesn’t matter or who believe theirs no difference among the candidates should have no problem with that either. If someone claims that merely going to the polling station and walking into the booth violates their principles then I’m inclined to think principles aren’t actually the issue.

  • JenL

    The needs of this (tiny) group of principled non-voters could be addressed by having a box for “I decline to vote”. 

    But going to the polling place, showing ID, and going into the ballot box and pushing buttons (or filling out circles, or however your precinct does it) is taking part in the process.  Same with obtaining, completing, signing, and mailing in an absentee ballot. 

    I believe the point was that some people want their absolute non-participation to be a statement.

    And isn’t there a religious group or two that abstains from voting?

  • PJ Evans

    I believe the point was that some people want their absolute non-participation to be a statement.

    They don’t have to register to vote. Registration is participating in the process.

  • Nick

     I’m Australian. For what it’s worth, if you don’t want to vote you don’t actually have to — all you need to do is go to a polling place and get your name crossed off. Then you can collect your ballots and, if you don’t want to vote for anyone, submit them blank.

    Frankly, I’d rather have a guarantee that everyone who might want to vote has the opportunity (and maybe inconvenience some politically-apathetic people for fifteen minutes of their Saturday) than have a system where people who DO want to vote aren’t able to.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Exactly what Nick said. When voting is compulsory the government is required to do everything it possibly can to help people vote–including conducting pre-polling at hospitals, going out to aged care homes, prisons and emergency accommodation shelters, and sending teams out to very remote communities. None of this “oh, you live in a poor black district where we just happened to understaff the polling place and you can’t take 2 hours off work/away from your kids on a Tuesday to stand in line? Such a shame”. If you weren’t able to vote because of obstacles that the government didn’t try to get out of your way, the government is in trouble.

    Seriously, a system that prioritises the whims of the apathetic over the rights of the marginalised to participate in democracy is a shitty system. Why is why I have no time at all for the plight of aunursa’s “I don’t wanna vote waa” people. They need to grow up.

    Also, if you turn up to the polling place and lodge blank ballots you still get to enjoy the sausage sizzle.

  • EllieMurasaki

    maybe inconvenience some politically-apathetic people for fifteen minutes of their Saturday

    To be fair, the line at my polling place for the Nov 2008 election was pretty long. Not sure how long but much longer than fifteen minutes. And while I’d rather vote on Saturday than Tuesday, we USians are dolts. It’d still be no worse than a minor inconvenience to politically apathetic types (assuming of course that all other barriers to voting are removed), but not quite as minor as you seem to think.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I’m Australian. For what it’s worth, if you don’t want to vote you don’t
    actually have to — all you need to do is go to a polling place and get
    your name crossed off. Then you can collect your ballots and, if you
    don’t want to vote for anyone, submit them blank.

    Or, for that matter, you can write “Go fuck yourselves, pollie scum!!!” all over the voting form. There’s really a wide range of options.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    This is true. As an official election volunteer I can vouch that some people do write messages on their ballots–but not many, and I haven’t come across that particular one :)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    This is true. As an official election volunteer I can vouch that some people do write messages on their ballots–but not many, and I haven’t come across that particular one :)

  • SamLL

    Primaries mostly aren’t official government elections. A political party is in concept an independent group of citizens that can decide how to pick its proposed candidate however it wants. If you want to start the Slacktivist party that puts up a candidate for Senate by selecting randomly amongst members of your party, or by a vote where you get 1000 votes and everyone else in your party gets 1, there’s nothing to stop you. States have mechanisms to allow parties to use their voting system if the parties qualify numerically to do so, but this is a matter of custom rather than system architecture.

    There’s another big problem – if your primary didn’t get its turnout threshold, why do you think the follow-up will hit that threshold? And what do you do when it doesn’t?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OE4QOJFFQCKYJJSOBU2WSHEEYA Tallahassee Resident

    I don’t see how it would be practical.

    The only way to guarantee quorum would be mandatory voting, which is probably unconstitutional. 

    You’d have to have a plan to account for repeated failures to reach quorum, and I don’t have a good idea there.  If a primary defaults to a party caucus after two or three failures to reach quorum, then the fringe candidates have a strong motivation to suppress the vote.  That’s scary.

  • AnonaMiss

    In my opinion, requiring a quorum of the party’s registered voters would merely incent the party to restrict registration – leaving the primary election still grossly unrepresentative.

    Of course, the entire two-party system is ridiculously un-representative, as is the winner-take-all system which makes it so difficult to get a third horse in the race. Ideally  each state (or so) would have its representation in the House at least distributed between the parties at a rate analogous to their distribution in that state, a la Great Britain. Furthermore, ranking-style voting instead of one-of-many voting would reduce extremism and allow each state to be represented not so much by the popular as by the not-unpopular.

    And while I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony.

  • RavenOnTheHill

    What you say makes all kinds of sense. If it were up to me, it would be a misdemeanor not to vote, and states would be fined for each citizen resident who wasn’t registered.

  • Münchner Kindl

    I would suggest doing away with primary elections alltogether. If you have the party of the White Elephant, then only official members of the party should choose the candidates. Members are those who join the party and pay dues, not those who register. (Along with that, change the whole “Registering to vote” process to make it both more scamproof and easier for poor people).

    If a party then decides to let all members elect the candidates – that’s their rule. If they decide that the ten party leaders will meet in a closed room and select the candidate with the highest chance of winning – that’s their method, too.

    But you would avoid having people who are an embarrassment to the official party line being elected by a handful of voters who registered Republican several years ago, though they really want to vote Democrat, but use this method to damage the other party. (It’s possible under the current rules, right?) Or the problems of electing nutballs as candidates.

  • Ursula L

    So help me out here: What’s wrong with this idea? What are the best reasons there should not be such a quorum or threshold for participation in elections? 

    The key thing would, I think, be figuring out the right way to respond if repeated elections don’t get a quorum.

    The Australians have addressed this by making voting mandatory, and going to great lengths to facilitate voting.

    But given the current trend towards deliberate disenfranchisement, particularly by the Republicans, I could see such a plan backfiring right now.  Making voting mandatory.  Place obstacles to keep people whom they don’t want voting from voting.  And then fine those people for failing to vote.  

    And for primary elections, would we mandate that people register as party members?  Could the process be manipulated by manipulating the roles of party members – the leadership perhaps reviewing and purging members whom they don’t want participating?  Do we make parties even more officially part of our system, with government control over the lists of party members?

    None of these problems are insurmountable.  And I’m sure I haven’t come up with all the ways that such a plan might be subverted.  

    But I do think that such a plan, if implemented now while we have one party working actively to limit voting, has a greater chance of going wrong than it would if it was being set up in a time when there was general agreement that expanding the number of people voting was a good idea. 

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    The problem here is that the parties control the primaries and the only one who can wield enough power to actually get a quorum to show up is the states.

    It would be relatively simple: If your primary/caucus/whatever doesn’t reach quorum then your candidate doesn’t get on the ballot.  Hold as many runoffs and second chances as you want (at your expense), provided the nomination paperwork is filled out on time, but if you can’t get a quorum of voters registered in your own party to show up to the nominating process, you don’t get on.

    If the Democrats can’t get a quorum of democrats to show up, there is no Democratic candidate on the ballot.  If Republicans can’t get a quorum of registered republicans to show up, there is no Republican candidate on the ballot.  Thus the parties have a strong incentive to motivate primary voters because otherwise they might end up with the main event being a race between the Green Party and the Libertarian Party.  Neither major party wants that.

  • Scott P.

    “I would suggest doing away with primary elections alltogether. If you
    have the party of the White Elephant, then only official members of the
    party should choose the candidates. Members are those who join the party
    and pay dues, not those who register.”

    In the U.S, party dues are $0.  It’s different here than in Europe.

  • christopher_young


    In the U.S, party dues are $0.  It’s different here than in Europe.

    Indeed so. Perhaps that’s something that you should consider changing, since parties which are membership organisations in the full sense tend to get a higher rate of participation at the level of things like candidate selection.

  • Ursula L

    Indeed so. Perhaps that’s something that you should consider changing, since parties which are membership organisations in the full sense tend to get a higher rate of participation at the level of things like candidate selection. 

    Given the established history in the US of poll taxes as a tool to disenfranchise voters who couldn’t afford to pay, this strikes me as a recipe for disaster.   And its a tactic that is still in use, indirectly, such as with recent voter ID laws that require forms of ID that cost money (e.g., a driver’s licence or state-issued non-driver ID, a birth certificate where if you need a replacement, it will cost, etc.) a fee to participate is a really bad idea. 

  • Michael Cule

    No, no. A party membership fee is not a poll tax. It’s a membership fee. If I want to get a vote in selecting the candidate for any of my local parties I have to pay for at least a basic membership and my influence would grow still further if I volunteered and hung out with the local party notables.

    They are private organisations and not part of the Constitution though what they do is protected by the Constitution.

    In the US the major political parties have integrated themselves into the political process so much that people think that the party functions are part of the state functions but they’re really, really not. The two big parties have used this confusion to their mutual benefit and to cripple the lesser parties. They have laws written that make it easier for the two of them to get on the ballot and not for, say, the Greens to do so with equal ease.

    If you are required to pay to get on the register then that is a poll-tex. (The Supreme Court disagrees with me but what do they know?) If you have to have paid any sort of fee to get your vote in the ballot box then that is a poll tax.

    But nobody has an automatic right to vote for the Republican or Democratic candidate lists before the election if for no other reason than there is no Constitutional right that any particular party will exist.

    Hmm, according to a quick search British political parties have record low memberships at the moment with less than 1% of the populace joining. At least you don’t have to be a multi-millionaire to be part of this one-percent though…

  • Ursula L

    No, no. A party membership fee is not a poll tax. It’s a membership fee.  

    It doesn’t matter what label you slap on the fee.  It is still pay-to-play.

    And I don’t see any real advantage to requiring that the candidates be chosen only by those rich enough to afford to pay.  Even if everyone can vote, it doesn’t do much good if the choices are chosen by the wealthy and powerful.  

    The point is to increase participation, so that the people running the government are genuinely representative of the people they have the obligation to represent.  

    If the candidates are chosen by the rich and powerful then they will represent the rich and powerful, even if the final choice between candidates is open to the general public.  Candidates won’t make it to the ballot if they don’t appeal to those rich enough to participate in party primaries.  

  • christopher_young


    Candidates won’t make it to the ballot if they don’t appeal to those rich enough to participate in party primaries.

    And under the present arrangements the US Senate is full of working class people who have walked the walk with the unemployed?

  • Ursula L

    And under the present arrangements the US Senate is full of working class people who have walked the walk with the unemployed? 

    Sadly, not nearly enough.

    Part of the problem, of course, is that while serving in public office is paid (as it should be, it’s work, and workers deserve to be paid), running for office is not paid.  Which means that anyone who is genuinely working class can’t afford to devote their time and energy to running for office, as their time and energy is already claimed by the work of supporting themselves.  

    But the answer to that problem is not to limit participation in the electoral process even more by placing more financial costs on participation.  

    The people who have their participation limited by their finances, because they cannot devote time and energy to running for office or volunteering for campaign work because they’re already working full-time just to survive are the ones who are most in need of having ways to participate (such as voting in primary and general elections) that require little investment of time, money and energy that they just don’t have.  

    We should be subsidizing the political participation of those who don’t have the time/money/energy to devote to volunteer participation.  Not figuring out how to charge them for the little bit that they can manage to participate.  

  • Michael Cule

    Look, I loathe the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain. I have lived a large part of my life under their rule and I can rant about their many failings for hours on end. I consider their philosophy to be a mixture of selfishness and cowardice and their practive once in power to be worse than their philosophy.

    I am not a Conservative and not even much of a ‘small c conservative’.

    By what conceivable right should I have any say in what candidates they put forward for election? The only honest thing I could do once there would be to vote for the candidate that best reflects the party’s hideous ethos but the thing I would be very tempted to do would be to try to saddle them with an unelectable idiot which would be amusing but wrong.

    I have no right to tell them how they should invest their money and time during election campaigns (as long as they stay within the law and common decency) and they have no right to tell me how to vote.

    A membership of a political party is not a great expense. If you want to help your chosen cause but don’t feel you can afford the fee, volunteer some of your time.

    The way the US seems to run it the organs of the State which should be neutral in organising the choices of these private organisations are busy running them and that is an expense that the government should not be required to make.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Oh yes, let’s only have people who can afford to pay membership dues be allowed to vote. What a brilliant idea. 

    That would make me unable to vote, by the way.

  • Münchner Kindl

    Oh yes, let’s only have people who can afford to pay membership dues be allowed to vote. What a brilliant idea. That would make me unable to vote, by the way.

    1. We’re talking about the primaries – on how the parties choose the candidates, right? You can still vote all you want in the real election between candidate from party A and from party B. 2. Money already influences the election far too much, if you look at the donations the candidates have to collect for their election battle.3. If the party you are interested in is in line with your principles of helping poor people, they have (like any other club) the option of structuring the membership fee as they like. If the Democratic party wants to attract the poor people, they could offer a symbolic fee of 1 $/ year for everybody who makes less than 30 000 $ / year income, a fee of 10$ for 30 000 to 50 000 etc.  Or they could say membership fee is 0$, but in order to vote in the primary, you must show up for at least 10 party meetings during the year, so you know the issues and positions of the party and know the candidates.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Or they could say membership fee is 0$, but in order to vote in the
    primary, you must show up for at least 10 party meetings during the
    year, so you know the issues and positions of the party and know the
    candidates.

    Judging by a random sampling of upcoming Democratic meetings in the state, all such meetings are weekday evenings. Guess when I work? And I don’t think the Greens hold ten meetings a year.

  • PJ Evans

    Yes, in most states you’re a member of a party if you’re registered to vote in it – and if you give them money, they’ll keep you on their mailing list forever.
    The disadvantage of not stating a party affiliation when you register is that in some states you don’t get to vote on any partisan office in the primary.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The disadvantage of not registering with a major party is that in some states you don’t get to vote on any partisan office in the primary.
    Fixed. (I’m registered Green. What is this ‘primary’ you speak of?)

  • PJ Evans

    (I’m registered Green. What is this ‘primary’ you speak of?)

    Different states, different rules. Actually, we get propositions on our ballots, so not voting isn’t really a good option. I’ll admit to not voting for every office, though: for a lot of the school board and judicial offices, there’s no real information and you either pick blindly or don’t do it at all (although I always keep in mind my mother’s advice: never vote for someone who claims their job is ‘educator’).

  • Münchner Kindl

    In the U.S, party dues are $0. It’s different here than in Europe. /

    1. Does this mean it couldn’t be changed?

    2. Do you mean there is no way to differentiate between a member who activly takes part in a party and somebody who registered 8 years ago or more as “Republican/ Democrat” without checking in between?

  • A Viescas

    The difference between a council/board and a general population is that council members are practically guaranteed to have a stake in the issue, while there’s no such assurance for the general population. Requiring “x” people to turn out– especially if there became a way to target ambivalents — will either make the ambivalents go down the line 50-50/abstain (which won’t counteract a surge from the convinced supporters), or worse, make them susceptible to psychological biases such as the one where you choose the first person on the ticket.

    I think the answer is probably more along the lines of “facilitate voting for people who already care” and “encourage participation in local governments at every level.” 

    Old and boring answers I know, but there we go.

  • http://lihan161051.livejournal.com/ Bruce

    Seeing many good ideas here.  I personally think “none of the above” should be an option in every election to put a candidate in office, and we need that very badly.

    But a quorum in primaries makes perfect sense, and I’d take it a step further — if one party fails to nominate a candidate, and the other party makes a quorum and nominates a candidate successfully, only the one that made the quorum makes it to the general ballot.  This could spell trouble for parties that appeal to a narrow demographic and do their best to suppress the votes of everyone else so their demographic dominates the results, but to me, that’s also a good thing.

  • Fusina

    I really want to have the none of the above option. And if Mr. Above wins, you re-run the election, but none of the balloted candidates can run again. If a majority of people had any confidence in any of them… Probably not workable though. 

  • PJ Evans

    I really want to have the none of the above option.

    There are elections that do it this way – admittedly, small and specialized, but it’s in the rules.
    Sometimes ‘none of the above’ actually wins.

  • Figs

    Well, as some others have said, primaries are a party thing. I’ve always had a little bit of trouble with the idea of parties necessarily farming out their candidate decision process to an essentially random sample of the population who happens to have registered with your party (and in the case of primaries, a particularly hardcore and probably unrepresentative sample). So, bearing in mind that the process is fundamentally a party one, why not some kind of hybrid system that lets the party officials have a say in choosing the candidate that’s inversely proportional to some level of voter turnout in the primaries?

    Example: Let’s say we set a threshold of 50% participation. That’s the level of participation of registered Republicans (for this example, could just as easy be Democrats) we want in the primaries. If we get 50% participation, then the results of the primary election completely determine the winner. If turnout falls below that threshold, though, then some committee chosen by the party can vote to make up the difference between the turnout and 50%.

    So if there’s 20% participation in the primary election, then the results of the party committee will count for the other 30% to get us up to 50, so the party will have a 3-2 say in determining the candidate. If there’s 45% participation, then the results of the party committee will have only a 1-9 say in determining the candidate.

    Seems to me that’d help the party maintain a say in who its candidates are, but in such a way that if more people come out to vote, the party itself has less of a say. It’s just crazy enough to work!

  • MikeJ

    The Senate can’t vote unless at least 51 senators are present. 

    Actually this isn’t true. In the US Senate, the presence of a quorum is presumed until it is suggested there is not a quorum.  The Schiavo bill passed with only three senators present.  The Dem present knew that the Republicans had the votes to pass it and so it wasn’t worth bringing people in from their home districts for the vote.  The Dems also weren’t going to interrupt while the Republicans were busy shooting themselves in the foot.

    As for what private clubs do when they pick candidates, I don’t really care.  I’m much more a fan of caucuses. Come in, talk to your neighbours, try to convince them your candidate is the best.  You get the candidate that best reflects what people who are actually involved in the party believe. If people don’t like that, they should get involved.

  • AnonymousSam

    In my dream world, you’d be paid to vote. I think that would increase turnout quite substantially.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    That would be a good idea, but I don’t think it’s economically feasible.

    I think there needs to be a voting week, not a voting day; it needs to be substantially easier to vote from home; schools and the media need to be much more vigilant about teaching people how and where to vote, and what their rights are; and voting needs to be mandatory, even if it’s a vote of “none”. The system we have right now is based on a small population of white male property owners being the only voters. It doesn’t work with contemporary social and economic realities.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I think if we had to go a whole week without knowing the results, we might have a revolution sometime around wednesday.

    (And, ofc, you have to have a total media blackout on any early results, so they’d be leading the charge.

    Why a total media blackout? Because good luck getting anyone to vote on friday when the results are in on wednesday. And really, are you going to try ot fine people for not voting in an election that’s already over for all practical purposes?)

  • PJ Evans

    I think if we had to go a whole week without knowing the results

    We have this now, in areas with early voting. The week doesn’t start with the official election day, it ends with it. And everyone knows there won’t be any results before that day.

  • aunursa

    I like your idea about expanding the voting period.  I think that having it over a weekend and improving vote-from-home options would be sufficient.  Most citizens would be able to vote on either a Saturday or Sunday with much less inconvenience compared to the Tuesday workday to which we are currently limited.

  • Münchner Kindl

    This is basically the positive idea of “fining people for not voting”: gets the same result (people have an incentive to vote), but

    1. Rewards instead of punishes are much better psychological
    2. No disenfranchisment of poor people; no allusion to past times when blacks or other minorities were excluded.

    A practical way would have to be found for people who vote by mail because the voting place is too far away / they are too frail / they don’t have time off work (even if voting days were declared a holiday, emergency services and restaurants are still busy).

  • Margaret_Cosgriff

    A big problem with requiring a membership fee to vote in a party primary
    is that in some areas one party can be so overwhelmingly dominant that the
    primary basically is the election.  Thus a fee would be required to participate in the only meaningful part of the election.

  • Münchner Kindl

    A big problem with requiring a membership fee to vote in a party primary
    is that in some areas one party can be so overwhelmingly dominant that the
    primary basically is the election. Thus a fee would be required to participate in the only meaningful part of the election

    So you do not currently have the option in your system to put candidates on the ballot not associatedwith a particular party, just by collecting x% of signatures?If yes, this system outside the established parties can continue, of course.If not, then the current system of one party being dominant is a problem, anyway.

  • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    I’m still hoping that both major parties will be dissolved due to RICO investigations…

  • PJ Evans

    I’m still hoping that both major parties will be dissolved due to RICO investigations…

    I’ve heard they have an exemption, written into the law.

  • Morilore

    I agree with aunursa (he says, and then bursts into flames).  If we’re that worried about political apathy ruining our elections, then it makes more sense to put pressure on our parties (like Fred suggests) and our educational system, because mandating people show up to the polls in that situation is putting a Band-Aid on a tumor.

    Almost always in this country our laws and reforms are directed at powerless shmucks.  We seem to much prefer this kind of solution, instead of trying to reform powerful institutions.

  • JenL

    I agree with aunursa (he says, and then bursts into flames).  If we’re that worried about political apathy ruining our elections, then it makes more sense to put pressure on our parties (like Fred suggests) and our educational system, because mandating people show up to the polls in that situation is putting a Band-Aid on a tumor.

    Frankly, I’d like to see less power in the hands of the parties, not more.  If it were easier to get alternative parties onto the ballots in more states…  Well, a candidate from one of the Big Two would still win, but they might have to think about reaching out to people who aren’t in their own base.

  • http://twitter.com/bmetzler Brent Metzler

    What about simple Ranked Choice Voting?   No primary, you get to vote from the pool of all filed candidates, and the winner is whoever gets 50%+1 of the participating voters top ranked choices.

  • Robyrt

    The problem with requiring a quorum is that participation usually goes down in subsequent or runoff elections, so it just postpones the problem rather than fixing it.

    There’s also a logistical problem with open-primary states, where the possible attendance for each primary is unknown. (Voters can pick which primary they vote in, often up to the moment they enter the voting booth.) If the Democratic primary is way more interesting/relevant than the Republican one and 90% of people end up going to it, should the Republican primary be redone? Should the entire thing be redone until enough people get excited about the Republicans? Should the entire result be taken as legitimate, because overall participation was high, even though only 2000 people voted in the Republican primary?

  • Stone_Monkey

    How about not making it mandatory to register to vote but making it mandatory to vote once you do register? That way people who do not want to vote get to not vote and those who say they want to have to. 

    You could also make it so that people who want to vote have to register in advance for each election. So that way you personally can choose which elections you vote in.

    Which does seem like a whole lot of work. Maybe there should be an advance opt out rather than an opt in.

  • JenL

    Actually, tossing in another issue with required voting – the manpower to go through, determine who didn’t show up to vote, send out a “give us a reason not to fine you” letters, follow up, collect the fines, etc.  Given the state & county (lack of) funding around here…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think it would be fairer to institute some kind of minimum quorum requirement for any political party to declare a valid candidate as a condition of running them in elections. Anyone could continue to run as an independent unaffiliated candidate without charge, however.

  • Wednesday

    A Primary Quorum wouldn’t work in my state, simply because you don’t register as a voter of a party – you show up and get a ballot, and only vote in one of the partisan sections. If we hadn’t had stealth Batshit Republicans running as dems against the incumbent democrat senator, I might have voted within another party during the primaries.

    You’re just only allowed to vote on one portion of the primary ballot. Also, not all offices appearing on primary ballots are partisan.

    Personally, I would like us to move to instant runoff and mandatory voting. The former allows smaller parties a chance and reduces the need for strategic voting. The latter reduces the chances of batshit extremists winning.

  • Lee Hauser

    Not sure if this has been brought up yet, but some of us (like me) live in states (like Washingon) where there is no primary by party. That is, there are primary elections, but one doesn’t have to make any party declaration to vote in them, and we are free to vote for whatever candidate we want. We tried the party declaration thing for a few years and everyone (except maybe the party organizations themselves) hated it and tossed it in the garbage.

    I like it this way. I don’t want to be a member of any party, I want to be free to vote for whatever candidate I want, and I don’t want to pay anyone anything to exercise my right to vote. OTOH, I think mandatory voting is a great idea, the choice to declare “none of the above” is a great idea, and the Republicans (at least) will fight it tooth and nail because it will mean more people will vote, which is usually bad news for them.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Oh, for fuck’s sake.

    Every once in a while people in the USA say “constitution” like it was some kind of magic holy of holies that absolutely 100% totes forbids anything and needs some kind of special priestly ritual to open up and amend.

    News flash: Southern states, in particular, were famous for flouting* the intent of the Reconstruction Amendments by making sure blacks couldn’t vote, even to the extent of instituting poll taxes that somehow magically always got waived for good ol’ white folk.

    In recent years, the US government has made hash of the Fourth Amendment and is working on the Fifth and Third, so let’s dispense with the idea that the Constitution means anything, shall we?

    I highly suspect a mandatory voting law would be sabotaged not by a court challenge but by Republicans who can’t stand the thought of black people voting.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I highly suspect a mandatory voting law would be sabotaged not by a court challenge but by Republicans who can’t stand the thought of black people voting.

    Be fair: they like black voters who oppose abortion, marriage equality, and taxing the rich, and who don’t fuss about racism.

  • aunursa

    The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  Any law or policy which is determined to be in violation of the Constitution is null and void.

  • MaryKaye

    I think that in the Presidential race the biggest turnout problem in the primaries is that the race is effectively over, with a known result, long before many people have any chance to vote in it.  This is discouraging.  We don’t allow this in the general–it’s all in one day with a media blackout, because it was found that when people on the West Coast knew the outcome of the election before voting they were less likely to vote, and this hurts down-ticket races.  But we allow it in the primaries, and that must hurt turnout on all other races on that ballot for states that haven’t won the “I get to go first for no reason” lottery.

    It also gives very small groups of people, like the Iowa caucus-goers, far more attention than much larger groups, like say the Washington caucus-goers (no one really reported on the outcome here at all, as far as I remember).

    And it stretches out the primary season, which helps contribute to the “only rich people can run” problem, and also makes people sick of the whole topic, which isn’t good for turnout either.  I think we would have a healthier democracy with a shorter primary season.  If not one day, then maybe five or so, with states randomized among them.

    This proposal founders on the fact that political parties are private, non-governmental organizations.  The WA primary is in fact an attempt to wrestle with the impropriety of using State funds to select a private organization’s candidates….

    It still seems to me that choosing the candidates we’re voting on in Nov. is too important to leave to party vageries.  (Though the WA primary simply led to both parties choosing their presidential candidate by caucus here, and I still didn’t get to vote, to my regret.)

  • Ursula L

    I think that in the Presidential race the biggest turnout problem in the primaries is that the race is effectively over, with a known result, long before many people have any chance to vote in it.  This is discouraging.  We don’t allow this in the general–it’s all in one day with a media blackout, because it was found that when people on the West Coast knew the outcome of the election before voting they were less likely to vote, and this hurts down-ticket races.  But we allow it in the primaries, and that must hurt turnout on all other races on that ballot for states that haven’t won the “I get to go first for no reason” lottery.
    It also gives very small groups of people, like the Iowa caucus-goers, far more attention than much larger groups, like say the Washington caucus-goers (no one really reported on the outcome here at all, as far as I remember).

    On the other hand, the long primary season helps lower the entry-cost of running for president, because you only need to focus the first part of the campaign on a few smaller states, rather than having to be prepared for running a national campaign before you even begin.

    Generally, there are lots of people running in the first few states.  Those who do poorly drop out, having spent comparatively little money, while those who do better have a foundation for further fundraising as the primary season continues.  

    Recent changes to campaign finance law have decreased this effect, but not completely erased it.  

    The longer campaign season also helps expose the nature of the candidates. This was particularly clear in 2008, when we saw the long Democratic primary highlight how both Obama and Clinton were strong and exciting candidates, and the long time between the end of the primaries and the general election gave McCain and Palin the opportunity to show their weaknesses in their own way, and with their own actions, naturally.  

    Compressing the timeframe for the elections gives more control to money, where what people see is what is paid for, while a longer season gives a better chance for both the strengths and weaknesses of the people involved to be exposed.  

  • Albanaeon

    Honestly, I only worry about primaries as a sign of how dependent our system has become on two parties.  That’s what gets me that we stuck with two parties that are pretty well bought by corporations and at best kinda sorta represent the people’s interests.

    So I really think we need to change from a first outta the gate system to a runoff system. First election has all the candidates that met the requirements, the next have the top two from that election.  I don’t know if I would have the runoff immediately or after a period for the two winners to campaign to win the other voters.  The first would keep all the candidates in the campaign longer and keep people engaged, while the second I think would allow candidates more time to try and win votes so that they’d possibly represent their eventual voters better.     I’m leaning still for the first so that even if you’re campaigning for a fringe, you’d have to be aware that you’d probably need to reach other groups and be able to represent them.  In any case, I think it will put a stop to “I want to vote for the Green/Libertarian but don’t want waste my vote” issue.

    And I do lean toward mandatory voting to keep it a representation of the people, as much as I sympathize with aunursa’s points.  I think we’d just have to go with the least bad option of there being a way to show up and say “none of the above” or that the fine is one that the protester’s could pay (kind of in the low speeding ticket range?).  If it’s really that important to the protester to not vote then they should be willing to pay for it.

    Incumbent on all of this is that the government make it easy to vote.  So we need to extend the voting times, make sure their are plenty of voting places, and that they are well staffed.  Make the voting time(s) a national holiday coinciding with a weekend and the polls are open from 6am-10pm all those days.  Maybe mobile polling places.  Add in something that a business has to keep you on the clock if you are voting so even people with odd shifts and the like can get in and full participation shouldn’t be too hard.

    A democracy can only work if the people are involved.  How can we be surprised when our country stops resembling one when we keep having such low involvement?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Really, how hard would it be to add “None of the Above” to a ballot anyway? Then the omgvoterfreedom people can all relax.

  • http://blog.carlsensei.com/ Carl

    Wikipedia “Instant Runoff Voting”. It solves the problem you’re talking about.

  • http://twitter.com/arianadream arianadream

    Personally, I think a more useful tactic in this situation is to improve voter turnout. There are a lot of problems with this too, of course, but this is where one of my favorite topic comes in. I live in Oregon, and in recent years we have had some of the highest voter turnout in the country:  http://community.statesmanjournal.com/blogs/watch/2011/09/28/oregon-washington-top-three-in-2010-voter-turnout/

    Oregon and Maine were two of the three at the top of that list, and not coincidentally, these are two states with vote-by-mail. All of Oregon’s elections are done by mail, and this has been the case since just after I turned 18 and was able to register to vote. I love it. You have the option of mailing your ballot in, or taking it by one of multiple county elections drop boxes in the community by 8 pm the night of the election day. (Drop boxes have 24 hour surveillance cameras and usually an elections official is parked nearby on election day to make sure there is no tampering with the ballots.) Voter security is pretty good, turnout is high, no one has to take time off work to vote – you just fill out your ballot when you have time during the couple weeks between when the ballots are mailed out and election day. I sit down at the dining table with my ballot and take a few minutes to do it, then run it down to the drop box at the public library. Elections in Oregon are less costly and we have more time for vote tallies to be taken. I love this system, and I wish more states would implement it. Granted, our voter turnout  was still only 53.6 percent, but that’s still more than half and a lot closer to a decent quorum than many other states.

    (Can you tell I love vote-by-mail?)

  • Joshua

    One solution to Fred’s problem is simply to have the voting process simplified.

    When I have voted in our general election, the longest queue I’ve been in has been about 10 or 20 minutes, and the voting sheet had at most four questions on it:
     1. Who should be your local representative? Usually half a dozen options.
     2. What party do you like? More than a dozen, but most are joke parties.
     3,4. Referendum questions that are usually true or false. Usually there aren’t any.

    You have to get your name ticked off the list, and present some form of ID, the preferred one being from the letter they sent to your address for free a couple of weeks beforehand.

    Special votes, for those out of their electorate, take a little longer but not much.

    Voter turnout is far from total, but it’s not because of barriers to access. Some people don’t like any of the candidates.

    Elections are on the weekend, when fewer people are working, and are scheduled not to conflict with major rugby matches.

    What more do you need?

    We don’t have primaries at all. I find the idea frankly bizarre. Candidates are chosen privately by parties, if the party leaders choose someone completely inappropriate, well, they’re going to crash and burn. Happens all the time. Except in the case of Winston Peters, who keeps coming back like mildew.

  • sptrashcan

    Why do you have the responsibility to serve on a jury, which is mandatory participation in the system of justice? What’s the functional difference between serving on a jury and voting in an election? Personally, given the many problems in the justice system, I’d have much more of a problem serving on a jury than I do voting.

    (I have problems with voting, but they boil down to that I feel I have to vote, and furthermore that I have to vote for one of the two major parties and thus support the system and grant an illusory mandate, because any other action is effectively a vote for the even-worse opposition.)

  • aunursa

    What’s the functional difference between serving on a jury and voting in an election?

    The Constitution guarantees each defendent a trial by jury, and it’s generally regarded that this right includes trial by a jury of one’s peers.  Without the requirement to serve, juries would be limited only to those citizens who have the desire and the available time to serve — overwhelmingly made up of the non-working and senior citizen population.  Thus the requirement to serve is necessary in order to ensure the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers.

    By contrast, elections do not require participation by all voters in order to operate.  The country can easily conduct a fair election that results in the selection of president, vice-president, and legislators without forcing those citizens to participate who, for whatever reason, choose not to exercise their right to vote.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    The Constitution guarantees each defendent a trial by jury, and it’s generally regarded that this right includes trial by a jury of one’s peers. …

    By contrast, elections do not require participation by all voters in order to operate.

    In other words, the way the US does it is the way it is>.

  • aunursa

    I regret that I don’t understand your point.

  • The_insane_protagonist

    Either do away with first-past-the-post voting or put a “none of the above” option on every ballot and I will gladly turn out to vote every time. With the way our voting system currently works if you prefer to vote for a third-party candidate because they represent your interests better you end up helping the main party candidate you’re actually most OPPOSED to. 

  • The_insane_protagonist

    Oh, and just to clarify, I would have voted for Obama this year if only to keep Romney out, but I am currently a resident of Guam, so I am not allowed to vote for president. >_> 

  • christopher_young

    And I don’t think the Greens hold ten meetings a year.

    If I were a member of that party, I’d be worried about that. How do they make political decisions? Or who makes them on their behalf?

  • EllieMurasaki

    If I were a member of that party, I’d be worried about that. How do they
    make political decisions? Or who makes them on their behalf?

    Whoever shows up to the couple meetings a year, I assume. We haven’t got the numbers for anything else.

  • Dan Audy

    Also the easy solution to bypassing the Constitutional issues in the US is to turn to every politicians favourite toy – the tax credit.  Grant a federal tax credit equivalent to whatever the Australian penalty is and suddenly it is no longer mandating voting but merely incentivizing it.  Just have the list that you get checked off when you arrive (I’m presuming that the US does it that way too) get forwarded to the IRS and they can handle any monitoring or enforcement.

    All the systematic barriers would still need to be dealt with but it avoids one of the potential places that could derail the proces.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It’s $20, by the way.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    I believe the point was that some people want their absolute non-participation to be a statement.

    Then they can be fined.  Civil disobedience is not entirely without risk, and what not.

    Enlighten me, as I’m genuinely not seeing your point: What message are they trying to send that could not be sent by going to the polling place and saying “I am not voting”? Is there some arrangement of words that could be on the ballot (or that they could give to the people that check them off on their list of registered voters) that would satisfy this message?

    Well, since they’re still *choosing* not to vote, the only people I can imagine not liking it are those who don’t believe they should be allowed to choose – i.e. fascists, royalists (but I repeat myself), or who don’t want to be part of any society at all (anarchists).

    They’re accusing you of a crime (voting when you don’t have the right to) so they have to prove it to the standards of criminal law.  Beyond a reasonable doubt.

    That’s a lot of effort (and money) to deal with the 12-year-old who thinks it’d be a funny prank.

    If you don’t want to do that, then yeah, ‘love it or leave it’ seem to be the only available choices.

    Well, there’s always ‘overthrow it by force’.

  • mud man

    Seems to me there’s something undemocratic about winner-take-all style party primaries. Why should the general election be about A republican vs. A democrat? Why not have everybody run as individuals, who are free to identify with whatever platform they like if they wish to. Have a “preliminary” election to select a reasonable number of candidates with reasonable support, and let the general election be to choose among them.

    Death to the two-party system!

  • EllieMurasaki

    Why should the general election be about A republican vs. A democrat?
    Isn’t always. The state senate election that’ll be on my ballot is the Republican incumbent vs an Independent Party member. Which I expect the Republican will win easily (doesn’t help that the challenger’s views as expressed on his website look pretty much like the incumbent’s voting record), but. And I know there are districts where the top two primary vote-getters were the ones who made the general ballot, so the general was Democrat v Democrat or whatever. Imagine if the presidential race was like that. 2008 would have been fun if the general election was Obama v Clinton instead of Obama v McCain.

    I do take your point, though.

  • aunursa

    They just began that type of election in California.  For each office (expect president and vice president), only the top two vote-getters in the primary will be on the general election ballot, and no write-in votes will be allowed.  This has resulted in preventing minor party voters from casting a ballot in the general election for a candidate who represents their party/political philosophy.

    It also had the unintended consequence of 2 Republicans and no Democrats on the November ballot in a congressional district with a plurality of Democrats (41% Democratic voters to 35% Republican voters.  The primary ballot included 5 D’s and 2 R’s — the 5 D candidates split the Democratic vote, allowing the R candidates to receive the two highest vote totals.)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Seems to me there’s something undemocratic about winner-take-all style party primaries

    Absolutely. If I were involved in US politics–that is, if I were a US citizen–working for preferential voting would be right at the top of the priority list.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Gotta say, I am loving all the Aussies on this thread racing out to brag about our awesome voting system…

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Oi Oi Oi?

  • AnonymousSam

    Now you just need to sell us on run-off voting. :D

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Nah, you don’t need runoffs. Preferential voting saves running a second election.

  • PJ Evans

    Preferential voting saves running a second election.

    Counting the ballots is hell, though. Even with a computer.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Hell is going a bit too far.

    It’s definitely worth it, though.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    We had the Single Transferable Vote back in the 1950s and it was used in two elections, apparently, before the governing party of the day decided they’d do better hanging onto the seats they’d collected if they reinstated First Past the Post.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_and_use_of_the_Single_Transferable_Vote#British_Columbia

  • Amy Pemberton

    Before I would go for mandatory voting or a quorum system I would like to see it made a lot more convenient to vote.  “One day in the middle of the work-week during the normal workday” is a recipe for non-participation.  I am not saying that it’s the only reason for low turnout but it doesn’t help.

    Maybe it’s just my area but another thing that contributes to low turnouts is weird off-date elections.  The primaries were bad enough* but on top of that we had two votes, on separate days.  One involved exactly one precinct (which I lived it).  It was a vote to allow a local golf club to sell alcohol** (it lost).  I swear it had a bigger turnout than the presidential primary!  The second was for the county seat to go “wet”–allow the sale of alcohol.  It passed, handily, but I can’t really say that the turnout is what it might have been if it had not been a one-off election.  (The golf club is in the county so it’s still BYOB.)

    *I think the national ones should all be on the same day, preferable two months before the general election.  Or better still, ranked voting, and let the political parties actually go back to having real conventions to pick candidates and not just have a pep rally on the public’s dime.

    **For anyone not from the USA look up “dry county” on Wikipedia.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Indeed. Canadian elections are helped in that Canadian law requires employers to give sufficient time off to allow employees to go and vote. I usually go first thing in the morning and get it done. Or an advance poll.


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