Mandatory voting “would be transformative,” Obama said in a recent speech to the City Club of Cleveland. “That would counteract money more than anything.” Compulsory voting exists in other democracies, where failure to go to vote can result in fines or community service.
Would you support compulsory voting here?
“If everybody voted,” Obama continued, “then it would completely change the political map in this country, because the people who tend not to vote are young; they’re lower income; they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups; and they’re often the folks who are — they’re scratching and climbing to get into the middle class. And they’re working hard, and there’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls. We should want to get them into the polls.” (Read his complete remarks here.)
Compulsory voting focuses on the threat of punishment to motivate voting. Australia has had compulsory voting since 1924. Failure to vote can be fined as much as $170 and could lead to a criminal conviction.
Instead of punishing failure to vote, how about rewarding those who vote? A basic tenet of positive psychology is to incentivize the behavior you want, not punish the behavior you don’t want.
Would paying people to vote increase voter turnout? The answer is yes, according to a randomized experiment by political scientist Costas Panagopolous, published in The Journal of Politics in 2013. In a 2010 election in California, he arranged to have voters paid various amounts of money to come to the polls. Voters were paid cash at the voting site. An incentive of $2 didn’t make a difference in turnout. An incentive of $10 made some difference, but paying $25 substantially elevated voter turnout.
There are other advantages to paying people to vote. The practice infuses money into the economy. It puts cash in the hands of poor voters and young voters who tend to avoid coming to the polls. It also circumvents one of the pitfalls of using fines to motivate voting—fines are regressive in nature, burdening the poor more than the rich.
Do you think voting should be compulsory in this country?
If yes, should we fine those who don’t vote?
Or, should we pay those who do vote?
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