Compulsory Voting: Is it a violation of freedom of speech?


This illustration of a Benjamin Franklin quotation about free speech is part of a series of such illustrations provided to Wikimedia Commons by the activist known as “Donkey Hotey”.

Many democracies have compulsory voting, but not the United States.

Would it be unconstitutional here?

Some constitutional experts think it would be a violation of the principle of freedom of speech. This freedom means you can speak up for what you believe. Is also means that you have the right to remain silent. Compulsory voting could be considered a “compelled speech act,” which violates the principle of freedom of speech.

Not voting might be a deliberate political choice. It could indicate satisfaction with current policies, political parties, and elected officials.

That seems very unlikely, given the deep and widespread lack of confidence in all branches of government. Not voting may reflect apathy or a feeling that one’s vote doesn’t matter. We know that many nonvoters are young, poor, or have lower levels of education. “Too busy” is a reason often given by nonvoters.

Compulsory voting might get more people to the polls, but it can’t make them cast a meaningful ballot—or even a ballot with a vote on it. One could simply check “none of the above” or fill in a nonsense name. Such ballots are called “donkey votes.” Another variation of a donkey vote is to simply vote in the order the candidates are presented on the ballot. (This could be prevented, however, if online voting was used and candidates were presented in randomized order.)

Do you believe compulsory voting violates your right to freedom of speech?
Would compulsory voting improve voter turnout?

Your opinion matters …

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Compulsory Voting: Would it compel the young to vote?

Young guy with his laptopMost young Americans take a pass at the opportunity to vote. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In elections from 1964 to 2012, young Americans (18 to 24 years of age) have always had the lowest voting rates, according to the U. S. Census.

Would compulsory voting solve the problem?

The 1964 election produced the highest turn out of young voters—about 51%. Since then, it’s all downhill, with an occasional blip. In 2012, only 38% voted. In contrast, the two oldest groups of Americans (45 to 64, and 64+), have always been likely to vote. In 1964, 76% of the oldest group voted, and in 2012, 70% voted.
Would compulsory voting get more young voters to the polls?

Probably not, according to large-scale study of voter turnout in 36 nations that have some form of compulsory voting.

Compulsory voting does increase turnout overall, report political scientists Ellen Quintelier, Marc Hooghe, and Sofie Marlen in the International Political Science Review. But it doesn’t have an equal influence on each age group.

The age group most affected by compulsory voting is the group that already tends to vote—older citizens. Young voters are unaffected by compulsory voting.

Why is this so? The researchers speculate that it has to do with a sense of civic duty, which is stronger in the older groups. Older voters already vote out of civic duty and compulsory voting strengths this moral obligation. Younger citizens tend to not see voting as a civic duty.

Compulsory voting—at least in places outside the United States—paradoxically widens the age divide in voter turnout.

Is a widening age gap in voter turnout a sufficient argument against compulsory voting?
To what extent can we generalize from studies done outside the U.S.?

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Compulsory Voting: How about getting paid to vote?

Voting Here sign at a polling place

Photo by Tom Arthur, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Costas Panagopoulos book on Public Financing

A leading expert on voting behavior, Dr. Panagopoulos has been part of the Decision Desk team at NBC News since the 2006 election cycle. Click this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

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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Women on 20s: Is there global precedent for women on money?

British bank notesWomenOn20s, a nonprofit advocacy group, is gathering online votes to petition Obama to put a famous woman on the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson. Obama has the authority to issue an order to the U.S. Treasury, directing it to put a new face on the $20. Should he?

This week, we’ve covered the growing movement to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a famous American woman: how to vote online at, why the $20 bill in the first place, what a national poll says about Americans’ preferences, and adding the late Cherokee Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller to the list.

Today, we consider what Americans’ opinions are in general—and who else around the world puts women on money.

Should Obama order a new face for the $20? About two of ten Americans (22%) don’t have an opinion or are unsure, according to a new poll by Rasmussen Reports. Just under half (45%) agree with the proposal to replace Jackson with a famous American woman. And, about a third (34%) say Old Hickory should stay on the $20.

Not to be left out of anything about money, MONEY Magazine, a publication of Time, Inc., is promoting its own online poll. You can choose from a list that includes Eleanor Roosevelt, Abigail Adams, Sally Ride, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Ayn Rand, and Beyoncé. (So far, Rand is the runaway favorite in this poll.)

MONEY also notes that at least 10 countries already have women on paper currency, setting a global precedent. These include Argentina, Australia, England, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Sweden, Syria, and Turkey.

And, women get dumped from currency. In 1995, Israel starting withdrawing the 10 shekel notes bearing the likeness of Golda Meir, the late Prime Minister of Israel. The Bank of Israel replaced the paper bill with a new coin. Golda Meir also appeared on the 10,000 shekel banknote, but no more.

Should Obama order the likeness of a famous woman to be printed on the $20?
If yes, whose likeness should it be?

Eleanor Roosevelt 20 dollar bill

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Women on 20s: Should Wilma Mankiller replace Jackson on the $20?


WATCH THE VIDEO about her life, below.

The list of 15 famous women who could replace Jackson on the $20 was compiled by experts, but there is always controversy about who is and who isn’t on any list. One prominent woman left off the list is Wilma Mankiller, late Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Given Jackson’s role in the forced relocation and death of Native Americans, some say it would be poetic justice to have Mankiller replace him on the $20 bill. She actually has a real chance of doing so.

Would you support it?

Wilma Mankiller’s father was Cherokee, her mother Caucasian. She rose to become the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985, serving for a decade. Mankiller was an activist, best-selling author, and politician. Her awards included the Presidential Medal of Freedom (given by Bill Clinton) and Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year in 1987. (Read more about her life here—plus, you’ll enjoy the video below.)

Mankiller was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. According to her bio there, “Mankiller used her skills to help the Cherokee Nation, starting community self-help programs and teaching people ways out of poverty… [She] brought about important strides for the Cherokees, including improved health care, education, utilities management and tribal government. Future plans call for attracting higher-paying industry to the area, improving adult literacy, supporting women returning to school and more.

“Mankiller also lived in the larger world, active in civil rights matters, lobbying the federal government and supporting women’s activities and issues. She said: “We’ve had daunting problems in many critical areas, but I believe in the old Cherokee injunction to ‘be of a good mind. Today it’s called positive thinking’.”

Mankiller has a real chance of replacing Jackson. The top 3 vote getters in the primary round of voting on will advance to the final round. At that time, Mankiller’s name will be added to the list, and voters will pick one of the final four to replace Jackson on the $20.

Should Mankiller replace Jackson?
Is there someone else you prefer who isn’t on the list?

Watch the story of Wilma Mankiller?

The following video looks at her remarkable life—plus, it includes the story of Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears.

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Women on 20s: Should Hillary Clinton replace Andrew Jackson?

Hillary Clinton 20 dollar billWomenOn20s, the organizers of the movement to replace Andrew Jackson with a famous woman, offers 15 candidates to choose from (see Monday’s post for the list). Today, I ask you to choose from a shorter list: Dolley Madison, Pocahontas, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, or Hillary Clinton.

Who’s your top choice?

Why this short list? The reason is we know how Americans rank these candidates, based on a national survey this month by Rasmussen Reports. The surveyors chose five well-known women from American history, and added perhaps the best-known woman living today: Hillary Clinton. Hillary is included in the survey, but actually couldn’t be the official choice—living persons do not appear on the nation’s currency.

So, who’s the Number 1 choice of Americans nationwide?

It’s Eleanor Roosevelt—the longest-serving First Lady, human rights activist, politician, and diplomat. Among many activities, she chaired the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.

American’s second choice is Harriet Tubman, followed by Susan B. Anthony and Pocahontas.

How about Hillary Clinton—former Secretary of State, First Lady, and the presumptive Democratic candidate for president in 2016? Clinton comes in second to last. Only Dolley Madison garnered fewer votes.

Is Eleanor Roosevelt your top choice from this list of six candidates?
Is there someone else you’d rather see replace Jackson on the $20?

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Women on 20s: Why target Jackson? Why the $20?

Pocahontas 20 dollar bill

Some advocate replacing Jackson with Pocahontas.

The Women-On-20s movement to dump Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill and replace him with a famous woman is gaining traction. But why is Jackson the target? Why not George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, or any of the other men whose images adorn our paper currency?

The reason is political numerology.

The 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was ratified on August 18, 1920. This makes the year 2020 the 100th anniversary of the amendment. The year 2020 makes the $20 bill the perfect one to change.

So, the movement isn’t focused on getting rid of Old Hickory per se. notes, however, that Jackson’s record might also be reason to remove him from the $20. As president, Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act that forcibly relocated Native Americans to western lands. Thousands of Cherokees died in what became known as the “Trail of Tears.” In his second annual address to Congress, he said, “It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation.”

Yet another reason was his opposition to paper currency. He strongly favored gold and silver coins. So, the spirit of Old Hickory might rest easier knowing that, finally, Jackson no longer appeared on the paper currency he hated.

Do you agree that the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment makes the $20 bill the perfect choice to change?
Does Jackson’s record also warrant removal of his visage?

Your vote counts! Cast your vote here for up to three of 15 candidates Women on 20s proposes as replacements for Jackson on the $20.

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