Editorial: Mandatory voting a dumb idea

We've got enough hot air coming out of Albany

Maybe there should be fine for proposing the dumbest legislation.

At least that might help keep bad ideas — like the one that would make voting mandatory in New York and subject nonvoters to financial penalties — from wasting the precious time and efforts of our state lawmakers.

Manhattan Democratic Assemblywoman Deborah Glick earlier this month proposed a bill (A6730) that would make voting compulsory in New York. Those eligible voters who didn’t have a legitimate reason for not voting during a general election would be subject to a $10 fine.

The idea behind the legislation is sound. New Yorkers are notoriously blase about exercising their right to vote.

New York ranks 46th out of the 50 states when it comes to voter participation on the national level. Last year’s presidential election only brought out about 56 percent of New Yorkers, despite the competitiveness of the election and the large level of public interest in the candidates and the issues. For school elections and today’s city and village races, we’ll be lucky to see half that turnout.

New Yorkers simply don’t make the effort to participate in the selection of their elected officials, which is harmful to the democracy because so many voices are excluded.

To get more people involved, we need to look at the reasons why people don’t vote and make changes to encourage more people to vote The better ideas generally focus on increasing access to the ballot by making it easier and more convenient for people to register and vote, like early voting, online registration and allowing more absentee ballots.

What we don’t need cluttering up the discussion are bonehead ideas like making voting mandatory and threatening people with fines if they don’t show up to vote. In her bill memo justifying the legislation, Assemblywoman Glick cited Australia’s success with mandatory voting, where the threat of a $15 fine has boosted turnout to more than 90 percent.

On the surface, one might look at that success rate and consider trying it here.

But three factors make this bill eligible for the dumbest legislation of the year.

One is that voting in this country is a right, not a requirement. Making voting mandatory would actually eliminate one of our freedoms by turning this right into an obligation subject to punishment from the government. Its as ridiculous as telling someone they must exercise  their right to free speech. Or they must own a gun.

Could you imagine the backlash if you tried to fine people for not attending a mandatory public protest?

Another factor that makes this idea so ridiculous is that it would force people to vote who have no interest, knowledge or personal stake in who gets elected.

People who vote, even those considered “low-information voters,” at least have given some thought to forming an opinion based on some information they’ve received, and they’ve felt strongly enough about it to motivate themselves to track down a polling place and spend time actually voting. You don’t have to demonstrate your knowledge about the candidates or the issues to vote in this country. But generally, people who vote possess some knowledge of both.

Imagine the impact if those who were completely uninformed and unmotivated were forced to vote, just to avoid paying the fine. We certainly would have higher voter turnout numbers.
But would these individuals’ forced participation in the voting process really achieve the legislation’s stated goals of greater civic participation and making politicians more accountable to their constituents? Or would it just dilute the impact of the voluntary voters who actually care about what happens in their government?

Third. There’s no way this legislation has a chance of passing. So why even propose it?

In subsequent tweets, the Assemblywoman said she was happy to have generated a conversation about voting.

But we don’t need our elected officials in the Legislature to just generate conversations about voting. We need them to propose solutions to our problems, ideas that through compromise and debate might lead to actual legislation that helps the people of New York.

There has already been plenty of talk about how to boost voter turnout, and plenty of potential solutions have already been placed in front of legislators for their consideration.Work on those.
We’ve got enough hot air coming out of Albany. Legislators should do their best not to add to it.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion


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