Thursday, June 17, 2004

vote or else

This is an interesting concept: compulsory voting.

The ABCNews poll: "In a few countries every eligible citizen is required by law to vote in national elections. Those who don’t have a good excuse for not voting are subject to a small fine. Do you think this would be a good law or a poor law to have in this country?" found that only one-fifth of the nation thought it sounded like a good idea, with virtually no demographic supporting the idea (although twice as many "non-whites" liked it as "whites"--33 percent to 16 percent).

The poll language states that a "few countries" have instituted this law. I immediately wondered which states and why the poll didn't list them. After all, if the only countries were effective dictatorships with one political party and one candidate, then its not a particularly useful law. On the other hand, if the states were ones with democracies Americans tend to respect, then I think the poll results would be quite different.

It turns out they're a mix. There seem to be about 20 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Portugal, Panama and Venezuela (I'm not sure why the count seems to be unfixable).

Here's a thumbnail sketch of the issue along with some pros and cons.

Another issue I had with the polls was that it mentioned a "fine", which even the ABCNews report on the polls assumes influenced the result. So what would have happened if the poll had also mentioned that a national holiday would be created to support the effort? Would that have tipped the scales?

I don't really have an opinion on this topic--I just don't know enough. But I'm inclined to support it, if only to shut up the pundits who constantly harp on the fact that whatever president they don't like was put into office by barely 50% of the half of the country that voted.

Here's a link to the book that inspired the poll: Establishing the Rules of the Game: Election Laws in Democracies, by Louis Massicotte, Andre Blais, and Antoine Yoshinaka.

Here's a review.