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Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.6, RH.6-8.8, WHST.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.5, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.6, RI.6-8.8, RI.6-8.10, W.6-8.1, W.6-8.5, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: Power, Authority, and Governance • Civic Ideals and Practices

DEBATE IT!

Should Voting Be Mandatory in the U.S.?

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Picking a president is one of the most important responsibilities a U.S. citizen can have. But if the past is any guide, tens of millions of Americans won’t be voting this fall. In the 2016 presidential election, only 59 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Turnout for the 2018 midterm elections was even lower—about 49 percent. That was the highest eligible-voter turnout for midterms since 1914.

Still, having so few eligible voters participate in elections is a major problem, experts say. After all, voting is one of the main ways citizens can voice their approval—or disapproval—of elected officials.

That’s why many people say the U.S. should follow the lead of more than 20 countries—including Australia, Peru, and Singapore—and make voting mandatory. Doing so would ensure that more Americans’ voices are heard, supporters say.

But many other people argue that while voting is important, Americans should vote because they want to—not because they have to. Instead of making voting mandatory, they argue, the U.S. should focus on making it easier for people to vote in the first place and on helping them understand why voting matters.

Should voting be mandatory in the U.S.? Two experts weigh in.

YES

Everyone should be required by law to vote. Democracy doesn’t work if a large portion of the population doesn’t participate.

Mandatory voting is the best way to get politicians to focus their attention on all Americans. Wealthier people are more likely to vote, so government policies are often geared toward their interests. In general, the people who don’t vote are the ones being left behind—people who are unemployed, poor, or less educated.

Mandatory voting helps ensure that elected officials focus on the needs of all Americans.

If voting were mandatory in the U.S., citizens would be inspired to pay more attention to campaigns—and current events. And candidates would be able to spend less time and money on getting voters to the polls and more on explaining where they stand on key issues.

Australia has had mandatory voting for federal elections since 1924. People who don’t cast ballots have to pay a fine of about $20. As a result, about 90 percent of eligible voters turn out. Perhaps because more people are involved in choosing their representatives, Australians tend to report much higher levels of trust in government than Americans do. By comparison, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that just 17 percent of Americans trust the federal government.

Voting is more than a right—it’s a responsi­bility. If Americans want a government that’s truly of the people, by the people, and for the people, everyone has to vote.

—Lisa Hill
Professor of politics, University of Adelaide (Australia)


NO

The government shouldn’t force people to vote. Doing so would flood the polls with millions of uninformed voters. Some Americans know a lot about politics and current events. Others know very little. Requiring uninformed people to vote would be like forcing them to fly an airplane without training.

Elections have high stakes. Our votes help influence matters of war and peace, poverty and prosperity, justice and injustice—not just in the U.S. but worldwide. Bad decisions at the polls can result in devastating wars, damaging laws, and disastrous economic policies.

Some people argue that voting is a civic duty. In my view, Americans who choose not to vote can exercise their civic duties in other ways, such as volunteering in their communities. Those who do vote owe it to themselves—and others—to be informed about the issues on the ballot.

Forcing people to vote would flood the polls with millions of uninformed voters. 

Besides, having the right to do something doesn’t mean you should have to do it. For instance, we have the right to write novels or do science experiments, but if the government forced us to do those things, it would violate our individual freedom. Why should voting be any different?

There are better ways to fix low voter turnout. For example, we could make it easier for people to register to vote. We could keep the polls open later or have Election Day on weekends instead of Tuesdays. Such changes would be more effective—and democratic—than forcing people to vote whether they want to or not.

—Jason Brennan
Professor of political philosophy and ethics, Georgetown University (U.S.)

Write About It! Should Americans be required to vote? Write an argument explaining your answer. Include facts from the article and your own research as supporting evidence.

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