There’s nothing that excites someone to vote like being forced to do it. But federal force is one of President Obama’s favorite things, so his recent announcement that mandatory voting might be a good idea is hardly a surprise.
Normally, Americans have an aversion to being told what to do. Imagine if a president had proposed mandatory prayer for all Americans. Most previous presidents thought prayer was a good idea, so why not prayer for everybody — by mandate?
Mandatory voting is just as unappealing. After all, part of the right to vote we hear so much about also includes the right not to vote. Americans have the constitutional right to reject the political process, check out and not vote. In fact, one might argue electoral apathy is a sign of a nation’s health. If things are going well enough, if people are content, then voting isn’t a priority. Voting only rises in importance when the government manages to screw up people’s lives enough to make voting important again.
Deciding not to vote is still casting a ballot of a different kind. Or as Neil Peart put it in another context, “if you chose not to decide you still have made a choice.”