It’s not like Americans have ever voted in huge numbers. Our watershed election this century? Not Obama’s, in 2008. Or even Ronald Reagan’s, in 1980. It was 1960. The dramatic election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy drew just 64 percent of eligible voters. In 2008, turnout was about 61.7 percent. Some say that’s deplorable. So how do you get more Americans to vote? Why not try what they do in Australia – make voting mandatory? There, if you don't cast a ballot, you get slapped with a big, fat fine.
William Galston, from the Brookings Institution political think tank, believes voting ought to be a mandatory civic duty. “When you get a notice to show up for jury duty, that's not an invitation, that's a polite requirement,” Galston says. “And if you don't show up, then various sorts of problems occur for you as a matter of law.” While elections officials have tried to increase voter turnout by offering early voting, or enabling people to register at the DMV– they've only managed to increase turnout by one or two percentage points. Not great when you look at the numbers: In 1962–almost 50 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the midterm elections. In 1986, 38 per cent voted. In 2006: turnout was 40 percent. If people don't vote because they're lazy - then why not force them to perform their civic duty?
Conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle cites California's ballot pamphlet as a strike against mandatory voting. It's thick with candidate choices and tax propositions - complicated stuff, she says. “I know it sounds great to say that we'd like to have 100 percent voting in the United States but when you look at the reality, if people aren't paying attention, I don't know that you want to have them voting on really complicated issues,” Saunders says. Voting in America isn't likely to become mandatory any time soon - as one election official told us - it would be un-American. Just like others say it's un-American to stay home on Election Day.