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EDITORIAL: Americans should be required to vote

Other countries already mandate voting, so why not the U.S.?

American voters should not be required to select a specific candidate in elections, but they should be required to show up to the polls or send in a mail-in ballot with at least an answer of "no candidate." – Photo by David P / Flickr

Election Day was last Tuesday, but the question is, did you make it to the polls? It is pretty easy for Americans to skip out on their civic duty when Election Day falls on a weekday and when participating in elections is not mandated by the government. But perhaps it should be.

As of right now, elections do not reflect the majority of the population's view.

Approximately 37 percent of eligible voters participated in all three elections from 2018 to 2022, according to Pew Research Center. And while the 2020 presidential election attracted the most voters (66 percent of eligible voters) in over a century, this still excludes the contribution of more than a third of the U.S. population.

What makes this more ironic is that while the U.S. might boast the title of being a "beacon of democracy," it only ranked 31st in voter turnout for national elections in 2022 out of a list of 50 countries. Clearly, the best performances of U.S. voters do not measure up to the rest of the world.

Though some may argue that it would be a violation of one's personal right to voluntarily forgo their vote, democracy is suffering. Without some enforcement of one's civic duty, elections will continue to reflect that of the few, not the many.

If voting were required in the U.S., just as other civic duties are (like jury duty), more Americans would inevitably show up to the polls. It is important to note that citizens would not be required to pick a candidate under this rule. While they would have to show up to their local polling station or send in a mail-in ballot, they could check a box for "no candidate" if they do want to endorse any option listed.

One may ask: Why not just not vote at all, then? Would it not just be useless to require everyone to vote if people did not pick a candidate? These may be valid counterarguments, but at the same time, the point is to get as many people to the polls as possible. A vote for "no candidate" is still a valid reflection of a voter's perspective, and the more perspectives that are gathered, the better for democracy.

If we look at other countries that require voting, Australia enforces a $20 fine for those who do not vote. The U.S. could institute something similar or, potentially, a specific fine amount adjusted to one's income. It is important that failing to vote does not further disadvantage those struggling financially who may face other barriers to voting, such as not being able to take off work or needing to take care of family members, etc.

Although it might be idealistic to imagine a day in which the U.S. would require voting, based on historically low voting turnouts, the U.S. needs to make voting more accessible in order to encourage true democracy.

For one, Election Day should be a federal holiday so citizens have the entire day to make it to the polls to prevent being in a rush before or after work or during their lunch break. This would also make it easier for students who commute or live in-state for college to drive back home to vote instead of trying to squeeze it in between classes.

It is also important to keep in mind that voters may not be able to make it in person to vote, and only eight states, as of February 2022, accept mail-in ballots in every one of their elections. If the U.S. wants to see a higher voter turnout overall, all states need to consider allowing mail-in ballots.

In addition to this, emphasizing the importance of one's civic duty in school is vital. New Jersey has already taken a step in the right direction as Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signed the Laura Wooten Law in 2021, which states that public middle schools must incorporate at least two-quarters of civics starting September 2022.

These civic classes should not only instill the values of a politically active citizen but also address the logistics of voting. How does one register? Do students know they can register to vote when they get their driver's license? How do you receive and fill out a mail-in ballot?

These are all questions that American students should feel comfortable answering, but this level of confidence starts in the classroom. But we cannot only rely on education to foster a culture of civic duty — this must also come from the government.

If government officials want all Americans to utilize their right to vote, make Election Day a federal holiday, allow mail-in ballots and make civic courses mandatory in public schools. And maybe one day, we can make voting a required duty of all U.S. citizens.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 155th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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