The mandate to vote

Nov 11, 2015 at 3:19 pm
The mandate to vote

Kentucky elected a new governor. This was a shocking development in an unusual election climate. Or was it? The incoming governor, Matthew Griswold Bevin has promised to repeal Medicaid expansion, leaving 400,000 Kentuckians without health insurance. He wants to offer useless and expensive school vouchers and to defund women’s health initiatives run by Planned Parenthood.

Bevin is poised to carry forward policies that have repeatedly proven to fail or do nothing more than hurt the poorest members of the electorate. The cost of his proposals would devastate the state economy. Kentucky is already a poor state. The level of poverty is above the national average and the median state income falls $10,000 below the national average.

Losing to Bevin, Attorney General Jack Conway is a regular fixture in Kentucky politics, having run for the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, governor and attorney general. He’s lost all but his attorney general elections.

Conway often loses on ridiculous campaign mistakes, such as the “Aqua Buddha” fiasco against Rand Paul, or focusing solely on Bevin’s taxes during this year’s governor’s race. Pair that with a lukewarm base of support — Conway fails to captivate his party’s voters. Many Kentucky Democrats held their noses to vote for Conway, if they voted at all.

Kentucky’s election illustrated a national ill. The lack of voter participation in the United States is abysmal. Our democracy relies on the participation of its people, and to have people ignore or pass on the exercise of their vote is shameful.

We spend a fair bit of time as Americans complaining about the state of our country, accusing each other of not appreciating its freedoms. Judging from the vote this past Tuesday, neither side cares enough to vote.

To counteract this crisis, and it is a bona fide crisis, should we require people to vote?

The advantages of compulsory voting are that the elected government begins to really offer fairer representation of the general populace, including underserved or neglected populations. It also gives the elected parties clarity in their support.

For Americans, mandating our vote should be a consideration, if not a priority. The impetus being similar, Americans need to uphold their civic responsibilities, and electing a truly representative government is such a responsibility. Even in a mandated system, people could have the right to refrain from casting a vote; at the very least, if regulated in a fashion similar to jury duty, with potential fines or jail time, it forces the public to show up and be counted even if simply to cast a vote for none of the above. It sounds punitive, but eligible Americans refusing to participate in national and state elections that have real consequences for all, is likewise penalizing for those who vote but are underrepresented.

Corporations and lobbyists hold too much influence over our politics. We allow the richest individuals in the country to tell those of us who are not how we should live. Too often we are then hurt by bad policies made by ineffective and dishonest politicians. Because we fail to vote, we are electing people to office who are not representative of the way our nation looks.

Too often those Americans who don’t vote are the ones who need to be represented most.

With the many efforts by the Republican Party to damage voter participation, particularly of minorities and those in poor areas, the path to a mandatory system would be a challenge. Republicans have closed voting centers, used redistricting as a tool for disenfranchisement and gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Each election cycle, the nation witnesses more and more Americans having their right-to-vote attacked. Each cycle we do the same thing we did on Election Day; nothing. We stay home.

In lieu of a mandatory system, efforts to increase the vote must become a regular part of our political conversation. Registration should be automatic. So far only two states provide automatic registration for voters when they attain or renew state-issued identification or a driver’s license. Automating the process takes away the need to sign up to exercise your rights. Rights are a given and not a menu option for citizenship.

We must participate in the way our country is run. The way that we do that best, aside from seeking political office, is to use our right to vote. We must create a nation where not voting is the anomaly and voting is commonplace.