Compulsory Voting. Essay

3625 words - 15 pages

Compulsory VotingAs of recent times, not only has the conception of United States as the internationalvanguard of democracy been tarnished, but also several flaws of the American democraticsystem have been revealed, raising questions about the legitimacy of the American government.Indeed, it is hard to claim with a straight face that fundamental questions concerning thelegitimacy of the government of the United States as a democratic system of governancerepresentative of the will of its citizens are unwarranted. Such questions about the legitimacy ofthe American government arise partly as a result of recent statistics depicting the traditionallylow rate of voter participation in national elections.The percentage of the voting age population (VAP) that turned out to vote in nationalpresidential elections has declined from 63.06% in 1960 to 51.3% in 2000 (Federal ElectionCommission), and the decline of the percentage of the VAP that votes in mid-term elections hasbeen even greater, with only a staggeringly low 39.4% turnout in 2002, constituting a more than20% decrease from the 1960s (Center for Voting and Democracy). Since 1924, the percentage ofthe VAP that voted in presidential elections has hovered somewhere around 50% (FederalElectoral Commission). Moreover, the United States ranks 139th out of 172 countries in terms ofthe average percentage of the VAP that has turned out for every national election since 1945with an average of 47.7% in 28 elections, while countries with a comparable number of nationalelections such as Austria, Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand,Iceland, and Italy all have above 80% VAP participation (IDEA 83-84).There are those who dispute the decline in turnout, stating that measures of the VAPinclude felons and foreign nationals who are of voting age and living in the United States butwho are ineligible to vote, and exclude American nationals who live abroad. If the turnout ratesare adjusted accordingly, it is true that there has not been a large decline in voting population,and that voting rates are consistently higher than rates determined for the VAP (McDonald,Popkin 3). However, the readjustment only constitutes an average four point gain in turnout,which cannot be considered a significant increase. Though the decline in turnout is disputed, thefact remains that the voter turnout rate has hovered around 50% for presidential elections, andhas been consistently lower for congressional elections.Many proposals have been made to remedy the anemic level of voter participation.However, they have failed to make a significant difference. In the book Why Americans Don'tVote, authors Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward asserted that the low voting rates havetheir historical roots in the exclusionary voter registration systems established at the end of thenineteenth century. Obstructive registration procedures such as poll taxes and literacy tests wereinstituted both in the South and North, resulting...

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