How do we get more people to vote? Let's make it mandatory, like Australia does
I read with interest your Sunday editorial asking how we can get more people to vote. You make some important points and I’d like to add a few more. We in California have made it easy to vote, and now let’s make clear why it is important to exercise this right. I would like to be proven wrong, but it seems we have an embarrassing lack of basic civics instruction in our schools.
I’ve long believed, since sitting in Mr. Ensrud’s ninth-grade civics class, that voting should be mandated. It’s a sure way to increase participation and to create an outward and visible sign of the importance of this act in a healthy democracy. Australia has had this mandate for about 100 years, with great success. Such a conversation and debate, whether it passes or not, will certainly get the attention of many folks, and they might even turn in a ballot as a result. It could also get candidates for election to talk about how they envision “forming a more perfect union” to support the common good over partisan politics.
After the Revolutionary War, white male landowners were the only people who could vote. Since then, the pool of voters in this country has been regularly expanded; that is, until recent years when some states enacted laws intended to restrict who can vote. People who are told they aren’t welcome or aren’t encouraged to vote aren’t inclined to pursue such an activity. Efforts to thwart anyone or any group from voting have to stop.
We teachers know we can’t expect anyone to understand the information unless they have first learned it. We decry that people don’t understand basic civics, so let’s get busy with some public service announcements about the basics of civics and government, starting with various elected positions and what they do. It won’t take long to come up with 30-second sound bites that could be conversation points that serve the common good.
In California, the propositions that fill half the voter’s guide add to the feeling of being overwhelmed at the very thought of having to read through all that material. We elect people to represent us in Sacramento and we should be asking them to make these decisions. Let us hold the Assembly and Senate accountable for doing so. If we wanted to do this work, we’d be running for public office.
As far as electing too many people and issues at once, Minnesota found that moving spring school board elections to the fall General Election increased voter turnout for both, a helpful lesson learned.
A more informed and better-educated public will entice more voters, give us wiser candidates from which to choose, and just could be a major step in breaking the deadlock in Washington.
Gary Gleason lives in Palm Springs. Write to him at email@example.com.