Should Voting Be Required by Law?

Above: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images; Below: PHOTOS COURTESY OF FAMILIES

On November 8, people across the United States will cast their votes for president. But millions of people will choose not to vote this year. In recent presidential elections, only about 60 percent of Americans who were eligible to vote actually did. In 2012, for example, more than 90 million people who could have voted didn’t. 

Some people say the best way to get more citizens to participate is to require voting by law. They point out that our elected leaders are supposed to represent the interests of all Americans. That cannot happen, they say, if huge numbers of people don’t vote. Others argue that citizens have a responsibility to take part in the democratic process.

“Voting isn’t just a right, it’s a duty,” says Lisa Hill, a professor at the University of Adelaide, in Australia. Australia is one of more than 20 countries that have some type of mandatory, or required, voting. In most elections there, voter participation is more than 90 percent. Australians who fail to vote have to pay a fine. 

But many people argue that America is a free country—which means people have the freedom to stay home instead of voting. Others say requiring citizens to vote won’t result in the best candidates getting elected. Jason Brennan is a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He says people who don’t want to vote are less likely to learn about the candidates and their views. 

“Forcing people to vote does not cause them to become better informed,” he says. 

Here’s what two of our readers think.

Americans have a responsibility to vote.

Voting is what makes America a democracy. Women and African-Americans had to fight for years to gain the right to vote. In some countries, many citizens still don’t have this right at all. Requiring people to vote would ensure that they don’t take it for granted.  

Many people don’t like the job our leaders are doing, but a lot of those same people don’t vote. Making voting mandatory would encourage them to make their voices heard. 

Requiring voting may not seem fair to people who have to work or have other commitments. One solution is to make Election Day a national holiday.

Anjali Bhattacharya, California

Forcing people to vote would be un-American.

In this country, people have freedom of choice. Citizens should be able to choose not to vote if they don’t want to. 

Some people may not like any of the candidates. They shouldn’t have to waste their vote on someone if they don’t agree with that person’s views. Plus, many people don’t try to learn about the candidates before Election Day. It doesn’t make sense to force them to vote. 

Often, people have good excuses for not voting. For example, many people can’t take time off from work to wait in line for hours to vote. It wouldn’t be fair to punish those people. 

Jacob Dow, Connecticut

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