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.