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Mar. 19th, 2015

Today we have yet another politician proposing a law which would try to legislate "good" behavior by U.S. citizens, criminalize personal choices, and have a disporporationate impact on the poor, minorties, and the disabled.  Only this time, it's President Obama who is "floating" the idea.

I refer to the suggestion President Obama made in Cleveland that voting should be mandatory as it is in Australia.  My guess is that a law requiring people to report to a polling station on Election day would be held constitutional on the same grounds that compulsory jury duty is constitutional.  But I also believe that any attempt to require people to actually cast votes once they get there would be a first amendment violation.  I exercise my right not to vote for any listed candidates in a given "race" with some frequency.

But constitutionality aside, I think it's a colossally stupid idea.  As the President himself stated, the violators of this new law would likey be "young, lower income, and skewed towards immigrant and minority groups."  They are the ones who would be paying the fines and for whom the fines would hurt the most.  President Obama also opined this would counteract the effect of money in campaigns.  My guess is that exactly the opposite would occur. If someone doesn't feel it's worth their effort to vote now, does anyone really thing that because they are forced to vote, they will suddenly feel it's worth the much greater effort to actually learn about the candidates?  If not, then the half-truths, attack ads, and vague promises that define political advertising today will become of even greater importance.  Short of repealing the 1st amendment, getting "money out of politics" is a fantasy.

If this country is serious about improving our shameful voting turnout, it's time to use the carrot instead of the stick.  Reasonable ideas include switching elections to the weekend, universal mailing of post-paid ballots for early voting, requiring employers to give 2 hours paid time a year for voting, and working with search engine companies like Google to ensure people can find candidate websites quickly and easily.

With our current dysfunctional government, of course, both Obama's ideas and mine have exactly zero chance of passing.  So other than making himself a target of scorn, I'm not sure what President Obama was trying to accomplish with this idea.
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