Opinion: What if voting were mandatory? The case for 100 percent democracy.

The first step toward ending our voting wars is to recognize that every citizen should play a role in shaping our nation’s destiny.

In the wake of changes that made voting more convenient, and resulted in record turnout in 2020, state after state is making it harder for citizens to cast a ballot. Congress is deadlocked on whether the federal government should protect this most basic of all democratic rights. False claims of election-rigging in 2020 led to a violent attack on the very process of transferring power. As a nation, we vacillate between inclusion and exclusion, between embracing democracy or retreating.

Breaking this cycle requires a game-changer. We propose universal voting.

Under this system, every U.S. citizen would be legally obligated to vote, just as every citizen is obligated to serve on juries. By recognizing that all of us, as a matter of civic duty, have an obligation to shape our shared project of democratic self-government, we could move from our 2020 voter turnout high — some 66.8 percent of eligible voters — much closer to 100 percent democracy.

Universal voting takes seriously the Declaration of Independence’s insistence that government is legitimate only when it is based on the “consent of the governed.” The Founders did not say “some of the governed” (even 66.8 percent). Including everyone in our system of government would live up to the promise made at the birth of our republic. Universal voting would tear down barriers and elevate our civic obligations. It could undergird other reforms and make clear that our country’s commitment to democracy is unapologetic, confident and complete.

[E.J. Dionne and Miles Rapoport] . . . advocate for legislation primarily at the state and local levels, but welcome it at the federal level as well. The key to enforcement is a small fine, but they provide a number of justifications to avoid the penalty. In the end, the penalty is not so much punitive as psychological. At the same time, the penalty is real, but it’s minor like a parking ticket or jaywalking. 

The second part involves education. Election officials must communicate to voters they are required to vote. They must make the process as light of a burden as possible so voters do not become frustrated at the process.

Finally, Dionne and Rapoport propose a number of ‘gateway reforms’ to make civic duty voting easier to enact. . . . .like automatic voter registration or early voting options. However, others involve optional reforms such as a none of the above option or preregistration of 16 or 17 year olds. . . . The goal is to create a coherent election system that makes voting easy and accessible to fulfill. 

Democracy Paradox

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E.J. Dionne Jr. is a Post Opinions columnist. Miles Rapoport is a senior fellow at the Ash Center of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former Connecticut secretary of state. This essay is drawn from their book, “100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting,” published this week by the New Press.

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