This article was first published by Liberal America.
“Voting at State general elections, by-elections and referenda is compulsory. Section 156 of the Electoral Act clearly establishes that it is every elector’s duty to vote at any election for the region or district for which they are enrolled. The penalty for first time offenders is $20, and this increases to $50 if you have previously paid a penalty or been convicted of this offence. If you do not have a valid excuse, you can pay the penalty and that will end the matter. Electors who do not respond to notices or do not pay the prescribed penalty may have the matter referred to the Fines Enforcement Registry and could lose their driver’s licence.”
The above is a notice on the “Failure to Vote” page of the Western Australia Electoral Commission. As you can see, voting is compulsory in Australia, which boasts a ninety-percent attendance rate at the polls. And Australia isn’t alone. Belgium, Turkey, and twenty-five other countries require their citizens to vote.
A New York Assembly Member would like to see it compulsory here as well, at least in New York.
Last week, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), introduced legislation to establish compulsory voting in the state and punish those who don’t vote with a $10 fine.
In a memo submitted with the bill, Gluck wrote:
“Mandatory voting would drastically increase civic participation and transform the political arena by making politicians more reflective of the constituents that elected them.”
This would, the memo argued, combat New York’s low voter turnout.
According to the bill, any eligible voter who fails to cast a ballot on election day would be required to pay a $10 fine unless he or she produces a “valid excuse.” This fine would be put toward improving the electoral process.
Senate Elections Committee Chairman Fred Akshar (R-Binghamton) is doubtful Glick’s bill will ever see the light. He said:
“Last time I checked, this was the United States of America and people have the right to vote or not to vote.”
He added the bill would hurt low- and fixed-income citizens.
Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director of the New York State League of Women Voters, is also dubious. She stated:
“I doubt that we would support penalizing people who don’t vote. Often, it is a silent protest on their part to not vote.”
“It would be transformative if everybody voted. The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups. There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.”
Transformative, indeed. If nothing else, it would certainly increase turnout.