Essay on Compulsory Voting in the US: Arguments For and Against

Published: 2023-09-12
Essay on Compulsory Voting in the US: Arguments For and Against
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  United States Political science Society
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1431 words
12 min read


Compulsory voting may be an outside area of discussion in America where voting is an individual's right, but not a legal obligation. However, there are arguments for and against compulsory voting in the United States (US). Although this subject raises debate occasionally, the US has never come close to introducing mandatory voting. Georgia is the only state that has had such a law, but it was abolished early in the history of the state (Brennan & Hill, 2014). Both opponents and proponents have various reasons to believe that America should have compulsory voting. Both arguments for and against mandatory voting in the US should answer the following legal, political, philosophical, and practical questions: Is mandatory voting a suitable way of promoting the legitimacy of a democratic government? Does compulsory voting infringe individual liberty? Does the right to vote the same as the right not to vote? Will compulsory voting improve electoral outcomes? (See, 2017). This piece argues in favor of mandatory voting in the US. It argues that mandatory voting is a lawful violation of the liberty of American citizens that can improve electoral outcomes by ensuring that these outcomes are in line with the preferences of all potential voters.

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Increasing Voter Turnout

The most apparent reason why America should have compulsory voting is to increase voter turnout. Voter turnout in America has been low compared to other mature democratic nation. In European countries, voter turnout often goes beyond 80%, while turnout in the US has not reached this percentage for almost a century (See, 2017). This problem is escalating, which is why the government needs to find an acceptable way of addressing it. For instance, in the 1984 election, Ronald Reagan won the election with approximately 32.9% votes of the eligible voters (See, 2017). The choice of the remaining 67.1% of prospective electorates was either left unaccounted for or went to another candidate (See, 2017).

In 2000, the presidential election resulted in a bizarre circumstance whereby Florida results had to be recounted to determine the winner of the presidency (See, 2017). The variance in the total votes won by the two primary candidates was only 537, implying that the margin of error of the counting machines was higher than the margin of victory (See, 2017). Manual recounts were open to doubt. In simple terms, President Bush’s victory in 2000 was statistically insignificant. The 2004 election was accompanied by a detested war and tight campaign that did not leave any front-runner, yet the turnout was about 56.70% (Hill, 2016). The same occurred in succeeding years, where the country recorded less than 60% voter turnout. In the mid-term elections of 2014, only 36% of Americans voted: - the worst turnout in more than seven decades (Hill, 2016). Such anemic results have raised questions about the legitimacy of a government when the majority of citizens have not elected it.

The low voter turnout also shows that the US polls are not well designed because they do not represent the sample of eligible voters. Instead, they depend on socioeconomic and shrewd samples (Brennan & Hill, 2014). Most chronic non-voters in the US are socially disadvantaged, including the poor and minority groups. These individuals need representation at both state and federal governments, and the only way to do that is by forcing them to vote. Given the low voter turnout in America, there is a likelihood that all the elected presidents within the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have never received the majority of the votes of the potential electorates (Hill, 2016). For these reasons, the US government can achieve more representation by introducing a law that increases voter turnout. High voter turnout and an electorate that represent the American population would change the political and electoral outcomes in ways that reflect aggregate preferences (See, 2017).

In addition to increasing voter turnout, compulsory voting can change the American political culture, which could strengthen political awareness and involvement (Brennan & Hill, 2014). A mandatory voting regime would transform how political parties, candidates, and other political players come up with campaign strategies. For instance, mandatory voting can reduce negative campaigns that utilize advertisements aimed to attack opposing parties, which leads to low voter turnout in targeted populations (Hill, 2016). Once the challenge of low turnout is solved, aspirants would drop this tactic and embrace efficient methods for the campaign. See (2017) asserts that today’s political platforms have created a system where many citizens lose interest in participating in elections. Political institutions have also designed campaign methods that are theoretically charming to electorates. Compulsory voting would establish a new population of voters and compel political actors to change their campaign strategies to account for these new electorates.

Opponents of mandatory voting have argued that compulsory voting in the US would violate individual freedom of choice. They claim that the constitution protects not only the right to vote but also their right not to vote (Brennan & Hill, 2014). This right is allegedly equivalent to other existing rights that reflect the freedom of choice. Examples include the right to worship or not worship and the right to speak or not speak. This facilitates the belief that a right to do something intrinsically consists of the right not to do the same thing (See, 2017). According to critics, it is the citizens' choice to exercise a right or not, and the government should not interfere with that freedom (Brennan & Hill, 2014). In this case, it seems axiomatic that a person with a right has the full authority to give up that right. While this is one of the powerful objections raised by opponents of mandatory voting, the opinion that a citizen can waive a right is entirely false. According to See (2017), some rights can be waived while others cannot. Nevertheless, the authority to waive some rights does not imply that the inverse of rights exists.

The ability to waiver or not waiver a right was observed by the Supreme Court in Singer v. the United States (See, 2017). In this case, the court sustained a federal rule that needs the permission of the government for a convict to surrender their right to a jury court (See, 2017). The court held that ‘‘the ability to waive a constitutional right does not ordinarily carry with it the right to insist upon the opposite of that right’’ (See, 2017). The reason that the inverse of a right does not imply is because of the existence of the competing interests at stake (Brennan & Hill, 2014). A right of an individual may serve both private and public interest, and creating complete freedom to the waiver will not protect the public interest that the right serves (Hill, 2016). For instance, the right to trial by jury protects an individual from the state power. Equally, it serves a significant collective function by promoting the legitimacy and accuracy of criminal trials.

Enforcing an inverse right would only focus on individual rights and ignore the public interest. Another example is paying taxes. If the government declares that paying taxes is voluntary, most people will pick the inverse. To overcome this challenge, the law requires every individual to pay taxes (See, 2017). The same applies to the right to vote. If voting provides collective interest, it should prevent American citizens from waiving their right to vote. People often view voting as a privilege, but it also has communal advantages (Brennan & Hill, 2014). The same way everyone benefits from a representative democracy is the same way they benefit when others vote.


In sum, voting is a robust process that every eligible voter should participate in to exercise their rights and elect their preferred leaders. However, if left to be a voluntary process, the turnouts will continue to be low, and the question of the legitimacy of the sitting government will continue to rise. The problems of representation will also continue to exist. Like taxes and jury service, mandatory voting is a legitimate solution to such challenges. As noted, compulsory voting also increases voter turnout, strengthens the legitimacy of the ruling government, and changes the political and electoral outcomes in ways that reflect aggregate preferences in the American population. It ensures that all citizens are represented at all levels of the government. Therefore, from an individual stance, the US should have compulsory voting. As argued, mandatory voting is a legal infringement of personal liberty to ensure that political outcomes reflect the electorates' preferences.


Brennan, J., & Hill, L. (2014). Compulsory voting: For and against. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hill, L. (2016). Low voter turnout in the United States: Is compulsory voting a viable solution? Journal of Theoretical Politics, 18 (2), 207-232.

See, M. A. (2017). The case for compulsory voting in the United States. Harvard Law Review. Harvard Law Review, 121 (591), 591-612.

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