Yesterday I had a conversation with the driver that I was riding with for casual carpool and I told him I was disappointed in the voter turnout for Tuesday’s California primary. The exact count is not really known but the total voters that cast a ballot in the primary probably will be around a third of registered voters (registered voters in CA make up less than three quarters so in reality less than a quarter of the population that is eligible to vote voted in the primaries). This is particularly sad given that in 2008 the primaries yielded over half of registered voters to the polls. For more about this I would suggest reading about voting in California and about the particular turnout in California this primary.
I told him I was “from” a country where voting was compulsory and he seemed befuddled by the idea that any “modern” society would have such a thing as compulsory voting. But was “open” to talking about it. He didn’t ask me where I was “from” but we explored the ideas of voting and he asked me humorously if I was in the business of strong-arming people. I chuckled and told him that my personality didn’t really allow this nor was I interested in making people think something that they didn’t really believe for themselves. I informed him that I was just in the business of trying to figure out why so many people that have the right to vote, don’t vote.
In Argentina no one registers to vote, people just go to the polls with their identification card, vote, get their card stamped, and go back to their daily lives (oh, and let’s also just say that general elections are held on Sundays). To be clear, I’ve never voted in Argentina (nor am I from there), but I think this particular point of having the right to vote and not exercising it is a bit odd. Additionally, I’m pretty sure it’s due to a lack of education in the voting system. In my schooling in the States in high school, never once did I learn about how voting really worked, or what I should do during primaries or general elections or how to read or fill out a ballot. I even turned 18 in high school and I don’t recall having ever been informed about voting. I think my voting education was probably shaped by my parents knowledge and understanding of how voting works (imagine this for a second, informed citizens of the universe). What if all children in the U.S. learned about voting only from their parents!!!??? That doesn’t provide a very rich context for critical learning.
In California, those who aren’t registered to vote are generally on the younger side, low-income, and of Latin@ backgrounds. According to the website I mentioned earlier, “30% [of eligible voters surveyed] cite a lack of confidence in elections and politics; fewer mention lack of interest (24%) or time or schedule constraints (17%).” The article also mentions that that the majority of Californians are in favor of having people register to vote automatically when they get or renew a driver’s license at the DMV (if you are going to be in that long-ass line anyway, might as well kill two birds with one stone) as well as sending vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters. I know there’s no one solution, but I think we can all agree that the voting system in the U.S. needs some TLC.
En fin, I would love some talk or discussion about what you all think of compulsory voting. Here’s an interesting article on compulsory voting in the world and provides some context to the example of Argentina that I mentioned above as well as other countries that have this practice. What are your thoughts on compulsory voting? How do you think voting should be taught in school? Do you think we should have more ways of engaging more voters? Why or why not?