Elections Without Mobilization

At the Prospect today Paul Waldman asks a question that’s academic but still illuminating: what if the United States politics did not revolve so much (as it especially does in low-turnout midterms) on convincing people to show up for elections? What if the U.S. was one of the relatively long list of countries where voting was compulsory?

You may find the idea to be a horrifying infringement on freedom, and if we were ever to do it here it would have to be accompanied by vast improvements in our voting system to make it much easier for everyone to cast ballots, even those who would just leave them blank out of protest. But wouldn’t it be better if the question of who was going to turn out wasn’t a part of our campaigns and the parties could just concentrate on persuading the public that their ideas were superior? We could obviously go a good way toward that goal if we did some practical things, like not holding elections on a weekday when people have to work. And then there’s the fact that now more than ever before, we have one political party that is determined to make voting as difficult as possible, particularly for those unlikely to vote for them.

The same party that discourages voting would obviously initiate a major national freakout at the prospect of universal–much less mandatory–voting. And yes, I suppose we have to come to grips with the fact that there’s no freedom at all in Australia, Belgium and Luxemburg, and that “looters” have taken over these countries and initiated evil policies like universal health coverage. But as Waldman says:

[I]f nothing else we’d be able to say that the choices that came out of the process represented the will of nearly all the people, however ill-informed or ill-considered that will might be. Which is more than we can say now.

I’m all for that, even though I just wrote a post this morning suggesting that my fellow countrymen are prone to irrational panics promoted by political manipulators. We’d have a better opportunity to change that if more of our politics revolved around persuasion rather than mobilization.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.