Last time I discussed some of the obstacles a mandatory voter turnout law would have to overcome to be implemented. This time, I close out the series explaining why requiring voter turnout is the solution we should pursue, over many other more widely known options.
I want to bring back my contractor metaphor, that all citizens have the ability to build and shape the house we live in (i.e. the political structure created through voting), and reinforce why mandatory turnout is how we should change our electoral system.
Our country is made up of so many different types of people. We hail from 200+ countries, speak even more languages, and before falling asleep at night, we pray to different gods, or not at all. We are academics and landscape artists, playwrights and plumbers, construction workers, politicians, engineers, paramedics, entrepreneurs, chefs, public safety officials, and flight attendants. We represent a wide swath of views on how life should be lived.
Consequently, we all are endowed with different skills and ideas about the structures we impose on ourselves for the benefit of our families and community. You might be good with a hammer, while I’m better at laying out the grass sod, and my neighbor might be better at designing the architectural blueprints. This is incredibly important to remember, because as humans, we instinctively distrust or denigrate those without the right credentials when discussing community issues.
Just because I’m an auto mechanic, engineer, or boat captain doesn’t mean I don’t have valid views on how drug decriminalization laws, health care mandates, or affirmative action policies, for example, should be designed.
I harp on this point because there are many other ideas about how to reform our electoral system. Some of the more well known ones include changing to a proportional representation system and eliminating gerrymandering (check out this hilarious Arnold Schwarzenegger video on the issue). Others are focused on making elections more competitive by imposing term limits, limiting campaign finance, giving free television advertisement time to candidates, or relaxing locality rules so candidates don’t have to live in the area they want to represent. Or, following the trends of larger private companies seeking stockholder votes or a few small countries attempting to reduce the costs of voting, we could allow online voting or via text message.
While these methods might solve some, or even most, of the issues I’ve pointed out in this series (2nd blog), they still don’t do what I consider is most important in our country: guarantee a way for over 90% of the population to voice their opinion on the various issues and candidates that alter the structure of our country. The most common “feature” of our current system—and one that would be maintained with most of these other electoral changes—is that even if your view “wins” at the polls, that does not mean that you represent the majority, but rather the majority of the most privileged.
Why does it matter so much to have as many people as possible voicing their opinion? Our country was founded by the self-motivated people who wanted to participate; at some point, we have to stop catering to those not willing to do so, right?
There are two major points here I want to respond to.
First, many people want to participate – in the workforce, in the democratic process, in decisions made in their own home – but aren’t able due to a variety of barriers (ethnicity, education, money, transportation, gender, language, physical ability, familiarity, confidence, criminal background, social network, fear of abuse or repercussions, self-efficacy feelings, country of origin etc.). While I don’t want to get sidetracked on the importance or not of each of these (and other) reasons why people might not be integrated into our system, I do think we can all admit that sometimes people need a little extra help to blossom. That help can come from various sources, and is not my topic of discussion.
Second, when everyone has the chance to participate in the process, not only do we see voting rates increase, but we see other ancillary engagement measures increase as well. For example, and this might seem obvious, voters are more likely to participate in dialogue through blogs, social media, or op-eds than nonvoters. We also see voters more likely to volunteer or protest, participate in their neighborhood council or PTA meetings, or sign a petition, lobby their elected representative through letters or phone calls, go to a museum, or even to get to know their neighbors.
Engagement can be defined in so many different ways and is so integral to the success of our local and national society that there are many organizations that support it. Check out these LA or California-focused ones and all they do to contribute to our community here, here, and here.
Each of these organizations recognizes that voting isn’t the only way to be engaged, but they also all point to voting being the most direct method to ensure that our neighborhoods’ development paths are aligned with the views of the neighbors residing within them.
Our communities are changing; that’s inevitable. But how they change should be subject to the views of who lives in them. And on this point, everyone’s opinion matters.
Your hammer and saw wielding skills, my landscaping abilities, our neighbor’s architectural design experience, coupled with the neighbor from across the street’s plumbing and electrical dexterity are not only equally necessary in the creation and maintenance of our home, but also rely on totally separate interests, educations, and professional backgrounds.
The same is true of our electoral system, which is why we should change our voting system to include every single voter in the ugly sausage-making process of our country’s laws, not just the ones who can afford it.
 Marcelo, Karlo Barrios, and Mark Hugo Lopez. “Why We Vote: Civic Duty and Voter Apathy.” Ed. Morgan E. Felchner. Voting in America. Vol. 1. How America Votes: Law, Process, and Voter Participation. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008. 173-188. Print.