By John A. Lancaster
When gathering information for my article on compulsory voting in California, I stumbled upon the viewpoints of Stanford political science professor Emilee Booth Chapman. Chapman, who authored an academic paper in favor of compulsory voting, has stated, “The idea of compulsory voting is that it conveys the idea that each person’s voice is expected and valued.” What struck me about this statement was the nature of how voters would be valued.
Voluntary choice is one of the purest forms of insight into what a person values. When a person makes a decision of their volition, they are expressing their own personal desires given a particular situation. If a person controls the circumstances surrounding another person, it is still up to the affected party to determine their reaction, thus expressing their sentiment(s). Even if one cannot verbally clarify the reasoning behind an action, evidence from said action can be gathered and formulated into a coherent reason. Whatever an individual chooses to do, it provides discernable information about the person behind the action.
This phenomenon of voluntary choice extends to abstention. When an individual chooses not to vote, that action carries certain information. A person may not vote for a variety of reasons. For example, it has been my experience that the overwhelming majority of non-voters have a low opinion of the political landscape. This “low-opinion” often comes in the following forms:
- Dissatisfaction of candidates
- Dissatisfaction of the political process
- Indifference of election outcomes
Whatever the reason may be, the fact remains that the non-voter judged abstention to be a preferable choice in the wake of the information provided. This choice of not voting signals the personal beliefs of the non-voters, i.e., their voice.
Coercing a decided non-voter to vote fundamentally undermines the voice they chose in the first place. Use of the government to dole out punishment for abstention signifies abstention as undesirable. Therefore, anyone who would voluntarily choose not to vote would be committing an act deemed unacceptable by the government. So how then can one claim that the government values each citizen’s voice when there is legislation barring what voice may be expressed? The citizen’s voice is only valued insofar as it is expressed within the confines of what the government deems fit. This does not show citizens that their opinions matter, it shows that the government’s desires matter more than their opinions.
John A. Lancaster earned an economics degree from Frostburg State University and was a PhD Fellow for The Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University.