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Livingston — Letters to the Editor

Protecting the Right to Vote...or Not to Vote in America

Christopher J. Durkin

Monday, June 23, 2014 • 4:16pm

Should we as a nation mandate voting by our citizens in every election under
penalty of law?

My election day polling site was approximately 100 steps from the front door of my
house. I turned 18 in 1986 and cast my first vote at Morrow Memorial Church in Maplewood
where my mother served as an election day challenger. I signed the poll book and stepped
behind the curtain of a hulking metal mechanical voting machine where I voted for
candidates for Congress, County Surrogate, County Executive, two members for Township
Council and six ballot questions that had a direct impact on policy and the taxpayer's
pocketbook. 

The five minutes it took to voice my opinion felt important.
Currently 22 countries require its citizens to vote by law, although only 11 of
these countries truly enforce prescribed penalties on non-voting offenders.
Australia fines its citizens $20 if they do not vote. If the $20 fine is not paid then
the court will increase the penalty to $170 and slap the offender with a criminal
conviction. In Brazil, if you fail to cast a vote in an election, you are barred from
obtaining a passport and must appear before an electoral court where you can
make good by voting in the next two elections. If a citizen does not cast a ballot in
Bolivia, the government can deny you a salary for three months.

Many initiatives have been implemented to increase voter participation
throughout the United States. Every state in the Union has some form of Vote by
Mail with three states (Oregon, Colorado and Washington) doing away with
Election Day voting and only allowing their voters to Vote by Mail. Most states
have early voting. We have tried slogans like “Rock the Vote” and “Vote or Die,”
but to no avail. Some argue that weekend voting instead of a Tuesday election
day would encourage greater participation. And still some people think we should
move towards voting from home on our computer or tablet.

In the 2012 presidential election, only 58.7% of eligible voters cast a ballot. We as
a nation average only a 42% turnout on Election Day. Also, it is important to
remember that not all of our eligible citizens are even registered to vote.

The advantages to mandating citizens to vote are many. The increase in voter
participation may lead to more qualified candidates for public office and an
increase in political activity. Also, the role of money in politics would decrease
immensely due to the fact that investments to get out the vote would be
irrelevant.

I would also argue that our elected representatives, for the most part, favor
heavily the interests of voting constituencies. The Millennials, who are quickly
increasing in its percentage of those who are civically involved, are getting
drubbed at the ballot box, the statehouse, and on Capitol Hill by the Baby
Boomers and it shows in real government dollars. The Urban Institute released a
report in 2012 that showed combined local, state and federal spending to be
$26,355 for people 65 years of age and older versus $11,822 for those individuals
19 years of age and under.

If we moved towards 100% voter participation, our overall interests as a society
would be considered collectively and not based on which constituencies vote and
which do not.

Arguments against requiring citizens to cast a ballot would be the effects it has on
the freedoms of the individual. Also, religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses
and Christadelphians believe that they should not have to participate in political
activities.

It seems as though Americans view voting as a right and not as a responsibility. In
an ABC poll, most Americans reject the idea of requiring its citizens to vote, with
72% of its respondents objecting to a law against penalizing non-voters. This
mirrored a Gallop poll done in 1965 that found 69% opposing such a law.

I feel that America does not need to mandate its citizens to vote. The greatness of
America lies in its 1st Amendment rights. Our freedom of speech includes the
freedom not to speak. Although, as an American, I hope you speak…by voting in
every election.

-- Christopher J. Durkin

Mr. Durkin is the Essex County Clerk.

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