How can coercing politically ambivalent people to vote positively impact the electoral process and actually improve democratic decision-making?
That's a question the Wall Street Journal editorial board would like answered in the wake of a new bill proposed by a Democratic lawmaker that would mandate voting and punish scofflaws who refuse to do so with fines or community service.
What's that now?
Connecticut state Sen. Will Haskell believes it's time to treat voting as "not simply" a right, but a "civic duty" — much like jury duty. And as such, it's a "patriotic obligation" for which the government should be able to punish citizens who choose not to participate.
In an op-ed for the Hartford Courant last month, Haskell explained why countries like Australia, Peru, Belgium, Brazil and Thailand are so much better than the U.S. when it comes to voting:
How do these nations consistently exceed our voter participation numbers? Their laws treat voting not simply as a right, but as a civic duty. Australia, for example, has required every citizen to vote since 1924. All adults are expected to vote, just as Connecticut citizens are expected to participate in jury duty. Such a mandate requires the government to assume the responsibility for making it easy and convenient for every citizen to vote. And all citizens understand their responsibility to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.
Maybe it's time for Connecticut — and every state — to consider universal civic duty voting.
Much like jury duty, voting should be considered not just an opportunity but a patriotic obligation.
So Haskell's answer is to pass legislation compelling all eligible voters to do their "duty" — or else. With the "or else" being fines or community service.
Beginning with the 2024 election, Haskell's recently introduced bill would require all qualified voters in Connecticut to cast a ballot or offer an explanation in writing for why they did not vote, the Courant reported.
The secretary of state would be imbued with the authority to question each citizen who chose not to vote and demand an explanation. The secretary would also have the authority to determine which excuses are valid, the bill states:
[T]he Secretary of the State shall mail to all qualified electors who did not cast a ballot at the most recent state election a form inquiring as to why such elector did not cast a ballot, which form shall advise that valid reasons for not casting a ballot include travel, illness, conscientious objection or such other reason as the Secretary may prescribe[.]
Voters without valid reasons would be subject to a $20 fine or two hours of community service.
The Journal noted that Haskell has said "the purpose of this policy isn't to impose fines," despite the fact that that is exactly what the bill would do, "dunning $20 from busy single moms, apolitical 19-year-olds, the homeless, or anybody who didn't care about Election Day enough to remember it."
For the left, the paper noted, "turnout trumps all. Even basic voting requirements, like deadlines saying that mail ballots must arrive by Election Day, are now under fire for disenfranchising somebody."