Compulsory Voting in the United States?


Everyone has to vote in Australia if eighteen years of age. Don’t vote. Don’t have an acceptable excuse? The fine is twenty dollars. “If, within 21 days, the apparent non-voter fails to reply, cannot provide a valid and sufficient reason or declines to pay the penalty, then prosecution proceedings may be instigated. If the matter is dealt with in court and the person is found guilty, he or she may be fined up to $50 plus court costs.”[1] Prior to 1924 voting had dropped to 47% of the population in Australia, hence the law.

Australia is not the only country to insist that the populace participate in elections.  Other countries that do so are Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Fiji, France (the Senate only), Gabon, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nauru, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, and Uruguay.

The “penalty/penalties” for not voting vary.  Like Australia, Switzerland (but only in one canton), Cyprus, Argentina and Peru demand a fine.

Imprisonment is a possible sanction, although I couldn’t find any cases of this actually happening.  In Australia one might go to jail for failure to pay the fine, not for a failure to vote.

Fines, penalties and other “punishments.”  In Belgium, a nonvoter might lose his/her right to vote if not voting at least four times in fifteen years.  In Peru the voter carries a voter card that is stamped when he or she votes.  The stamp is necessary if a Peruvian wants to obtain some services and goods from some public offices.  In Singapore a voter loses his/her right to vote until her or she submits a legitimate reason from not having voted.  Looking for a job in the public sector?  In Belgium you want to be a voter.

Some countries have compulsory laws, but they don’t enforce them.

Italy had compulsory voting laws in 1945 and changed their minds 1953.  They are not the only country to do so.  From 1926 to 2000 the Greeks needed to vote if they wanted a passport, a driving license or an occupational license.  In Bolivia, the law states that if a voter does not have a stamped voter card three months after the election, he or she would be unable to receive his/her salary from the bank.   Good thing this one isn’t enforced.  Some countries have no compulsory laws, but individual states, cantons or regions do.  The state of Georgia in the United States, for instance, had compulsory voting in 1777.[2]

There are other idiosyncrasies.  In Lebanon there is compulsory voting for all men.  Women are only authorized.  In Bolivia a married woman can vote at eighteen, but a single woman must wait until twenty-one.  In Egypt only men are allowed to vote.  In some countries compulsory voting ends at sixty-five, seventy or seventy-five.  In Brazil and Ecuador voting is voluntary for illiterates. In at least three countries MILITARY PERSONNEL ARE NOT ALLOWED TO VOTE ACCORDING TO THE LAW.

So what?  Voting is not compulsory in the United States.  Should it be?




One response to “Compulsory Voting in the United States?

  1. Please note that it can be very difficult for the military to vote in this country. You must almost always vote absentee, since you are rarely stationed in your state-of-record home. When my husband was stationed in Okinawa, we received our form to REQUEST absentee ballots (not the ballots themselves) about a week AFTER the election. II wonder how many troops in Iraq or Afghanistan are ABLE to vote. There needs to be a secure email option established.

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