In a recent op ed, former Obama adviser and Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag argues that the the United States should make voting compulsory:
The U.S. prides itself as the beacon of democracy, but it’s very likely no U.S. president has ever been elected by a majority of American adults.
It’s our own fault — because voter participation rates are running below 60 percent, a candidate would have to win 85 percent or more of the vote to be elected by a majority.
Compulsory voting, as exists in Australia and more than two dozen other countries, would fix that problem. As William Galston of the Brookings Institution argues, “Jury duty is mandatory; why not voting?”
Mandating voting has a clear effect: It raises participation rates. Before Australia adopted compulsory voting in 1924, for example, it had turnout rates similar to those of the U.S. After voting became mandatory, participation immediately jumped from 59 percent in the election of 1922 to 91 percent in the election of 1925.
Orszag’s proposal and others like it are potentially harmful solutions to a non-problem. There is no evidence that nations with compulsory voting are, as a result, better governed than those where voting is voluntary. As Tim Cavanaugh points out, the former category includes many states such as Argentina, Lebanon, Egypt, Congo, and others that are hardly paragons of civic virtue. By contrast, one of the few democracies that has even lower turnout rates than the United States is Switzerland, which is widely considered one of the best-governed nations in the world. I am not suggesting that low turnout is the cause of Switzerland’s success; but it certainly hasn’t inhibited it. Orszag himself admits that most political scientists believe that the outcomes of US elections over the last [...]