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Michael Yarbrough Headshot

The Ignorance of Compulsory Voting

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On March 14, Krystal Ball appeared on The Dylan Ratigan Show, soapbox in tow, for her segment known as the 'Daily Rant.' She began by waxing poetic about the sacrifices of our great civil rights leaders and how we can all make a difference before -- with the utmost sincerity -- asserting that compulsory voting is the solution to our problem of voter apathy. But, by focusing on the wrong word of that sentence -- "vote", Ms. Ball is entirely missing the point, the point being the word "freedom."

The fact of the matter is that compulsory voting is a denial of the freedom of millions of people in this country, the freedom not to participate. Now, I'm not only speaking to the freedom of the oft-controversial "conscientious objector." I'm talking about my father. André Yarbrough is one of Jehovah's Witnesses and -- as such -- it is against his religious beliefs to vote just as it is for millions of other 'Witnesses' and those of other faiths in the United States. Ms. Ball is suggesting that my father, and many others, be directly penalized because of their religious beliefs. For all of her talk about compulsory voting being the grand savior of the American ideal, Ms. Ball seems to have ignored this crucial issue and -- while I may not agree with my father -- I respect, and presume others will respect, his constitutional right not to participate.

Now, our freedom to object is clearly not the core objection to Ms. Ball's argument but it certainly highlights Ms. Ball's ignorance in the matter, an ignorance that is made even more evident when one simply thinks about the issue of compulsory voting for more than five minutes. In her rant, Ms. Ball sites recent voter turnout statistics out of Mississippi and Alabama and, sure, compulsory voting would inherently increase turnout numbers from the mid-20's to, presumably, the high-90's. However, arbitrary statistics are as far as its effect would reach. The fact of the matter is that compulsory voting does not address voter apathy, it merely forces the apathetic to vote. I was, as I'm sure we all were, made to do chores growing up. As a kid, I wasn't any more excited about these chores when I was forced to do them, I was merely forced to do chores. Unfortunately, that's exactly what Ms. Ball's plan would do to voting in this country: create another chore for millions of people while completely ignoring the issues at the heart of voter participation.

In 2008, I volunteered in Gary, Ind., for then-Senator Barack Obama working to register area residents to vote and providing them with directions to their voting precincts. As I went door-to-door (a skill honed during my time with Jehovah's Witnesses like my father, no doubt), I encountered people who were bed- and home-ridden who had never heard of early and remote voting, people who compulsory voting would penalize right along with my father. While Ms. Ball's intentions are nothing if not good, compulsory voting is merely a shortcut, a lazy and overly simplistic attempt to address an incredibly complex issue. At a time when we should be talking about community outreach and education, turning the act of voting into an action of rote only serves to cheapen the institution and does nothing to solve its problems.

Raising awareness of the issue of voter apathy is of the utmost importance in a society that prides itself on being "of the people, by the people and for the people". However, only by steering clear of the proverbial 'duct tape' solutions can we begin to address real world problems.