from an expert in the field:
Norm Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
www.aei.org) and the author of several books covering U.S. politics, elections
laws a good idea?
I AM NOT NAIVE: I know
that Americans do not like
mandates and do like the
idea of the right not to vote,
and that the odds of mandatory attendance at the polls
*Percentage reflects votes
received by October 17, 2012.
are slim to none.
So why do I support it? The answer is that I
have been in Washington for 43 years, immersed
in our political process, and I have never seen it
this dysfunctional. We are seeing sharp ideological
and partisan polarization, almost tribal in nature.
Problem-solving has taken a backseat to political
advantage, and extreme voices, representing a
minority of Americans, dominate the discourse
and pull our politicians away from the problem-solving center and toward the edges.
The problem is partly because of dramatic
regional changes over the past 40 years, moving us
away from parties that were “big tents,” each with
moderates, liberals and conservatives.
But along with the regional changes has come
the rise of primaries as the real choice-makers for
who will run for office, and the primaries, which
attract very low turnouts, are dominated by the
most extreme ideologues. Even if the lawmakers
ultimately elected are not so extreme, they know
that if they displease the activists they are toast.
Should Supreme Court
proceedings be televised?
YES: 58% NO: 42%
Percentage reflects votes
received by September 30, 2012.
Opinions expressed are those of
the individuals or organizations
represented and are presented
to foster discussion. Costco and
The Costco Connection take no
position on any Debate topic.
from an expert in the field:
IMAGINE I HAD a magic
wand. The wand would
instantly make American
voters more misinformed,
more ignorant and more
irrational about politics. As
a result, worse candidates
would be elected. As a result, worse policies and
laws would be enacted. Would waving the magic
wand be good for America? Compulsory voting
might be just such a magic wand.
Social scientists have long studied voter
knowledge and rationality. The results are
frightening. Most voters are ignorant, misinformed, irrational and biased about political
issues. Yet, the typical person who now abstains
from voting is even more ignorant, misinformed, irrational and biased than the typical
person who votes. Americans have systematically mistaken beliefs about basic economics.
While the median U.S. voter is economically
illiterate, the median non-voter is even more
illiterate than the median voter. If we forced
everyone to vote, we would have an even more
deeply misinformed and irrational electorate.
We would all suffer the consequences.
You might think that compulsory voting
would cure our social ills. After all, the poor vote
Jason Brennan is an assistant professor of ethics, economics and public policy
and an assistant professor of philosophy at Georgetown University.
less than the rich. Perhaps if the poor voted more,
government would do more to help them.
This argument rests on two false assumptions.
First, it assumes the rich vote selfishly. In fact,
Political scientist Sarah Birch of the University
of Essex, London, finds that compulsory voting
does not increase female membership in govern-
ment, actually hurts small parties and has no
impact on income inequality. Political scientist
Annabelle Lever of the University of Geneva,
Switzerland, concludes that compulsory voting
has “no noticeable effect on political knowledge or
interest [or] electoral outcomes” and does not lead
“parties to compete for the votes of the poor, the
weak or the marginalized.”
Compulsory voting can make citizens vote,
but it cannot make them vote in a smart, well-
informed, responsible way. If you want more vot-
ing, compulsory voting works. If you want good
voting, compulsory voting fails. C
*Results may reflect Debate
being picked up by blogs. See
page 11, "Debate goes on."