Compulsory voting reinforces the distinctive and valuable role that elections play in contemporary democracy. Some scholars have suggested that mandatory voting laws can improve government responsiveness to members of poor and marginalized groups who are less likely to vote. Critics of compulsory voting object that citizens can participate in a wide variety of ways; voting is not important enough to justify forcing people to do it. These critics neglect the importance of voting’s particular role in contemporary democratic practice, though. The case for compulsory voting rests on an implicit, but widely shared, understanding of elections as special moments of mass participation that manifest the equal political authority of all citizens. The most prominent objections to mandatory voting fail to appreciate this distinctive role for voting and the way it is embedded within a broader democratic framework.
Emilee is an assistant professor of Political Science at Stanford. Her current research project examines the distinctive value of voting in contemporary democratic practice, and its significance for electoral reform and the ethics of participation.