Is Compulsory Voting The Answer?

William A. Galston
Bill Galston
William A. Galston Ezra K. Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow - Governance Studies

June 1, 2010

In an interview with Robert Siegel on NPR’s All Things Considered, William Galston discusses how compulsory voting will bring less polarization in the electorate
and in turn, sort out the government’s fiscal problems.

Robert Siegel: We came across this interesting proposal in a paper that aims at addressing the crisis in the US economy. The proposal:  require citizens to vote.  The paper is by William Galston of the Brookings institution, it’s called Economic Growth and Institutional Innovation: Outlines of a Reform Agenda.  And some of those reforms are about sorting out the government’s fiscal problems and mandating personal savings, but to do that, Galston says, we have to soften the polarized political climate and to do that, he says, we should make voting not just a civil right, but a legal obligation. William Galston joins us in the studio.  Hi.

William Galston: Good to be here.

Robert Siegel: What would we gain if people were required to vote?

William Galston:
Well, first of all, we would gain a lot of voters and let me tell you why I believe that.  Australia in the early part of the 20th century suffered a decline in political participation, in the election of 1922, participation was down to 59 percent from 71 percent in the previous election.  And so without a lot of fuss, in the Australian parliament, they passed a law making voting mandatory. Guess what, in the next election of 1925, participation was up by 32 percentage points to 91 percent and it stabilized ever after at about 95% of the population. 

Download the full interview » (MP3)