As an Australian journalist, I have watched with growing concern as voter turnout in the United States continues to decline, election after election. With the 2020 presidential election seeing only 66% of the voting-age population cast a ballot — and with that number celebrated as an achievement — it is clear that America is facing a crisis of civic participation that threatens the foundations of its democracy.
For nearly a century here in Australia, we have embraced a different approach — compulsory voting. Since its implementation in 1924, compulsory voting has become ingrained in our political culture and has led Australia to boast consistently high voter turnout rates. Our most recent 2019 federal election saw 91% of eligible voters cast a ballot.
The solution seems clear — the United States should consider adopting compulsory voting to revitalize its ailing democracy. The concept is straightforward — registering to vote and participating in elections become legal obligations. Some may see this as an infringement on freedom, but Australia’s experience shows it is better understood as a recognition that voting is a civic responsibility, not just a right.
Through compulsory voting, Australia has achieved exceptionally high and equitable voter turnout across all socioeconomic groups. Marginalized communities and young people who traditionally face barriers to political participation are incorporated into the process. Suppression efforts become obsolete when all eligible citizens are compelled to attend on election day. And eat a democracy sausage, too.
This produces a political environment where policies must appeal to a broad constituency rather than cherry-picked partisan supporters. Campaigns become more inclusive as politicians cannot simply rely on mobilizing their bases. The voices of all citizens gain equal weight.
Compulsory voting offers a powerful counterbalance to the aggressive voter suppression crusade undertaken by the Republican Party in recent years. Restrictive voter ID laws, purging of voter rolls, and reduction of polling locations in minority areas — these cynical tactics disproportionately target and disenfranchise Democratic-leaning groups.
Under compulsory voting, these voter suppression mechanisms become ineffective. Politicians could not skew elections simply by erecting barriers to participation. The diverse voices suppressed under the current voluntary system would ring out loud and clear.
Compulsory voting counteracts the outsized influence of wealthy donors and special interest groups in American elections. By mobilizing the entire population, the power of moneyed interests to sway outcomes through targeted political messaging would be diluted.
Some critics may argue that compulsory voting infringes on freedom by forcing disinterested citizens to vote. But, Australia’s experience shows that, in practice, compulsory voting encourages citizens to become more informed about and engaged with the political process.
Low voter turnout reflects policy agendas and campaigns that fail to resonate with large swathes of the population. Compulsory voting incentivizes politicians to craft more responsive, inclusive platforms to court a broader range of citizens.
Further, compulsory voting systems invest heavily in civic education programs to equip citizens with the knowledge to make thoughtful choices at the ballot box. This fosters an environment of active political awareness rather than apathetic resignation.
The decline in voter participation should alarm anyone concerned with the health of American democracy. Low and inequitable turnout threatens to undermine representative government and silence underrepresented groups.
America now faces a choice between the status quo of waning turnout and aggressive partisan voter suppression or a bold reform that could re-engage citizens, incorporate marginalized voices, and make governance more inclusive.
The Australian model provides a proven framework for renewing participatory democracy. We have seen firsthand how compulsory voting can transform elections and ensure the voices of all citizens carry equal weight.
The time has come for America to view voting as a civic responsibility rather than an option. Compulsory voting drives participation across all groups, neutralizes suppression techniques, and establishes a culture of active political awareness. Reform is never easy, but the crisis of civic engagement demands bold action. As an Australian familiar with the transformative power of compulsory voting, I sincerely hope America chooses to take up this challenge. The alternative is an ongoing slide into decay and degeneracy that ill befits one of the world’s oldest liberal democracies.