How can we help?

Home > Revision Assistant > Prompt Library > Expansion Pack Library > Mandatory Voting

Mandatory Voting

Grades 11-12 | Historical Analysis | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 840L-1220L

Learning Standards




Prompt: President Abraham Lincoln famously said, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish." Despite this common idea that the votes of the majority should control a democracy and that this idea is central to the identity of the United States, many people choose not to vote.


Read and analyze the following texts about mandatory voting in the United States. After reading all three texts, write an essay that makes a claim about whether or not citizens should be required to vote in every election. Remember to include a counterclaim that addresses the other side of the argument. Be sure to include textual evidence from multiple sources to support your claim.


Source 1

Voting: A Right and A Responsibility


Voting is a fundamental right and responsibility of U.S. citizens—the right to have a say in how they are governed and the responsibility to be informed about candidates and issues when they go to the polls.


The United States was founded, in large part, on the desire of its people to participate in the decisions of their government. Surprisingly, perhaps, the U.S. Constitution itself did not address the right to vote or who was eligible to participate. The prevailing view when the Constitution was written in 1787 was that only white men who owned property were qualified to vote, because they had an interest in preserving society to protect their wealth and because they had the independence and education to decide important political matters.


Fortunately, times change. By the mid–19th century, property requirements were dismantled and virtually all adult white males were able to vote. Soon after, the United States engaged in the Civil War (1861–1865) over the right of states to allow slavery within their borders. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in 1865; the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 guaranteed "equal protection of the laws" to all citizens and established the voting age as 21 years; and the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 stated that no citizen should be denied the right to vote "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."


This was progress, but half of the U.S. population still could not vote: women. Agitation for universal suffrage began in the mid-19th century, but the turning point came when the United States entered World War I in 1917. How could the United States fight for democracy overseas while denying it to half the population at home? Obviously, it could not, and the Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920.


In the mid-20th century, another foreign conflict led to expansion of the franchise. Thousands of young Americans fought in the Vietnam War, many of them teenagers. They were old enough to fight for their country, yet not old enough to vote. Public outcry and political will led to passage of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, granting the vote to 18, 19, and 20 year olds in 1971.


In spite of the many struggles to guarantee all citizens the right to vote, the percentage of Americans who exercise that right declined during the second half of the 20th century. No single reason explains this trend. Some citizens may feel that their single vote does not make a difference; some may lose interest in campaigns run primarily through the media. Others may simply be too busy to go to the polls every time there is an election. Americans vote for every political office from school board member to state legislator to congressional representative to president of the United States, as well as on a host of state and local matters. Often, citizens are asked to vote on something several times in one year. The challenge of citizenship is to get to know the candidates and to understand the issues in order to vote responsibly.


An apparent shift in the low-turnout trend occurred between the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The historically close election of 2000 perhaps convinced voters that every vote does matter, and voter turnout increased from 60 percent of eligible voters in 2000 to 64 percent in 2004 and 2008. The increase in voters between the ages of 18 and 29 was even more dramatic. Project Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to empower underrepresented voters, estimates that turnout in this age group in 2008 increased by 9 percent from 2004.


Source 2

Mandatory Voting Would Be a Disaster

By Jason Brennan

November 7, 2011


Higher voter turnout won't solve our problems, because high turnout is itself a problem.


Imagine Betty wants to help people, but has crazy beliefs about how to help them. Betty steals food from the starving. She kicks the injured. She takes money from the poor. Betty has noble intentions, but no one needs her help.


The best scientific studies tell us that citizens act like Betty at the voting booth. Voters have noble intentions. Yet they have systematically false beliefs about basic economics, political science and foreign policy. When We the People vote, we make bad choices, and we get what we choose.


The median voter is incompetent at politics. The citizens who abstain are, on average, even more incompetent. If we force everyone to vote, the electorate will become even more irrational and misinformed. The result: not only will the worse candidate on the ballot get a better shot at winning, but the candidates who make it on the ballot in the first place will be worse.


Most people believe that more voting causes better government. This is an article of faith, not fact. Social scientists have shown that higher quality government tends to cause higher turnout. But higher turnout does not cause higher quality government.


Mandatory voting laws would hurt, but they would not be a disaster. With 60 percent of Americans voting — the majority biased and irrational about politics — most of the damage has already been done.


If we really want to help America, we shouldn't force citizens to vote. We should encourage citizens to vote well or not vote at all. Don't ask your neighbor to vote. Instead, ask the ignorant and irrational voters, how dare you?




Source 3

What We've Seen in Australia With Mandatory Voting

By Lisa Hill

November 7, 2011


America has a serious voter turnout problem, yet none of the attempted remedies have been able to solve it. The problem is not just that turnout is low but that it is also socially biased.


Failure to vote is concentrated among groups already experiencing one or more forms of deprivation, namely, the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, indigenous peoples, the isolated, new citizens and the young. This transfers greater voting power to the well-off and causes policies to be geared disproportionately to the interests of voters (politicians aren't stupid: they know who their customers are). The legitimacy of American democracy is thereby undermined, assuming you agree that political inequality and unrepresentativeness are bad for democracy.


The most decisive means for arresting turnout decline and closing the socio-economic voting gap is mandatory voting: in fact, it is the only mechanism that can push turnout anywhere near 95 percent. Places with mandatory voting also have less wealth inequality, lower levels of political corruption and higher levels of satisfaction with the way democracy is working than voluntary systems. Here in Australia, where we love freedom as much as anyone else, we have a mandatory voting regime that is well managed, corruption-free, easy to access, cheap to run and has an approval rating of more than 70 percent.


Is being required to vote a violation of autonomy? Sure, but so is mandatory taxation, jury duty and the requirement to educate our children. Yet, these are all good ideas.


While we fret about our supposed rights to apathy, American democracy is dying. Is voting just a right or is it also a duty? Being enabled to enjoy the benefits of democratic life, of living in a democracy instead of, say, a dictatorship requires participatory effort. Democratic citizens owe it to each other to vote so that, together, they can constitute and perpetuate democracy and collectively enjoy the benefits of living in a properly functioning democratic society where everyone counts.








Last modified


This page has no custom tags.


(not set)