Rodenbaugh: Mandatory voting isn’t the answer to voter apathy

Mikaela Rodenbaugh

Recently I’ve heard from many voters and prospective voters that this election is making them feel that they have to choose between the lesser of two evils. Simply put, many Americans find both candidate front runners off-putting, they do not see either one as a truly inspiring choice. Some of these voters respond by voting third party, with candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, some launch protest votes, writing in names on the ballot, still others will just make a choice between front runners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But overwhelmingly, another segment will just refuse to vote at all.

As electorate frustration mounts, it has been suggested by some saddened by a lack of participation in the political system and many a political science class that maybe it’s time for the US to consider policies that would make voting compulsory. Proponents of this practice cite the immediate gratification of more voter participation, but a look below the surface of voter apathy shows that perhaps the problem was never really political apathy, but rather, contempt for the current political system.


Many Americans, including college students, are very deliberate in their choice not to vote (See Dan DeHerrara’s Op-Ed). For some, it’s a matter of not feeling like their voices will be heard or that their votes matter. Others find themselves dismayed at the increasingly alienating cycle of contemporary politics. They don’t feel that many politicians are really representative of their priorities. One thing that is clear though, is that not voting doesn’t mean not having political opinions.

On the contrary, many apathetic would be voters are actually really caring individuals who feel left out by the political process at large. For these people, adding in fines for not participating during elections like Australia has done since 1924 is not a solution as we move forward into our own 2016 election. Even after this, by the way, there are still a significant segment of the Australian population who do not pay any attention to how they are voting–they just do it to avoid the punishment.

I’ll admit that in the past I have fallen into the category of people who are unendingly frustrated by the lack of voter turnout in the United States. As a teenager in AP US Government Class, I distinctly remember entertaining the idea of mandatory voting in a class debate. I view voting as a civic duty and a privilege and I will happily exercise my right to vote on Election Day this November 8th. But just because I believe in the system, doesn’t mean that everyone is on the same page.

For one thing, there are a significant section of Americans that either don’t understand, or don’t agree with the electoral college, the basis of our vote counting system in the US. Although the electoral college was created for the purpose of preventing minority factions or masses from having more say than majorities in it’s original implementation, I can understand why this may seem like an undemocratic ideal. Especially for those who live in a traditionally red state who vote blue, or a traditionally blue state that vote red, these systems can be the source of much turmoil in a modern political setting.

And there is the undeniable problem of money in politics. At this point, I can understand the perspectives of those who will abstain from the polls this year that point out that the only real influence on our political system is to have deep pockets. Once upon a time I would have refuted this argument. I might have said that voting has made it so that the poor have a say just like the rich, but with laws that treat corporations like people, I no longer feel I can say in good conscience that money doesn’t directly influence our government on every level.

I don’t support regulations that would make voting compulsory, but I sure as hell support those who are going out to the polls this year. I’ll be one of you, participating in a landmark election, exercising my hard earned right (thank you 19th amendment) because my path forward seems clear.

But for those of you who don’t participate in the vote this year, I vow I will no longer look at you and hate you for your choice. For those of you that are unable to make it to the polls due to a disability, or maybe you didn’t register on time, I support you, and I hope in the future you will vote, and that we as a society will streamline our democratic process to make sure you have a voice. And even those of you who don’t really have an excuse not to vote, other than that you just couldn’t figure out who to support in this time, you didn’t see the election as a threat to your status quo, or you don’t think your vote really counts, I support you.

I may not agree with you, but for the first time in my life, I see where you’re coming from.