By Brad Friedman on 3/25/2015, 11:54am PT  

I wrote a bit about this after last year's elections, though from a different direction. But, given the recent remarks by President Obama (and more than a fair bit of questionable reporting about those remarks), its worth adding a few more thoughts here.

Over the years, I've seen folks misinterpret The BRAD BLOG's coverage of voting and elections and voter suppression by presuming that by covering these things, it's the same thing as telling everyone to vote.

In fact, I strongly believe in the right to not vote. While I think it's a counter-productive response to pretty much everything --- including the misguided and lazy notions that "elections don't really matter" or "both parties are the same" --- I would fight for your right to not vote under our existing system as vigorously as I'd fight for your right to vote (if you want to) and to have that vote counted, counted accurately and in a way that everyone can know that everyone's votes have been counted accurately.

With that in mind, it was interesting to see the reactions to President Obama's statement last week in Cleveland which some, including CNN and, naturally, the ever-outraged Fox "News", took it upon themselves to interpret as a call for "mandatory voting" in the U.S...

It's less than clear that making vote mandatory was what the President was actually calling for in those remarks when he discussed "expanding the franchise, not restricting it", in response to a question about big money in politics.

"In Australia and some other countries, there's mandatory voting," Obama said, adding: "It would be transformative if everybody voted. That would counteract money more than anything. If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country."

He went on to note that those who tend not to vote are students, immigrants, minorities, the poor and those struggling just to keep up with work and other daily requirements to put food on the table. In other words, those who don't tend to vote are many of the same folks who are now being targeted by Republicans across the country in an attempt to keep them from being able to cast a vote at all. Getting more folks to vote, Obama said, "may end up being a better strategy in the short term". He seemed to be saying that getting more people to vote (if not necessarily mandating it) is a more effective short term response to money in politics (and voter suppression) than passing new laws or Constitutional amendments to get money out of politics.

But let's presume for a minute that he was calling for mandatory voting, as many have interpreted. Is that a good idea?

In my opinion, not really. But that's only my opinion and its based on the idea, as I discussed in more detail last year, that folks have the right not to vote, as a protest, of sorts, to those on the ballot and/or our system of government itself. I find not voting to be an incredibly ineffective form of protest --- a stupid one, in fact --- which tends to serve only to deeper ingrain the dysfunctional aspects of our current system of government. But its one that citizens should have the right to enjoy, nonetheless, just as they should have the right to vote if they wish to (and Universal Voter Registration, as implemented last week by Oregon, is an excellent example of what should be done across the country, in that regard.)

But I am nothing if not pragmatic. I have heard many over the years call for mandatory voting (even if Obama did not necessarily do so), and so, in the spirit of comity, I have always offered a compromise to those folks: I'll agree to support mandatory voting, so long as there is a "None of the Above" option included in every race on the ballot. If "None of the Above" gets more votes than anybody else in the race, a new election will be held with different candidates.


* * *

Here, for the record, are Obama's somewhat cryptic 3/18/15 remarks in Cleveland about expanded voter turnout in response to money in politics...

Share article...