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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, February 26th, 2023

Book Review: 100% Democracy makes the case for adopting universal voting in the U.S.

The 2024 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will be here faster than the pub­lic expects, which makes improv­ing vot­er par­tic­i­pa­tion an imme­di­ate concern.

Short term are need­ed to pre­vent anoth­er elec­tion fraught with suc­cess­ful attempts to dis­en­fran­chise vot­ers. But we’ve also got to think longer term about rein­vig­o­rat­ing our democ­ra­cy, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that young peo­ple are one of the groups that votes the most incon­sis­tent­ly — or not at all.

In 100% Democ­ra­cy: The Case for Uni­ver­sal Vot­ing, E.J. Dionne and Miles Rapoport make the intrigu­ing argu­ment that the best way to pre­vent vot­er sup­pres­sion is to make vot­ing a legal require­ment. They are quick to point out that this is not a rad­i­cal idea, pro­vid­ing the exam­ple of the Aus­tralian uni­ver­sal vot­ing sys­tem, which pro­duced a turnout of 91.9% in 2019.

Uni­ver­sal vot­ing, which they call civic duty vot­ing, would make vot­ing a com­pul­so­ry civic respon­si­bil­i­ty as well as a right.

The authors direct­ly address con­cerns and legal claims against uni­ver­sal vot­ing, address­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties cul­ture in the U.S. would cre­ate in imple­ment­ing this pol­i­cy. Some Amer­i­cans have expressed dis­com­fort with the idea of com­pul­so­ry vot­ing, which acts as a large bar­ri­er for those try­ing to demys­ti­fy it.

Advo­ca­cy for uni­ver­sal vot­ing isn’t just a response to com­bat­ing vot­er sup­pres­sion. Dionne and Rapoport argue that it is time we re-assert that vot­ing is a civic duty.

100% Democracy book cover

100% Democ­ra­cy: The Case for Uni­ver­sal Vot­ing, by E. J. Dionne Jr. and Miles Rapoport (March 2022, The New Press)

The call to ful­fill­ing civic duties was well-bal­anced with the prac­ti­cal real­i­ty that many peo­ple do not vote because it is too dif­fi­cult, not because they reject par­tic­i­pat­ing in democ­ra­cy. Uni­ver­sal vot­ing has the pow­er to make vot­ing eas­i­er and nor­mal­ize it as a default in America.

Dionne and Rapoport also go much fur­ther than mere­ly lay­ing out what they see as the steps to imple­ment­ing uni­ver­sal vot­ing. Read­ers will find a com­pelling and thor­ough jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the prac­tice, both con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly and philosophically.

Dionne and Rapoport base their posi­tion on the Constitution’s pre­am­ble, assert­ing that our cur­rent vot­ing sys­tem fails to live up even to the open­ing words: “‘We the Peo­ple,’ are cen­tral to the argu­ments for uni­ver­sal civic duty vot­ing, and a gov­ern­ment built on wide par­tic­i­pa­tion in our elec­tions would be far more like­ly to advance the oth­er pur­posed the Pre­am­ble describes – none more so that the quest for jus­tice, domes­tic tran­quil­i­ty, and liberty.”

The key con­sti­tu­tion­al attack against civic duty vot­ing is derived from the First Amend­ment. The argu­ment is that requir­ing cit­i­zens to vote equates to forced and coerced speech. The authors stress the impor­tance of clar­i­fy­ing between “manda­to­ry par­tic­i­pa­tion” and “manda­to­ry voting.”

A uni­ver­sal vot­ing sys­tem would allow peo­ple to vote “none of the above” on their bal­lots or pro­vide a legit­i­mate rea­son for not mak­ing selections.

Exam­ples of oth­er civic duties with manda­to­ry defaults include jury duty, the nation­al cen­sus, and dues (local, state, and fed­er­al taxes).

These sug­gest that civic duty vot­ing can suc­cess­ful­ly be defend­ed in our courts against the argu­ment that it is coerced speech.

I would def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend this book to any­one who is hop­ing to bet­ter under­stand the issue of vot­er sup­pres­sion, how it has impact­ed past elec­tions, and how to advo­cate for a last­ing solution.

A pletho­ra of dis­in­for­ma­tion has helped pur­pose­ly and suc­cess­ful­ly con­fuse many vot­ers on this issue, mak­ing this book’s sum­ma­ry of elec­tion fraud claims and the use of vot­er sup­pres­sion a very pow­er­ful, effec­tive tool.

Rel­a­tive­ly short, suc­cinct, and made easy to under­stand, Dionne and Rapoport have cre­at­ed a com­pre­hen­sive guide to how Amer­i­ca can adopt the ulti­mate vot­ing jus­tice reform: uni­ver­sal voting.

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