On the first of October, the Philodemic society convened to discuss a surprisingly charged topic: The United States Should Enact Compulsory Voting. Keynoting on the affirmation was Mr. Jonathan Marrow (COL ’18) of New Jersey. Opposing him on the negation was Mr. Daniel Ernst (COL ’18) of Massachusetts.
Mr. Marrow kicked off the debate by explaining that compulsory voting is an enforceable penalty that would force citizens to vote. It is not a mechanism to enfranchise felons, but rather to ensure that every person who is eligible to vote does so. He argued that the historical narrative of voting in the United States is one of ever expanding enfranchisement. By enacting compulsory voting, the United States would force its citizens to participate in an civic duty that members of countless groups have fought to gain access to. Mr. Marrow cited the elimination of the “silent majority” and the destruction of the money dedicated to get out the vote efforts as tangible benefits of compulsory voting. He concluded his argument by claiming that enforcing mandatory voting would be constitutional, as there are systems in place to enforce other obligatory civic duties, such as jury duty or selective service.
Mr. Ernst claimed that Mr. Marrow was mistaken in assuming that simply exercising the right to vote will contribute to the vitality of a democracy. He argued that compulsory voting is a coerced act of speech, and therefore should not be constitutional. Furthermore, Mr. Ernst posited that voluntary voting put the onus on politicians to convince voters that voting is a social good, not just a bureaucratic duty such as paying taxes. He closed his keynote by stating that forcing voters to come to the polls is a solution to the problem of voter apathy that solves the symptoms, not the cause, of the problem.
Leading the way for the first breakout floor debate of the sophomore class was Mr. Hinck. He began his speech by loosely quoting Trotsky: “You don’t care about politics, but politics cares about you.” Mr. Hinck believed compulsory voting would take control of politics out of the hands of elites and force Americans to recognize the importance of their civic duty to vote. Mr. Naft started his response by recalling his Ignatius seminar. He asked the society to consider whether or not they wanted Joe the Plumber voting on foreign policy. He followed up his rhetorical question by claiming that the decrease in the consumption of traditional and reliable news sources suggests that the general public is uninformed about current events. Mr. Naft proposed that the United States should not force uneducated people to vote, as it would lead to suboptimal outcomes for American democracy.
In response, Ms. Hernick claimed that while the contemporary informed voter might be better informed than their peers, they gain most of their information from cherry picked quotes and out of context sound bites. Ms. Hernick argued that in the absence of a large portion of the electorate, the available candidates are undesirable as they are the products of a broken system. Mr. Musgrave prefaced his floor speech by acknowledging the pragmatism present on the affirmation. However, he claimed that a more effective electoral system would not outweigh the way compulsory voting would end principled voting. Instead of a way for the electorate to elect principled leaders, compulsory voting would make a trip to the ballot box a mindless chore.
Ms. Landau exhorted the society to compare the institutions of the draft to compulsory voting. She argued that while many people might not be called upon to serve in the armed forces by way of selective service, it serves as a way for citizens to connect to the meaning of what it means to be an American. She closed by claiming that a lack of education does not remove the legitimacy from a citizen’s vote. Mr. Weiner replied to Ms. Landau by conceding that the institution of the draft is an important form of civic duty. However, he posited that voting should not be considered a civic duty, but should rather remain a political right. Mr. Weiner argued that a duty is much more likely to be restricted than a right, as evidenced by selective service excluding women from the draft.
Mr. Graff addressed the floor’s ambiguous definition of rights by offering a definition for the floor to take up. He defined a right as something that cannot be taken away, and can be broken down into subcategories of political and natural rights. Mr. Graff argued that voting is a political right, as it is a right bestowed by the government to its citizens. By recognizing voting as a political right, it is possible to conceive a situation in which the government would enforce or withhold this right in order to achieve a more optimal voting system. Ms. Ludtke responded to Mr. Graff by letting loose a string of expletives to describe her discontent with the political system. She told the society that she doesn’t vote because of the brokenness of the system. Ms. Ludtke argued that if you enact compulsory voting, people like her would be forced to participate in a system that they fundamentally disagree with.
Mr. Schafer countered Ms. Ludtke by reminding her that massive societal change is the result of discontented people participating in coordinated political action. He continued to argue that if discontented people were forced to vote, their voices would enact change in the government instead of being considered the “silent” majority. Ms. Haag responded to Mr. Schafer by claiming that forcing people to vote does not make them more intelligent. She argued that compulsory voting will lead to even more confusing political advertisements that will further decrease the quality of discourse. Mr. Perez-Reyes disputed Ms. Haag’s point, claiming that people have rights so they can be utilized. Furthermore, he argued that voting is a system of accountability, and that voters must participate in this system in order for it to be a valid
After Mr. Perez-Reyes’ speech, the floor was opened for a brief period of non-member speeches.
Mr. Nicholas Knowles (SFS ’19) said that in the Bahamas, candidates for election have the ability to throw parties for the electorate. He told the floor that the candidate with the bigger party usually wins, and that voters must be convinced to care, not forced. Mr. Ricardo Mondolfi (SFS ’19) told the society that the best government is one that best represents the people. In order to achieve this goal, we should force people to go to the polls.
Ms. Julia Freidmann (SFS ’19) asserted that the electoral process in the United States was broken. She argued that it would be more reasonable to fix the system before making participation in it mandatory. Ms. Lauren Finkenthal (SFS ’19) reminded the society that we were having a normative debate, and that we should want to have Joe the Plumber voting in every election. She argued that this policy would only force people to voice their non-compliance in the political system, instead of passively allowing them to ignore their civil duties.
Mr. Robert Kem (COL ’18) argued that compulsory voting was an unjust policy because only Democrats support the policy. This is because it would give Democrats an unfair advantage in elections if mandatory voting were enforced. Mr. Andrew Boling (SFS ’18) responded by highlighting the undercurrent of elitism surrounding the debate. He claimed that educated people are no less vulnerable to misinformation than uneducated people, and that everyone ought to have a say in the composition of their government.
With that, Mr. Vishwanathan took to the floor to argue that the United States should incentivize people to vote instead of forcing them to vote. He also wanted the floor to consider the importance of local elections, and how they can have more impact of daily life than national or state level elections. Ms. Kurek got up to tell the society that if politicians were able to engage the apathetic, they would make themselves heard. She also supported the policy because it would force the government to make a convenient time for citizens to go to the polls.
In response to Ms. Kurek, Mr. Ma warned the society that mandatory voting would entrench elitism. He argued that in creating this policy, bureaucratic organizations will be set up to prevent uneducated people from voting. Chancellor Whelan, after reciting the oath of membership, he claimed that to stand on the negation would be to negate the society. He exclaimed that the Philodemic should want to live in a society in which every person’s voice is equally heard and equally counted in determining the governmental composition of the society.
Mr. Fletcher recognized the appeal of imposing a duty on citizens to improve society. Nonetheless, he disagreed with the belief that compulsory voting would address the systemic lack of choice voters face at the polling stations. Vice-President Willis disagreed with the idea that democratic government should reflect the people. Instead, we should elect the people that make the best decisions as leaders.
Mr. Mullaney told the society about his love for local politics, and how his father ran for mayor of his hometown in Florida. He argued that if the United States were to force everyone to vote, there would be no change in the political system. Instead, politicians would just expand the size of their campaigns to give the same message to more people. Ms. Griffin brought a new perspective to the issue of the apathetic voter. She said that people might not care about politics, but they desperately care about policy. Her argument’s conclusion was that if people are forced to participate in politics, it will show them how participating in politics gives them a voice in the ways policy is made.
Mr. Harden told the society that he loves to do the dishes in his apartment because his parents taught him how to find the joy in performing chores at a young age. If the government were to do a better job teaching people to enjoy the civic responsibility of voting, there would be no need to require people to vote. Ms. Spira countered Mr. Harden by claiming that disillusion with the political system leads to the apathetic voter. She argued that the best way to discover the composition of the silent majority would be to force them to make their voice heard.
Mr. Ernst began his closing keynote by demonstrating the way Chancellor Whelan butchered the society’s motto in his speech. Informing the society that our motto actually means, “Eloquence conquered for liberty,” Mr. Ernst claimed that affirming this debate would not solve the systemic democratic problems in America. He claimed that it should be the job of politicians to use their eloquence to motivate the public to act on different issues. He said that enacting compulsory voting would not improve democracy; it would only change the number of people who vote.
Mr. Marrow closed the debate out by asserting that people not voting indicates a decline in the health of a democracy. He said that compulsory good does more good than harm because it removes the complex cost benefit analysis people currently use to decide whether or not they want to vote. He ended his keynote by reminding the society that philodemic means “love of the people,” and that we should affirm this debate to make sure that people’s voices are heard.
This debate was affirmed with a vote of 33 affirming, 4 abstaining and 31 negating.