What’s Behind Obama’s Call for Mandatory Voting?

Leftist groups like the ‘Center for American Progress’ and ‘Demos,’ including such progressive luminaries as John Podesta, Van Jones, as well as Barack Obama, have previously endorsed compulsory voting laws to guarantee progressive government. The first step on the road to mandatory voting is mandatory voter registration. 

By Jay O’Callaghan l April 1, 2015

It came out of nowhere recently at a civic group in Cleveland, when President Obama answered a question on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. The President, who raised record amounts from high dollar donors in his two presidential campaigns, suddenly supported mandatory voting to reduce the influence of money in elections.

In a rambling manner, he said that Democrat voting groups such as young, lower-income and minority voters often have the lowest rates of turnout. “It would be transformative if everybody voted. That would counteract money more than anything.”

The reaction to his comments was so bad that White House press secretary Josh Earnest in a rare retraction retreated from Obama’s remarks the next day by stating that “the president was not making a specific policy prescription for the United States.” But his comments also put the spotlight on an emerging movement on the left and among some elections officials in the U.S. to improve voter turnout by forcing voters to vote through mandatory voting and voter registration.

The president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, historian Jason Grumet reacted negatively by stating that “there’s a constitutional issue.” Compulsory voting, he explained, is “more of an aspiration than a practical solution. Like everything, there are pros and cons.” In Australia, experience has shown that “the downside is a lot of people are essentially forced to vote who have no desire to participate in the process, no information about the process, and so there’s a question about whether you dilute the quality of the voter pool.”

Other legal experts agreed that the Constitution guarantees the right not to vote. Rutgers School of Law Professor Frank Askin said the right to free speech enjoyed by all Americans extends to making a constitutionally protected statement by not taking part in the election process.

“I don’t think you can do it in this country because I don’t think the First Amendment would permit it,” said Askin, who did say that automatic voter registration is a possibility. “People have a right to opt out of elections. It’s not happening.”

In fact, mandatory voting is such a bad idea that only 26 out of 199 nations which hold elections have mandatory or compulsory voting according to the IDEA (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance). Only thirteen of the mandatory voting countries enforce the requirement by fines or other sanctions.  These include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Cyprus, Ecuador, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Nauru, Peru, Singapore, Turkey and Uruguay.  Probably only one of these countries is a Western democracy – Australia, which has a very different system from the U.S. based on voting for a Parliament based on the percentage of votes for each party.

This so-called reform is not a new reform at all with Australia adopting it as early as 1924. Instead the recent trend has been to abandon it.  Ten countries have eliminated it including Chile in 2012, Fiji in 2014, and Italy and Venezuela in 1993.

The first step on the road to mandatory voting is mandatory voter registration. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recently signed a bill to automatically register voters using drivers’ license data – an  idea she had first developed as secretary of state. State officials project it will add 300,000 people to a voter roll that now numbers about 2.2 million.

“It should be convenient and very easy, but it shouldn’t be the law,” argued Knute Buehler, a Republican state representative in Oregon. The automatic registration bill passed through both houses of the legislature on a party-line vote. Buehler said the law “replaces individual convenience with government coercion.”

Another Republican, Representative Julie Parrish criticized it for doing nothing about the nearly half a million eligible voters whose registrations have been deemed inactive by the state, because they either haven’t voted in two consecutive elections or haven’t addressed errors in the forms on file with the government.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says Oregon’s new law could potentially be “a perfect storm of errors” and could increase the likelihood of fraud. He said that it increases the likelihood of illegal immigrants being registered by mistake and creates the possibility of duplicate registration for people who change addresses or spell their names differently on their driver’s license than on their voter registration.

Legislators in other states, including Pennsylvania, are considering following Oregon’s lead. “We’re taking a great idea from Oregon and expanding it,” says Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes. Hughes wants to have multiple government bodies involved in the voter registration process.

And there is much more than meets the eye for administration support for mandatory voting than the President’s comments. According to a report in WND, major progressive groups known for influencing White House policy have supported mandatory voting in the U.S. One of those organizations even conceded compulsory voting laws would work to ensure a future “progressive” government.

Michele Jawando, vice president at the Center for American Progress, said to Slate.com that “compulsory voting laws would not violate the Constitution’s First Amendment” if voters were provided with a “none of the above” option on the ballot; that is, “if they could decide against voting for any specific candidate. I think it would be constitutional, without question,” Jawando concluded.

The Center for American Progress is known for its influence over the Obama White House. The group’s founder, John Podesta, served as Obama’s White House “counselor” and co-directed Obama’s transition into the White House.

Another leftist group, Demos, has endorsed compulsory voting laws for the U.S., even allowing that such rules could virtually guarantee a “progressive” government. “Obama is right to point to voting as a mechanism to fight elite domination of politics,” writes Demos’ research associate Sean McElwee.

According to Demos’ own website, while Obama was a state senator in 1999, he served on the working group that founded Demos. The group previously partnered with Project Vote, a voter registration drive run by Obama in 1992.

Obama’s former “green” jobs czar, Van Jones, is a long-time Demos fellow. WND also reported that Demos had been instrumental in the Obama administration’s hiring of Jones, who resigned in 2009 after it was exposed he founded a communist revolutionary organization and called for “resistance” against the U.S. government.

Jay O’Callaghan has worked extensively with issues involving the U.S. Census Bureau including serving as a professional staff member for the House Government Reform Census Subcommittee, as a senior legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives Redistricting Committee and for two U.S. House members. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.