Connecticut and Washington Democrats have introduced bills in their respective legislatures that would mandate compulsory voting for all eligible residents.
On Monday, a Connecticut House committee heard testimony on HB 5704. If passed by the legislature and signed into law, that bill would require all “qualified elector[s]” to “either cast a ballot at an election or provide a valid reason” for not doing so.
If an eligible voter were to refrain from voting, he would be sent “a form” from the state “inquiring as to why [he] did not so cast a ballot.” If an elector did not return the form explaining why he didn’t vote, he would be fined.
While bill sponsor and Democrat Rep. Josh Elliot claimed during Monday’s hearing that such fines would be a “nominal fee” such as “five, 10, 15, 20 bucks,” HB 5704 does not specify a minimum or maximum amount for the penalties.
“If you say, ‘We want universal voting’ and then there’s no punishment at all, you aren’t really saying anything,” Elliot said in an attempt to justify the fines.
Despite proponents’ claims the proposal would expand civic engagement, Connecticut residents were not buying Democrats’ disingenuous talking points. According to a local news outlet, the amount of written testimony from citizens opposing the legislation “overwhelmingly outweighed” testimony from the bill’s supporters.
This measure “will compel voting by people who don’t care or don’t know about the issues or candidates, thus influencing the outcome,” wrote Connecticut resident Manuel Santos. “Voting as an uninformed citizen is just as bad, perhaps worse, than not voting at all.”
As noted by the Cato Institute, compulsory voting has consistently produced problems like the “donkey vote.” That is when a segment of voters who, out of protest or apathy, randomly select a candidate or party on the ballot. Such a practice could result in voters who are poorly informed determining key races. It’s such a bad idea, that even The New York Times has called it a “disaster.”
Connecticut Democrats aren’t alone in their push for such a policy. In Washington, Senate Democrats have introduced SB 5209, which seeks to implement mandatory voting under the guise of “universal civic duty voting.” Unlike the Connecticut bill, however, SB 5209 doesn’t penalize voters for not casting a ballot in primary and general elections.
While trying to rationalize such a law in January, bill sponsor and Democrat Sen. Sam Hunt went out of his way to compare compulsory voting to “paying taxes” and men being forced to sign “up for the draft.” It’s “just another civic duty that we would require people to do,” he said.
Hunt’s Republican colleague, Sen. Jeff Wilson, had a different take, calling the bill an “unconstitutional” and “un-American distraction.” In his remarks, Wilson also noted such a law could be amended in the future to include punishments for noncompliance.
“Of course, you have the right to speak, you have the right to vote, but you also have the same right to not,” Wilson said. “There’s no consequence now, but what would keep it from having a consequence later? That’s something to be very concerned about.”
The Washington bill is currently being considered by the Senate Rules Committee. while the Connecticut measure is currently being considered by the state’s House Government Administration and Elections Committee.