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OPINION

Should voting be mandatory? Other writers weigh in

Other Writers

Mandatory voting a really bad idea

Scott Shackleford in Reason: “It would be transformative if everybody voted. That would counter money more than anything,” President Barack Obama said in an interview this week.

No, it wouldn’t, not really. Well, first of all, let’s backtrack to the idea.

Mandatory voting is a violation of our civil rights, just as denying a citizen a right to vote is a violation. Casting a vote is speech. It is showing support or opposition to a candidate or proposal. Making voting mandatory means voting is no longer a right. It’s an obligation. It’s forced speech. If we were forced to attend a church, but had a choice of several churches, we would still (most of us, anyway) recognize that this is a violation of our freedom to decline to practice religion at all. Not voting isn’t just an expression of apathy. It’s also a form of protest.

Second, when it comes to campaigning, mandatory voting would indeed probably make the race cheaper — but only for incumbents and entrenched politicians. Institutional inertia benefits incumbents tremendously, and they’re rarely tossed out of office. Obama complained about all the television ads during election season. Imagine what it would be like to attempt to challenge an incumbent as an outsider in an environment where you have to assume that everybody is going to vote. How much more money would challengers have to spend to try to reach even more people to counter the natural advantages of incumbents? It’s the same problem with attempting to restrict campaign spending. Because incumbents have a history and years of essentially free press covering his or her work in office, challengers sometimes have to be able to raise and spend more to compete against them, assuming the incumbent doesn’t have a history of failure, scandal, and incompetence. There’s a reason the phrase “the devil you know” gets invoked so frequently when talking about politicians and elections.

Stop playing the ‘race card’ card

Charles M. Blow in the New York Times:I have a particular revulsion for the phrase “playing the race card” because of all that it implies: that people often invoke race as a cynical ploy to curry favor, or sympathy, and to cast aspersions on the character of others.

Maybe there are some people who do this, but I have never known a single person to admit to it or be proven to have done it.

Sure, living in a society still replete with racial bias can make one hypersensitive, to the point of seeing it even when it isn’t there. But this to me isn’t evidence of malicious intent, but rather the manifestation of chronic injury.

Furthermore, there are surely still people like the ones Booker T. Washington described:

“There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”

But those who can realize a profit pale in comparison to the vast majorities of regular people trying to get by. To confuse the two is a deliberate deception.

Police shootings and morality

Radley Balko in the Washington Post: “Was this illegal?” is the wrong question to ask after a police shooting. The better question is, “Was this an acceptable outcome?” And if the answer is no, then the follow-up question is, “What needs to change to stop this from happening again?”

Over the past year or so, the police reform movement has achieved some enormous success in raising awareness about police brutality, police use of force and police shootings. But if the goal is to prevent unnecessary deaths, the focus needs to shift from demanding indictments of individual cops, filing civil lawsuits and looking for validation from national leaders to electing policymakers who share the reform movement’s goals. Yes, we have some bad cops. And there’s also a problem with the good cops covering for the bad ones. But if the laws and policies that cops are expected to follow — and by which they are evaluated — are flawed, directing reform efforts at punishing bad cops isn’t going to help.

We can’t stop after asking, “Was this shooting legal?” and “Was this shooting within department procedures?” The more important question is, “Do we find this shooting morally unacceptable?” If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then the problem is much bigger than the cop, the police union or the police department.