The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday December 6th

Counterpoint: Mandatory Voting?

Forcing citizens to vote is wrong and wouldn't be in line with the ideals of our democratic society.

Voting can be a beautiful thing. It allows citizens to do their part to bring about change or to affirm their faith in the status quo.

But voting isn't for everybody. Not all people will be able to go to their local polling places Nov. 2 and make informed decisions about the politicians they want as their representatives and the initiatives that they want their government to take.

Their reasons for neglecting to do so might be poor excuses, or they might be vague. But one thing will remain clear: if citizens choose not to vote, it is completely within their right to do so.

That's why actions such as that of Merrill Skaggs, a Drew University professor who took steps to make voting a requirement for her students, are misguided and detrimental to the democratic process.

It is not the role of authority figures - from teachers to lawmakers - to force people to vote. Their role is to help people become more informed about issues and candidates and to ensure that the voting process is as open, fair and efficient as possible.

Citizens should consider voting to be their civic duty. Many people don't vote because they fail to inform themselves. Others simply can't find the time to make it to the polls on Election Day. While it might be fair to call such people irresponsible, it isn't fair to penalize them.

Those who don't vote are doing themselves a disservice. At the same time, those who vote without learning about the relevant issues and the participating candidates are doing everyone a disservice, because their choices on paper could very well be different from how they really feel. By not informing themselves, voters allow for the possibility that their ballot marks won't reflect their actual views and stances.

An uninformed vote is better than no vote only because it represents a citizen's active decision to take a part in local, state and national affairs. Once that element of choice is eliminated, the difference between the two becomes negligible.

Increasing voter turnout nationwide has been a growing concern. For example, there have been well-publicized efforts on this campus to get as many students to the polls as possible, and such efforts are noble.

But voting isn't primarily about numbers. It's about caring - caring enough about the issues either to seek a change or to support keeping things the way they are.

It's not just about standing up to be counted. It's about expressing something that you believe in when you are being counted.

Voting is a right. And just like any other right, people don't necessarily have to take advantage of it. Some people decline to vote not because they are too uninformed, too busy or too lazy, but because they want to make a statement. These people might feel that none of the options being presented to them is representative of their specific views and opinions, so they make a decision by not deciding.

At its core, our democracy is about choice. If people choose not to learn about the important issues, current events and candidates involved, so be it. If they choose to believe that their opinions won't make a difference in the grand scheme of things, so be it. If they choose not to go to the polls and to exercise their voice, so be it.

Strong-arm tactics are counterproductive. U.S. citizens need to recognize the importance of voting for themselves. They should take pride in the fact that, unlike people in some other nations, they have real power to control the direction of their country. They should realize that, yes, every vote does count - that while one more ballot might not come close to swaying an election by itself, it still adds to the validity of the democratic process.

It is certainly unfortunate that the percentage of U.S. citizens who turn out to vote in national elections has diminished over time. The best outcome would involve the maximum number of people arriving at the polls with the necessary information and well-formulated opinions.

We should strive to reach that apex of democracy through education and encouragement, not force.

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