California could soon require all registered voters to cast a ballot under a newly proposed law.
Assembly Bill 2070 was introduced on Feb. 4 by Assembly member Marc Levine, D-Marin County.
If approved by the legislature, it would take effect in 2022, and those registered voters who did not vote could face a penalty for not voting.
It would be the first law of its kind in the U.S.
“(It) is not about penalizing voters, but to expand voter participation and to encourage people to exercise their right to vote,” said Terry Schanz, chief of staff for Levine. “It’s part of engaging in our democratic society.”
According to the bill, registered voters do not have to completely fill out their ballot, but they are required to cast one either by mail or at a voting center. The penalization for not casting a ballot is not yet finalized on the bill.
Australia and Belgium already have compulsory voting and have higher turnout because of it.
The fine for not voting in Australia can be up to $80, and voting there takes place on Saturdays to accommodate most working people. Voting day is also accompanied by a community barbecue.
“Here in California we have done more than in any other state to decrease barriers to vote for our citizens,” Schanz said. “We have worked with the Department of motor vehicles to do automatic voter registration and have provided easy online access registration as well. We are simply asking people to do their obligation as citizens of their democracy.”
Schanz said he has heard from many people who do not like the idea of mandatory voting. The bill is not forcing anyone to vote but rather cast a ballot regardless of whether it is completed or not, Schanz added.
Approximately 56% of the U.S. voting age-population cast a ballot in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, according to the Pew Research Center.
In the Pew study, which looked at the voter age population of 32 Organizations for Economic Cooperation and Development nations in 2016, the U.S. placed 26th, with 55.7% of voter age population and 86% of registered voters.
At the top of the list was Belgium, with 87% of voting age population and an 89% of registered voters.
Jason Niedleman, professor of political science, said AB 2070 could require candidates for government positions to appeal to the entire electorate rather than their preferred voters since every registered voter would be required to cast a ballot.
“Right now, a lot of efforts are being done to restrict voting for certain groups,” Niedleman said. “Compulsory voting could be a direct counter action to voter suppression in the United States.”
Niedleman added that through compulsory voting people will be encouraged to inform themselves about any unfamiliar laws or policies before having to cast a ballot.
“There could also be a potential shift in political discourse for both Republicans and Democrats that focuses more on racial minorities, the working class, and non-college educated voters,” Niedleman said.
“Compulsory voting broadens the scope of the voter population,” he added.
It is important for our younger generations to vote since they are the future of our democracy, Schanz said.
Although the bill aims to increase voter turnout in California, the penalty that is attached to the bill can serve as an issue for current and future voter registration.
Tania Ruedas, junior political communications major, said that as small as the penalization may be, it could discourage many from even registering to vote.
“While we would want individuals to be more politically active and exercise their right to vote, we must remember that we also have a right to not vote,” Ruedas said. “People can also simply not register to vote just so they can avoid the penalty for not casting a ballot.”
Ruedas said AB 2070 also could penalize those who work on election day.
“Presidential elections are not federal holidays and many people prefer to work on voting days than call off,” Ruedas said.
Jesus Espinoza, sophomore legal studies major, agrees with Ruedas.
“Imagine being penalized because you cannot make time in your indirectly forced daily routine,” Espinoza said.
“Who is actually benefiting? The receiver of the fines, or the individual who is being fined for not casting a ballot on time due to their job?” Espinoza added.
Merrie Sarao, sophomore political science major, said the bill could help increase voter turnout.
“Even though people could become discouraged to register to vote, the bill could actually encourage those who are already registered to at the very least cast a ballot since they know they will be penalized if they don’t,” Sarao said.
Robert Ruiz, director of forensics, said he likes the change and progression AB 2070 aims at doing, and is interested to see what will happen if the bill were to be passed.
“When you force people to do something, you have to be ready for the consequences because some people might not want to cast a ballot,” Ruiz said. “At the same time, this bill could get people more informed. I say let’s give it a shot.”
AB 2070 will be referred to the Assembly Elections Committee mid February, with its first hearing occurring between March and April.
Alondra Campos can be reached at email@example.com.