America could use some advice on voter turnout from our friends down under

Helen Rogalski, Managing Editor

In the midst of the primary elections, candidates are scrambling to win over American citizens and gain more votes. While news coverage is extensive, debates are repetitive and the 2016 presidential election is upon us, voter turnout is still at an embarrassingly low amount.

FairVote has reported that in recent elections across America, roughly 60% of the eligible voting population votes during presidential election years. This drops down to roughly 40% during midterm elections.

Throughout the first 12 primaries of this year, Republican and Democratic voter turnouts have been astonishingly low. Republican turnout has been at roughly 17% of eligible voters, and Democratic turnout is at roughly 11% of eligible voters so far, according to the Pew Research Center.

I understand that the 2016 presidential election has been a bit of a rough one. People from both the Democratic and Republican parties have voiced their concern for this year’s prospects; many feel as though there is not a candidate that really speaks to them. So, choosing a candidate for presidency can seem like choosing between a lesser of two evils.

I don’t see this as an excuse. As Americans, we are all lucky enough to have a voice, opinion and vote that counts. It is our civic duty to put this to good use, and yet so many do not. This should change. No matter what, citizens should educate themselves on the issues they care about and which candidate they best identify with.

Voting can be inconvenient. Registering in time can be a pain, especially for new voters. People can be lazy. Some just don’t care. So, how can we make the final push to get the eligible voters of America out to the polls? What motivates people in present day society more than anything? The answer is money.

Australia is one of the 23 countries in the world that has mandatory voting laws. Each eligible citizen of Australia is legally required to vote. If they don’t, they are fined, and could potentially face a court date. While the fees are not unbearably high, the voter turnout results are significant.

“Though the fine is relatively small, it is enough to drive myself and other voters to the polls in substantially greater numbers than other countries with voluntary voting,” said Danilo Kovacevic, a UNC Wilmington exchange student from Australia. “We have among the highest civic participation in the world, and the mandatory voting does force you to pay attention to politics in some degree or other.”

This idea may seem controlling to many Americans, but ultimately proves worthwhile. Australian citizens are given a choice: choose to vote, or choose to pay. It is no surprise that people would choose the first option.

If America was to implement a similar law, there would be another driving factor to get people to the polls. Eligible voters would have to make a decision on who they would most like to be in office. If more people vote, the outcomes will actually accurately represent the general population, ideally.

“Personally, I am accustomed to it and prefer mandatory voting,” said Kovacevic. “I think if you were to look at the international experience where non-compulsory voting systems are implemented, the people who don’t vote would be the poor and disenfranchised.”

With this system in combination with current voting laws, new problems could arise. For example, many people on lower income levels could struggle getting to the voting polls, or providing a valid identification in states that require them.

Ultimately, if this nation wants more people to exercise their right to vote, things need to change. The most substantial improvements will come from new laws, rules and regulations that make voting a legal requirement as well as a convenient action to execute.