Under a bill proposed late last week, California would make it mandatory for all qualified and registered voters to cast a ballot for every election in their area.
Mandatory voting and support for AB 2070 in California
Assembly Bill 2070, authored by Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Greenbrae), also states that ballots themselves wouldn’t have to be filled in. The wording of the bill currently states that ballots can be “marked or unmarked in whole or in part.” The whole process would then be enforced under the office of the Secretary of State.
Supporters of the bill, led by Assemblyman Levine, want more voter participation and for people to care more about who is being elected. While California has made strides in recent years with the Voter’s Choice Act expanding voting times and mailing out a ballot to each registered voter, the number of registered voters is at 73% for all qualified people, with election participation among those registered dipping down below 50% in 2014 before spiking to a nearly four decade high of 64.5% in 2018.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires the active participation of all its citizens,” explained Assemblyman Levine in a statement. “California is a national leader on expanding voting rights to its citizens. Those rights come with a responsibility by registered voters to cast their ballot and make sure that their voice is heard by their government. This is not a time to be complacent at the ballot box. My AB 2070 will ensure that the voices of all California voters are heard loud and clear.”
Problems with AB 2070
Opponents have said that including an unknown penalty and limiting the bill to registered voters may hurt a lot of people and may inadvertently lower voter turnout.
“Other countries that have compulsory voting laws hand out fines if you don’t vote,” said Ashley Witherspoon, an election consultant who has worked on elections in 16 U.S. states and territories, including California. “Australia, for example, gives fines ranging from $20 to $50 in Australian dollars, and may even suspend a non-voters license. If it was the U.S., that would be $15 to $35 and being unable to drive for six months if you refused to pay.”
“I don’t think California would take it that far, but the fact that they aren’t saying what the proposed fine is up front screams ‘money’ to me.”
“There’s also an issue with the numbers of voters and quality votes. In every election we see a mandate, or the voters coming out because they really believed in something or a certain candidate. We saw a huge rise in 2016 and 2018 over the elections. In 2016 a lot more people came out because a large number of people didn’t want Trump in the White House, and a large number of people didn’t want Hillary Clinton there. In 2018, a large number of voters came out again in the hopes that Congress and the Senate would either stay Republican or switch to a Democrat majority.”
“If it was compulsory, you’d have 35% of voters just not care and vote for whoever they wanted. In elections with historically lower turnouts, it could really change it up with so many votes going to people they know nothing about or care about. Issues too. If 10% of people vote for someone simply because their name sounds cool or some other arbitrary reason, a lot of races could be thrown into unseen chaos.”
“There’s also the worry that the number of registered voters would go down simply because some don’t want to vote,” continued Witherspoon.” They don’t want to vote so much or they’re afraid of fines so much they just pull out of the process altogether. The bill does say they can turn in a blank ballot, but that may still be too much for some people.”
“Notice how the bill or anyone in support of this isn’t addressing any of this at all?”
If passed this year, AB 2070 would go into effect in 2022 in time for the 2022 midterm elections and would be the first compulsory voting law passed in the United States. The bill will face an Assembly committee as soon as March.