Laura Rosbrow-Telem – Commonwealth News Service

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Voting is required in a lot of countries, but not the U.S. A new Harvard and Brookings Institution report considers what universal voting could look like here.

The paper argues that mandatory voting would improve democracy by getting more people to the polls. Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino and a member of the Working Group on Universal Voting, explains why she supports universal voting at a webinar about the report.

“Because you’re talking about maximum participation, it decreases polarization,” says Kumar. “Because not just people that are on the left or the right are not the only ones voting, but everyone is voting.”

The authors analyze obstacles to universal voting in the U.S, such as public opinion, legal challenges, and how to mandate it without creating more barriers, particularly for marginalized communities.

The report is called, “Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting,” and can be found online.

E.J. Dionne from the Brookings Institution and co-chair of the working group says they wanted to better understand people’s views on voting.

“We did extensive polling on the idea,” says Dionne. “We are the only think-tank group in Washington that ever did polling knowing a majority would not support our idea.”

The Democracy Fund and UCLA Nationscape Project surveyed more than six thousand U.S. adults about universal voting for the report. While most respondents agreed that “voting is a right and a duty,” close to 65% opposed mandatory voting, with nearly half strongly against it.

The report authors argue that universal voting is unpopular largely because it’s unfamiliar to most U.S. residents.