SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Voting in the United States has long been considered both a right and a responsibility. But one California lawmaker hopes to make casting a ballot a legal obligation.
Assemblyman Marc Levine introduced a bill last week that would essentially require every registered voter to cast a ballot — even if it’s an empty one.
Levine wrote in a news release addressing the proposal, known as AB 2070, that other nations such as Belgium and Australia already have rules about compulsory ballot casting, and the United States — or at least California — should join them.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport — it requires the active participation of all its citizens,” said Levine, a Democrat representing parts of Marin and Sonoma counties, 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,” he said.
The proposed legislation would also come with a penalty for those who still choose to not cast a ballot, though that penalty has not yet been outlined.
The bill, which would go into effect in 2022, is set to be considered by the California State Assembly this spring.
It would be the first of its kind in the United States — no where does any bill exist requiring a citizen vote.
Voter turnout in the US trails other countries
The goal of the bill is to ensure maximum voter turnout. In the 2016 general election, nearly 59% of eligible California voters cast a ballot, higher than the national average of 56%, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, that number went down in the 2018 midterm elections, which saw just over 50% eligible voter turnout.
Though these numbers are better than previous years — the 2014 midterms saw only 31% eligible voter turnout — they greatly trail other countries. In 2014, 87% of Belgium’s voting-age population cast a ballot. Australia’s was similarly high, at just below 79% in 2016, according to data from Pew.
Proposal could result in fewer registered voters, says professor
But some, such as Yolanda Bellisimo, a political science professor at the College of Marin, warn of the bill’s consequences.
“You’re forcing people to do something, which isn’t really democratic,” Bellisimo told CNN affiliate KPIX.
And though punishing registered voters for not voting could increase voter turnout, she said it’s a short-term solution.
“What you might find is that you’ll have less people registered to vote,” she told KPIX. “That defeats the purpose.”