To Protect Demoracy, Every Adult In NJ Has To Vote | Editorial

Since 1962, it has been mandatory for Australian citizens 18 years and older to enroll to vote. They also are required to go the polls on Election Day, or to cast their vote by mail.

Citizens who choose not to vote in a state election - and who fail to provide a valid reason - pay a $20 fine for a first offense, $50 for subsequent lapses.

As he prepared to transition from state assemblyman to state senator this week, Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) posed an important question to his fellow Garden State citizens.

Would you support a law mandating compulsory voting for all eligible voters in New Jersey?

Singleton's query on a private Facebook page sponsored by Action Together - Burlington County drew an onslaught of comments, most of them respectful and well-reasoned.

Some of the posters lauded Australia's laws; others argued that forcing people to vote would likely produce an uninformed electorate at best, an ill-informed electorate at worst.

Singleton's question to his constituents is motivated by a stark reality: Huge segments of the population opt to stay home every Election Day, leaving the choice of who runs their state - or country - to someone else.

The low turn-out might be a sign of alienation from the system as a whole, or disgust over the available candidates vying for the seat up for grabs.

Tragically, people also are intimidated by those who would suppress the vote for their own nefarious reasons, by means of flawed voter-ID laws, disinformation about voting times and/or places, or illegally purged voting rolls.

Yet we know that sitting out an election for whatever reason leads to unequal representation among important segments of the population - the opposite of a healthy, functioning democracy.

Like many of the Facebook-users who responded to Singleton's informal poll this past week, we question whether forcing people's hands is the best solution.

True, we can only look enviously at records showing that 93 percent of Australia's citizens showed up for the 2013 elections. We haven't seen numbers like that in the USA since ... well, never.

But a better idea here at home might be a multi-faceted approach, combining a rigorous civics education at all levels in our public schools with a modest monetary incentive for each vote - say, a $10 tax rebate - to create an informed, motivated electorate.

Coupled with a policy of automatically registering all citizens at age 18 - a measure passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Christie - and extending vote-by-mail programs, these strategies hold out the hope for a more robust participation in elections to come.

Meanwhile, much appreciation to newly installed state Sen. Singleton for moving the conversation along.

Original Article