Compulsory voting schemes won't cure ignorance and indifference

When asked why low voter turnout is bad, one usually gets a mumbled verbal stew of Norman Rockwell-esque pieties about enhanced citizenship, reduced polarization and, on occasion, veiled suggestions that Washington would get its policies right — or I should say left — if everyone voted.

To call most of these arguments gobbledygook is a bit unfair — to gobbledygook. First note that this logic can be applied to literally every good thing, from brushing your teeth to eating broccoli. Moreover, the notion that forcing people who don’t care about politics to vote will make them more engaged and thoughtful citizens is ludicrous. We force juvenile delinquents (now called “justice-involved youth” by the Obama administration) and other petty criminals to clean up trash in parks and alongside highways. Is there any evidence this has made them more sincere environmentalists? If we gave every student in the country straight A’s, that would make all the education trend lines look prettier, but it wouldn’t actually improve education.

This sort of enforced egalitarianism is reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron, set in a society where everyone must be equal. Above-average athletes are hobbled to make them conform with the unathletic. The smart are made dumb. Ballet dancers are weighed down so they can’t jump any higher than normal people. The prettier ones must wear masks.