IN THE NAME of "strengthening our democracy," a Massachusetts legislator named Dylan Fernandes has introduced a bill to force Bay State citizens to vote in November general elections, whether they want to or not. In California, assemblyman Marc Levine goes even further: Declaring that "democracy is not a spectator sport," he has submitted legislation to strong-arm Californians into taking part in every election, including local and primary contests.
Their goal is to make democracy better, but their results would make it worse.
Presumably, Fernandes and Dylan would not describe their respective bills in this fashion. But if their bills to make voting mandatory become law, Massachusetts and California citizens would lose their freedom to cast a ballot, and would be saddled instead with an obligation to do so. (In fact, Fernandes specifies that a Massachusetts resident who fails to vote is to be punished with a tax surcharge.)
Like all rights, the right to vote is inseparable from personal autonomy. Under the Constitution, you are free to own a weapon, to believe in God, to write a book, to run for office — and therefore, by definition, you are free not to do those things. Voting is no different. Your liberty to participate in an election encompasses your liberty to ignore that election. Voting is a legal right, not a legal duty. . . .