President Obama floated a radical idea on Wednesday, one he said he’s never uttered in public before.
“I think that…I don’t think I’ve ever said this publicly, but I’m going to go ahead and say it now,” Obama began during a Q&A session at a Cleveland town hall event on Wednesday.
“In Australia and some other countries, there’s mandatory voting,” Obama said. “It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything.”
“If everybody voted then it would completely change the political map in this country.”
Obama said that mandatory voting would help counteract money in politics. It would also solve the problem of the U.S.’s relatively low voter turnout rate.
According to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), 26 countries currently have compulsory voting laws on the books. Eleven of those nations enforce the laws.
According to IDEA, non-voters in those nations generally must provide a legitimate reason for abstention. If not, they are fined. The organization notes that while imprisonment for failure to vote is uncommon, some nations imprison non-voters for failure to pay the fine.
Ironically, Obama said that mandatory voting is needed in order to increase turnout for the young and minorities — groups which are disproportionately low-income.
“The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups,” Obama said. “They are often the folks who are scratching and climbing to get into the middle-class. They’re working hard.”
“There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls,” Obama added.
He said that making voting compulsory would be a short-term solution.
“Long-term I think it would be fun to have a constitutional amendment process about how our financial system works,” he said.