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Opinion

Democracy Works: The case for universal voting

EJ Dionne Miles Rapoport
Dionne photo by Paul Morigi; Rapoport photo by Grucza
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E.J. Dionne and Miles Rapoport, authors of "!00% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting"

In "100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting," E.J. Dionne and Miles Rapoport argue that all members of a democracy must participate in elections. Universal voting would be the surest way to protect against voter suppression and the active disenfranchisement of a large share of our citizens. And it would create a system true to the Declaration of Independence's aspirations by calling for a government based on the consent of all of the governed.

The system works in Australia, but can it work in the United States? Would it become just another tool in partisan warfare? Can American democracy even handle something like universal voting? We explore those questions this week.

Dionne is is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, university professor at Georgetown University, and visiting professor at Harvard University. He is the author of Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country.

Rapoport is the Senior Practice Fellow in American Democracy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School. He formerly served in the Connecticut state legislature and as secretary of the state. He also served as president of Demos and of Common Cause.

Episode Transcript
Michael Berkman
From the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University. I'm Michael Berkman.

Chris Beem
I'm Chris Beem.

Jenna Spinelle
I'm Jenna Spinelle, and welcome to Democracy Works. This week, our guests are EJ Dionne, and Miles Rapoport, who are the authors of 100%. Democracy, the case for universal voting. And you know, sometimes these book titles are kind of obtuse, or you're not quite sure what they're about. But I think EJ and Miles laid out pretty clearly here, what they're going to do in this book and what they do in the interview, and they really, the sort of centerpiece for their case is Australia, which has had a system of universal or sometimes called compulsory voting for a while now. And and they sort of walk us through how they see something like that playing out here in the US.

Chris Beem
Yeah. And they make a really compelling or really appealing case, don't they, Michael?

Michael Berkman
Yeah, it was, you know, it was really fun to read this, I thought, because I had to hear this interview. For years and years, I've been using this Australia, compulsory voting. As an example, in my class for students to talk about, should we have that here. And so listening to them, I really appreciated how they drew out quite how different things are in, in Australia. And it left me wondering, Chris, why we can't have good things here.

Chris Beem
Why we can't have nice things. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it really sounds like you know, wait a minute. This, this all sounds pretty good, right? I mean, it's a holiday. It's got a party atmosphere, what do they all have democracy, sausages that the you can actually buy.

Michael Berkman
And I learned this today, from listening to the interviewer that you can get yourself a democracy sausage on election day there. I mean, the essence of it, is that in Australia, you have a professionally run election. without the interference of political parties or political activists, that seems to be a day for people to celebrate their civic duty and responsibility to vote. And maybe because it's Australia to have a good time doing it, too.

Chris Beem
Yeah. Well, you know, and part of that is the idea that you you are, you are required to show up, you're not required to vote, you're certainly not required to vote for one person or another. But you're required to be there and to make your presence known. And so their turnout is in the 90%, which is not even close to what it is in the United States. It's not close.

Michael Berkman
But I think voting in this country gets a bad rap sometimes, because you know, the voting in the last national election was 66% of eligible voters.

Chris Beem
True. That's the last presidential election, right?

Michael Berkman
Yes. But what people sometimes miss about the United States, I think, and maybe this is relevant to how we're different from them is we have too many elections. We have elections all the time. Other countries don't do that.

Chris Beem
No, that's all true. And EJ and Miles would agree that you know that this, you couldn't make a primary party driven election. Compulsory. And, you know, I doubt you could make municipal election compulsory. But if it's a national election, then you know, or so let's, let's say every, you know, every two years, that general election, I think that's what they will be talking about.

Michael Berkman
I mean, this is where I really feel the difference between what they're going to describe and what goes around what goes on in the United States. I mean, just this week, right? In the United States, the New York Times had a story where they were they found that 44% of all Republican legislators in swing states, right. So when the nine states that are critical to the election, have in some way or another tried to overturn the results of that election. We're giving the brown medal this year to an organization that devotes itself to trying to protect and protect election workers and to make sure that elections are run fairly, and in a nonpartisan basis. And this gets the I mentioned this, because it really gets to some of the essence of what's different. Here in the United States election, the election itself, the administration of the election is a partisan affair. It's not an Australian national holiday, everybody comes together.

Chris Beem
And there are officials who their job is to fairly and efficiently run those elections. That's their job, not to represent not as a representative of one party or another but just as an bureaucrat really right. And the most relevant issue there is that you can't expect partisan officials to engage questions about elections without considering the partisan implications, the implications of that change for their party. It's just impossible that they cannot not do that.

Michael Berkman
Yes, that's that's true, yet, we seem to have pulled it off for many, many years. And it's only recently that it seems to all be coming apart. And I wonder if that's not because the parties are increasingly polarized. And in part, they're polarized over issues of what democracy means. I looked back on this a little bit. And there was an interesting study done from when Australia adopted this, because they actually adopted it, in pieces across different States and Australia. And in states, as states passed this compulsory voting or compulsory registration, whatever exactly want to call it, the vote for the Labour Party increased because the composition of the electorate changes. I mean, and so this is, in my opinion, why elected officials are always going to be so reticent about making any kind of change like this,

Chris Beem
The only thing I would want to add, or at least, you know, raise is the fact that the very, you know, the very conditions that you talk about, might also present an opportunity here, that would not be necessarily so operative in other in other nations, you know, namely, that these are that the states run elections, right. And so, you know, the famous phrase from Brandeis that states are laboratories of democracy, you know, creates at least the possibility that this idea of universal voting does not have to, you know, start at the national level. It's not inconceivable for a state or even for that matter, a county within a state depending on which state we're talking about, to to make that the law for the elections within their state.

Jenna Spinelle
I think we'll hear EJ and Miles, met varying levels. So let's go now to the interview.

Jenna Spinelle
EJ and Miles, welcome to Democracy Works. Thanks for joining us today.

EJ Dionne
Joy to be with you.

Miles Rapoport
Very glad to be here.

Jenna Spinelle
So EJ, I know that this project of universal voting is something that you were working on when you visited us at Penn State back in 2019. You were maybe just starting the project then. So if you wouldn't mind just talking a little bit about the origin story of how you and Miles came to work on this project. And maybe of all of the different democracy reform ideas out there, some of which I'm sure we'll we'll talk about, what was it about this one that stood out to you?

EJ Dionne
You know, my interest in this began, because for a variety of reasons, I got very involved with people from Australia made a lot of visits to Australia met a lot of people on both sides of politics in Australia, all sides of politics in Australia. And I sort of discovered that they use this system a long time ago, and was really impressed all along by how it worked and how well it worked and how it created a sort of a culture of civic engagement that extended to all through the society. But also I have watched as we have made progress and then backward movement on voting in the United States. And we'll be talking about this, we should look back on 2020 as an enormous victory for democracy. We're in the middle of a pandemic, election officials in both parties made it easier for people to vote. And we had extraordinary turnout, by by comparative standards, because of changes made. And yet the forces of order suppression continued to work so that in the wake of 2020, as the Brennan Center has shown, we've really become two nations when it comes to democracy 25 states and built on the voter expansions in 2020. But 19 states are pulling back and enacting various measures to make it harder to vote again. And so this idea is struck me as a kind of game changing idea in that respect. And then the other thing is just looking at the way our system works, and some of its core flaws, and we can get into the details of the system. But saying that everyone has a civic duty to vote as well as the right to vote is a way of saying that everybody should be invited into our experiment in self government. We expect everyone to show up because we want everyone to show up. And that's why I think this system is Something that Americans should be ready to adopt. And for a variety of reasons which we can get into. We think that, you know, declaring voting a duty is actually the best way to defend it as a right.

Jenna Spinelle
Yeah, that was a great high level overview, I think we'll definitely come back and and dive deeper into some of those elements. But before we get there, miles, can you sort of pick up on that and drill down a little bit more into, you know, how you envision civic duty voting, working?

Miles Rapoport
This really is a game changer, you know, and it's been used in 26 other countries around the world and Australia's, you know, for almost 100 years. And my second reaction is, how is it possible that I had been, you know, kind of one of the key people in this democracy movement for this long, and I have never, ever one not once been in a conversation about universal voting, even though it results in 90% turnouts in Australia. So I said, Alright, this is something I got to dig into.

Jenna Spinelle
Yeah. And I'm curious to talk more about how your experience in previous democracy reform efforts might help move this forward at the end. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves here, if if you wouldn't mind, just, you know, for folks who have not read your book, I hope that our listeners well, but this explain how you see civic duty voting playing out.

EJ Dionne
As I said, earlier, it's a nudge, not a shove. And we think that's important for variety reasons. In Australia, and by the way, about two dozen countries use this a number goes up and down over the years. But this is it's not unique to Australia. But Australia really does have the proof of concept. There aren't many ideas, we talked about where they've been in operation for 100 years and have worked. In Australia. The first and very important, the government makes it easy to register makes a lot of efforts to get people register, you're required to register, but the path is easy. So they register 96% plus of their citizens, and have them a typically 90% turnout to vote. If you don't vote, you get a little notice from the Australian Government that asks you why you didn't vote. And if you have any sort of reasonable excuse, they honor the excuse only about 13% end up paying any penalty on this show. If I was sick or something, they tend to accept reasonable excuses. And the fine is $20 Australian, which at the moment is about $15. American. And what they do to make voting easier is extraordinary. For example, you can go to any polling place in your state to vote, we just learned recently, from a writer for Teen Vogue from Australia, that they now have guides where you can get the best food at your polling place. One of the things that we stress in the book is because they create this culture of voting because they vote on Saturdays. We don't recommend Saturday necessarily, but we recommend Election Day as a holiday. polling places are the scenes of parties and every civic group and in you know, in a neighborhood, including school groups, use Election Day as a way to raise money for good local causes. You know, I've always argued that all Americans are divided within ourselves between a strong individualist libertarian commitment and a strong unit communitarian commitment. And so we take seriously that libertarian commitment. So under our system, you could apply for conscientious objector status out of the box, if you really object to participating, and some people have that objection for religious reasons or other reasons. We also were very careful about the fine, we would cap it at $20, we would have the same soft touch enforcement as Australia does that people could get out of the fine for raise any reasonable excuse, we would also try to deal with what has been known as the Ferguson problem, which is the piling up of fines and then penalties on low income, especially black Americans, and then the criminalizing of those penalties. So we make very clear, it's not a criminal penalty, it can't be criminalized, no penalties or interest. $20 means $20. And not a penny more, you could pay the fine through an hour of community service. The whole point is, it's a nudge, not a shove, or hammer.

Jenna Spinelle
So we happen to be recording this on Pennsylvania's primary election day. And so would this this idea of universal voting only apply to general election voting or how might it influence or change the way that parties think about their primaries?

Miles Rapoport
In the book we did talk about whether this should apply primaries. And in the end, we recommend that it not apply to primaries, because they're very complicated. You know, are they governmental affairs? Are they party affairs, etc. But I do think that it will change the nature of campaigns generally, the certainly in the general election, but I think that would bleed over into the primaries as well. Because, you know, right now campaigns and you're seeing it in Pennsylvania, you know, on steroids, for sure. You know, the, the goal of the campaign is to turn out your own base, sometimes known as enraged to engage, but to turn out your own base. And if you can, and the worst case scenario, depress, prevent people from voting for the other candidate, either by negative campaigning, which you're seeing a lot of now in Pennsylvania, or by straight up voter suppression legislation that just makes it harder for people to vote. On the other hand, if you had universal voting, and you knew that every single person was going to vote, or let's call it 90% of the people are going to vote, you really have to be much more careful about your rhetoric. Because right now, all you have to do is get one more vote than then the other warring tribe gets. But on a universal system, you got to everybody's listening. Everybody's gonna vote, everybody's listening. And you have to be persuading everybody all the time. And if you go too crazy in the primary, you're going to pay for it in the general. I mean, that's a little bit true today, but under a 90% voting turnout, it would be much more true. So I think it would be very healthy, even though we don't specifically include primaries.

EJ Dionne
And I think it does fight extremism. And that's certainly as you know, from the book, what are Australian interlocutors, except doesn't eliminate it, extremism will always again, one thing that Miles and I tried to emphasize so I'll do it now. We don't want to be like those 19th century elixir salesmen who tell you here's our bottle, this will cure all that ails you. We know there are a lot of problems in the in our system that need to be fixed. And we don't pretend this fixes all of them. But we do think it would be a major step in the right direction. And that's why we're making the case for it.

Jenna Spinelle
So we've mentioned before, you know, rank choice voting, and I know there's also talk about proportional representation is something else that's sort of big in kind of democracy reform circles right now, you know, you do talk in the book about things like automatic voter registration, and you know, some of those things that are necessary add on to make universal voting happen. But I, I wonder if you think that it can exist without things like rank choice voting or proportional representation or other changes to the way that we cast our votes currently?

Miles Rapoport
Well, I would make two general points. One is that we think there are a whole set of reforms that we generally call gateway reforms in the book that are, you know, we didn't use the word prerequisite, but are certainly elements of making a universal voting system successful. So obviously, if you superimpose the requirement to vote over a system that is resistant to voting, or a suppressive of voting, that's obviously a major problem. So we strongly support, you know, the suite of reforms, you know, from same day voter registration, and early voting, and mail and voting and automatic voter registration, which I know has been, you know, operative in Pennsylvania, you know, along with the restoration of voting rights for people with who have been incarcerated, you know, these are all really, really important reforms, because all you want is a system, you know, that encourages people to vote makes it easiest, as easy as possible for everyone to participate. And then I think a requirement of voting as a civic duty, you know, becomes workable. And the last piece of the kind of gate reforms is competent election administration. I mean, we are really the only country and I say this is a former partisan, election official. But we're the only country that uses partisan election officials to decide on and also balkanized. You know, we have counties, different counties do things differently, different municipalities do things differently, different States certainly do it differently. You know, one of the things that, that the people that we've talked to from Australia have emphasized is that they have a serious, competent, properly funded, professionally run national election authority. But the second, I'll just make the second point more quickly. There definitely are and this goes to E Jay's point about, you know, not not being this is not a cure. All right. In other words, the electoral college if you if you just did universal voting and required everybody to vote, and you said, boom, snap our fingers, that's the law of the land. Now, that wouldn't change the Electoral College per se. It wouldn't change the kind of pernicious influence of money in politics, you know, that, you know, that was a major issue for the, you know, for the democracy movement. It's still a huge problem, but the Supreme Court has been, you know, horrible on that issue. You know, it wouldn't change the undemocratic nature of the United States Senate itself, you know, we're 70% of the people are electing 30% of the senators and vice versa. So, we have a huge amount of work to do other than this, but the lane of voting participation is a critically important one, it is the best antidote to all the other, you know, kind of malformations in our in our system. So we think is a really, really important form worth really dedicating time and effort into without, you know, making the claim for it. That, you know, without those other reforms, it's no good. Yeah,

Jenna Spinelle
Do you see this as a potential sort of bottom up instigator for change, if there is more, you know, if everyone or most people are voting, then it might help to at least increase the the discussion or the, you know, pressure to change some of those more undemocratic elements of, of our political systems?

EJ Dionne
Well, we hope so. I mean, again, we try to be careful here, in making our case, because on the one hand, we really do think this would be a big and positive change. And again, to go to Australia, it's a cultural change about democracy and politics that is deeply important. And we think, you know, ends up permeate the society. And as that, you know, turnout, even when it's not required, in Australia shows, and, you know, you can imagine that if everyone has to vote people in states where there is never any contest would say, your what is our vote mean, and an electoral college where we always know our state is going to go for Republicans are always going to go for Democrats. And we think it it's the other reason I like this idea, is it really forces us to ask what do we mean by democracy when we fight over these individual reforms, and it's very important to fight for them? You can get bogged down in whether is it 10 days of early voting are 20 days? What do you do on Sundays? How many Sundays? Do you have it all kinds of very specific things. And we really want to draw a line in the sand and ask the country to decide, do you really want a fully inclusive electoral system where everybody votes? And where you invite everybody in? Or are you really trying to restrict the system to keep some people out? And we think having the argument at the higher level is a good way to force the issue and have us confront as a country? How committed are we really to that small d democratic idea?

Jenna Spinelle
And you also cite in the book, some public opinion research that shows that, you know, as you said, before, Americans are very libertarian in some ways, we don't like other people telling us what to do, let alone the government telling us what to do. So it's an uphill battle there for sure. But

EJ Dionne
Bless you for being more polite than I sometimes am about the challenge that poses to our idea, which is, if Americans won't agree to vaccinations that might save their lives. How in the world can we expect people to agree with this, and you raise the polling. And the other thing I've often said, as Miles and I talked about the book is that we are either two of the most honest book writers in the world or two of the dumbest, because we were poor at polling we did that shows that as of right now, as of February of 2010, only 26% of Americans support our idea. Now, when I saw those numbers, I was actually heartened, because this is an idea that's never been advanced in a systematic way at all. And I thought that was pretty good, for starters. And what we also found is about half of us 48%, were really strongly opposed, which to me means that half of the Americans are already at least open to persuasion on this idea, and we use the polling to try to figure out what objections people had so that we could answer them in the book. And that's what we tried to do. But the other side of our polling that was heartening to us is we asked the question, do you see voting as a right and a duty a right but not a duty or neither right nor a duty? 61% of Americans agree that voting is both a right and a duty. And the numbers were equal among Republicans and Democrats. 69% It's interesting that nonpartisan people were a little less likely to say it's both right, and a duty. And granted this polling was done before Donald Trump started the big lie about 2020. But what we found that was also heartening is that Republicans and Democrats we're not that far apart in their views on adopting this system. And so we think we we definitely think the idea has a fighting chance and As I said at the outset, we try as much as we can to answer legitimate libertarian arguments, knowing that there are some libertarians and they've written columns against the idea already, which we actually welcome. We want to debate on this. So when people are against it, we want them out there, because we want to foster debate about it.

Miles Rapoport
We are really, you know, to say it in the kind of, you know, darkest terms, we're in a really vicious cycle, where people are disconnected from the government, they don't vote, they don't participate. Government as a, as a result is responsive to the people who do participate. So it's, it's both the A list voters that EJ talked about earlier. And obviously, it's also to the, you know, the big donors in the system, those are the people who count, and, you know, consistent with political, you know, governmental policy outcomes, tilt towards the, you know, towards the rich. And so then people disengage more, because then they don't trust the government. And so they vote less. And so the whole thing is sort of, you know, drooping down, what we're hoping is to sort of break that and kind of interject and start, but we would hope would be a virtuous cycle. Whereas if you actually have everyone participating, then you probably will get there is indications that in other countries where this happens, a more responsive government, you as, as EJ and I both said earlier, you invite people into the process, so they become listeners and participants, as opposed to, you know, you know, side liners, and hopefully, you know, that that all starts to, to to, you know, build on itself.

Jenna Spinelle
Right. So where does this start? You know, would this be something that that a state would take up, say, maybe one of the states that has shown itself to be more open to these these types of electoral reforms like Maine, Colorado, Oregon, Washington are a few that that come to mind? And if so, is this a citizen led ballot initiative? So you kind of Marshal that that public support? It really is coming from the bottom up? Is it coming from the state legislature? What do you think is the most likely path to actually implementing civic duty voting somewhere in the country,

EJ Dionne
We talk about doing this at all levels. And actually, the book produced a bill in Congress that miles can talk about, I have a particular dream on this, which is, I would like to see a Republican state and a democratic state adopted at the same time, the two I have in mind are Vermont and Utah, Vermont and Utah are both are they're smaller states, they both have a history of supporting political reform. Neither party has a lot to worry about in either state, you know, Vermont is pretty reliably democratic. Unless the Republicans nominate a rather moderate or liberal or Republican, then, you know, Utah's pretty safely democratic with a couple of Republican rather with a couple of exceptions. And so we would mark some models out there of how this can work and miles can go on about the other sort of ways in which we see this operating. Miles. Go ahead.

Miles Rapoport
Sure. No, I'm, I'm motivated on the Utah Vermont axis here, this will be an important thing. But yes, I mean, you know, having the book out there is a really important first step, because I think, you know, it's doing a lot to legitamate the idea, and thank you for helping us do that by having us on the podcast today. But what's what I think is important is that it needs to be there needs to be an organized citizen effort to make this happen. And it can happen at any one of three levels. Right, as EJ mentioned, Congressman John Larson, who is my own congressman, in Connecticut, by the way, you know, saw us on Morning, Joe read, got a copy of the book, read the book, and decided that he was going to submit a bill. So there are now in a bill in Congress, the civic duty to vote act as HR 7536. And that's wonderful. And a really, really good start in the pro democracy movement. There's a lot of robust organizations that are doing really, really good work, have grassroots support. And we'd like to see universal voting one of the agenda items within that democracy movement, not to supplant other efforts by any means, but to be added to it as a kind of a North Star. What is it that we really want? And so in service of that, we're actually working to create the 100% Democracy initiative as sort of a center and a focal point of, of energy to move this forward and looking for opportunities that where it might go.

Jenna Spinelle
You know, we recently talked on this show with our colleague at Penn State Kevin Munger, who has a new book out about generational conflicts in politics and what he describes as the boomer ballast of you know, boomers, continued dominance of politics and culture and some of these things we've been talking about you With that in mind, I wonder how you might frame this idea of of civic duty voting as through that that generational lens? How is the argument different maybe for young people who we know historically have not voted as much as you know, baby boomers and older generations?

EJ Dionne
Well, I love that question partly because I always tell our three kids that I'm not worried about the future of democracy over the long haul, as long as we can survive the next 10 or 15 years. Because when my generation is gone, and there's takes over, we'll be in pretty good shape. They're more open, they care about the climate, they there. And the only problem with that argument is I want to be around to see it. So there may be a contradiction in my own argument. But you're absolutely right. And it's very important to realize the ways in which our political system shuts young people out. In particular, our voter registration systems are horrible for young people unless you have election registration. Because older people tend to be more settled, they stay at the same address, our voting system makes it very easy for old people to stay on the rolls. Young people in the nature of their lives move around a lot more. And it often happens that they want to be engaged in the election. But a state has, for example, a really early deadline for registering to vote in the election. So they focus like a lot of other people on the election three or four weeks before, maybe two weeks before and they discover their shout out, they can't vote under this system, the authorities would have to make it easier for them to vote, we think election day registration is a good way to do that. And so their power would increase. Just to underscore your point, as you know, in our book, we have numbers on turnout from the census and 2020 was a great year for youth voting, and 54.1% of 18 to 29, voted compared to 74.5% at 20 point gap among voters over 65. The last point there is our own polling showed something very interesting, which is that young people were less likely to say that voting was a civic duty, but more likely to be open to our reform, because I think young people are prepared for greater levels of change than older people are, which kind of underscores your point? And I think their answer, the first question is, they don't like Baby Boomers to tell them what to do. And they may have some worries about this idea being reflective of that. But if as you suggest, this is seen instead, as really filling one of the big holes in our participation, which is the under representation of the young, this empowers young Americans in a substantial way. And we hope we can make that case.

Miles Rapoport
You know, there's an interesting historical analogy, not on young people. But one of the great victories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s was to win the right for black people to serve on juries from which they had been excluded. But if you think about it, what they really were fighting for was the right to be compelled to serve on juries. And the logic was that the inconvenience of having to go serve on a jury was way outweighed by the power that being on a jury conveyed in terms of the outcomes of trials, etc. And I think the same thing for young people today, which is this would be an incredible way for the power of young people, you know, that felt that exercise in the political system.

EJ Dionne
As you know, from reading the book, we quote the great civil rights lawyer and Law Professor Charles Ogletree, who said that a jury gives ordinary people extraordinary power, and so does the vote. And that is what we are arguing here. And I again, I think that's something that would appeal to young people who want more influence on this system.

Jenna Spinelle
Right. Well, that is, I think, a good note to end things on. Hopefully, the two of you will get to get back out on the road to campus as this fallen and make that case to young people. And thank you for this book, and for joining us today to talk about it.

EJ Dionne
Great pleasure. Thank you for having us.

Miles Rapoport
Thanks a lot. Glad to be here.

Chris Beem
Great interview there. They're both absolutely smart, decent patriots who want to change things for the better and it's worth listening to them. Mike, I just want to make one point about the past. ability argument before we get to that, is this a good idea? And? And will it do what they what they hope it will do. And that is this, you know, I completely agree. And I think they would agree that in a world in a society where you can't get people to wear masks, the idea that you can say, you it's, it's your civic duty to vote, you have to vote, it's just not gonna go anywhere. Not to mention the fact that the idea of getting past this partisan causation of American life is just makes any change like this. So threatening, it's just unlikely to happen. But there is one self interested argument that they mentioned at the end that I think is really interesting. And it gets back to the the point or the podcast we just had with Kevin Munger about the generational divide. Young people do not vote at rates, similar to older folks, they move around a lot. They're not they're not they don't know what to do in terms of registration. And so they just don't, right. If young people were to embrace this issue, and war to make it a reality in some municipality, like say, Madison, Wisconsin, it could actually change the dynamic now with regards to partisanship, but with regard to this generation gap between younger and older Americans, and it may be worth pitching that to younger people who are interested in changing the politics, interested in having their issues heard more, more receptive to their issues in politics, anyway. But that's just one issue. And everybody acknowledges that it's, it's a heavy lift. But but there's also the question of just Is this a good idea? Generally, they lay out a lot of reasons why they think this would help. And I just want to hear from you, Michael, you know, what do you think about those claims? Do you think that there's anything to them? Do you think it could really improve our politics?

Michael Berkman
Yeah, well, I certainly think that institutional changes and changes in rules can can change behavior. And voting is habit forming. So I mean, the best predictor of whether or not you're going to vote in an election is whether you voted in the election before. And so getting people to vote early in their lives, getting them out and developing a habit of voting has got to be a positive thing, in terms of increasing the amount of political participation in the country. And I suppose as you're saying, and kind of bringing the bringing the vote bringing who votes closer to what the population looks like. But I also I wouldn't move quite too quickly past the freedom arguments that you brought up at the very beginning, because I think that it's not just that the American fixation on freedom would make this very difficult to do. I also think it would turn it but could potentially turn into just another issue on which we're all which we're all fighting about.

Chris Beem
No, I think that's right. I mean, you aren't you already see some, some states trying to make voting easier. And some states that are trying to make voting harder.

Michael Berkman
Now, to me, it's somewhat hypocritical, because I don't really hear people that are really fixated on freedom, saying that nobody should have to serve on a jury. But actually, everybody is required to serve on a jury. It's just very easy to get out. And so the counter argument is that this is just another thing that you do, as a part of citizenship not looked at, I think it's something you do on the part of citizenship. it's looked at as totally a partisan kind of behavior. Yeah, I just haven't know how we get around that. And in fact, it could just make things worse, because it gives another thing to have this kind of fight about. Having said that, Chris, can I just say I liked the idea. I think that a lot of good, would come out of requiring I mean, I liked the whole menu that they lay out because I think it's important that in Australia, as well as in the kind of proposals and miles and EJ are talking about, they're not just saying compulsory voting, and then that's it. Right? It goes along with making Election Day, a holiday. Right and go right along with what were they talking about, like, hey, let's vote in bars. They were saying I think you're even allowed in some states to bring a glass of water to somebody. All right. And so the idea that here, we're just going to turn it into a big party, a civic party. I mean, I get all that it's a beautiful thought. It just feel so countered to American culture right now.

Chris Beem
I completely agree with you. And it really is their biggest argument that they say democracy cannot be Strong if citizenship is weak, and right now citizenship in America is radically unbalanced, strong on rights but weak on responsibilities. And I just want to say Amen. I think that's exactly right. And and if and universal voting is, is one means by which we can rebalance this imbalanced relationship between rights and responsibilities.

Michael Berkman
You know, we did recent polling, and we've been doing this pretty consistently at the institute where we've been asking people what they value about democracy, and young people are the most likely to say nothing. So what do you value about democracy? Nothing. So we consider people like this to be somewhat disaffected. That's a reasonable assumption. We pull them into the electorate. Now, one argument that may well be you know, and I think DJ would say this is you're going to, you're going to deal with that disaffection. They're going to vote, they're going to be part of something. And it's going to become a habit. And they will be maybe they won't be as affected. Maybe they'll just be the moderate voters, they EJ is hoping for them to be. But it could also be that demagogues will figure out the way to speak to these disaffected people in a really negative kind of way for our politics.

Chris Beem
I mean, it is the, you know, miles robbing board, EJ Dionne are not naive. They've, they've been around the block, they bet they have the scars to prove it. So they know that this is a heavy lift. But they also feel like this is a debate that we need to have. I think, you know, clearly a provocative and interesting topic and one that people who are concerned about the condition of our democracy ought to take seriously so thanks to Jenna for the interview. Thanks to Miles and EJ for putting this an issue on the table. I'm Chris Beem.

Michael Berkman
I'm Michael Berkman.

Chris Beem
Thanks for listening.