Obama Suggests Making Voting Mandatory

Elio Delgado Legón

Barack Obama. File Photo/ telesurtv.net

HAVANA TIMES — When I read the headline, I thought it was a joke. When I read the entire article, however, I found out it was a serious remark made by President Barack Obama during a speech delivered in Cleveland. There, the president expressed sincere concern over low voter turnouts during official elections.

“If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” the US president said, referring to possibility of making voting mandatory in the United States. Of course Obama knows that’s impossible, what with a Republican majority in Congress, and a little short of impossible with a Democrat Congress, because Americans cherish the freedom to do as they want on election day (be it during the presidential or mid-term elections), and only a minority opts to cast their ballot to vote for their favorite candidates.

In the last two US elections, less than 70 porcent of voters registered and, of these, less than 50 percent turned up to vote. That is to say, less than 35 percent of the electorate actually voted (through a recent study claims that, at the last mid-term election, 37 percent of the population voted).

Among other things, these data reflect the lack of confidence in the electoral system that citizens have and the apathy that electing leaders awakens in them, knowing that most of the problems that affect them will not be solved, even if that’s promised during an electoral campaign.

The tendency not to vote is even more widespread among the young, who are generally not committed to any one traditional party, and among minorities, who have seen presidents, senators and representatives go by and not one who has solved a single one of their problems. The two most recent examples we can point to are the medical attention plan Obama presented to Congress and the migratory reform. Both were campaign promises and none was approved by Congress. Similarly, Obama has not been able to keep his promise that he would shut down Guantanamo. These contradictions make voters increasingly lose their confidence in the system and their leaders.

I don’t want to make facile comparisons, because we are dealing with two completely different systems, but in Cuba, where the vote is not mandatory either, more than 90 percent of voters turn up at the ballot boxes during elections, to choose municipal candidates every two and a half years, and parliamentary representatives every five years.

As we know, the National Assembly, which represents the whole of the people, elects the members of the Council of State and its Chair. This, in my opinion, makes Cuba’s system of citizen participation much more democratic that the United States’ two-party system, where one can be elected president with less votes than one’s opponent, and where Congress, if dominated by the other party’s majority, makes it impossible for the president’s decisions to be materialized, even when these are in the interests of the majority. Obama may have been thinking about all of this when he suggested his country should make it mandatory to vote.

7 thoughts on “Obama Suggests Making Voting Mandatory

  • For a white guy from outside the country, Cuba is a friendly place. But, if you are Berta Soler, not so much.

  • Where is this parallel Cuba that you always speak of Moses ? It sounds like a really horrible and frightening place. I know Cubans in Cuba who don’t bother to vote – with zero consequences or fears.

  • Actually here in the “People’s Republic of Vermont” we DO have greater participation, even in off-year elections. That is because we are a small state (the closest entity the U.S. has to the Greek city-state), so small, in fact, that the media blitzes by Repugs and right-wing Dems. with deep pockets have little effect, since most of our voters are more knowledgable and know who the are voting for, since they often have the opportunity to meet them in person (often at Town Meeting, the first Tuesday in March, when all registered voters at least get to decide on the school budget, the road budget, and various other local matters). Our Congressional delegation (Senators Leahy and Sanders, plus Congressman Welch) is relatively progressive. Speaking of progressive, there is a viable third party here–the Vermont Progressive Party–which has a substantial number of State Senators and Representatives to push the Dems. further to the left. In some cases they are combined Dem./Progressive candidates and reps. On the national level, only big $$$ gets a hearing. I’ve heard rumors that Bernie Sanders is sidelining his run for the Presidency; he’s only been able to raise less than $3,000,000, while Clinton has committments from the usuall 1%’ters for BILLIONS of dollars, and the Repugs will be receiving additional billions from their masters. Hence, the left wing of the Dems., Sanders,(an Independent, but who caucuses with the Dems.) Warren, etc., will never see the light of day in the next election. Even Sanders dare not make a peep against A.I.P.A.C. and Israili oppression of the Palestinians. One hopeful sign is that at the state-wide conventions of the Vt.Progressive Party lately there have been hundreds of young folks attending who are willing to make commitments going door-to-door, manning the phone-banks and watching the polls–and even running for local and state offices. Also, in my own home town, more than a dozen young folks, plus a few grey-heads and/or baldy refugies from the 1960’s, are willing to plow through some pretty heavy theoretical stuff during a weekly study class, preparing themselves to be the cadre, and future leaders, of a real political transformation. Though I won’t be around to see the “dawning of a new era,” still, I hope to see its “twilight.” (Alas! The twilight can be quite long! As a youth, back in the early 1960’s, I remember reading a 1947 booklet by William Z. Foster, “The Twilight of World Capitalism.” Many, like me, have spent their entire lives living in this semi-darkness before the dawn (err, and I hope not the “Golden Dawn” of the Greek fascists; rather, the “rosy-fingered” dawn of the Greek left!).

  • Voting should be connected to an income tax deduction. Perhaps this would encourage greater voter turnout and participation. As a poll watcher during the mid term elections, I noticed a thin turn out.

  • “Every four years the naive half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman President everything will be all right. But it won’t be. Any individual who is able to raise $25 million [much more now than in 1992, billions of dollars to become a serious player–mnl] to be considered presidential is not going to be much use to the people at large. He will represent oil, or aerospace, or banking, or whatever moneyed entities are paying for him. Certainly he will never represent the people of the country, and they know it. Hence, the sense of despair throughout the land as incomes fall, businesses fail and there is no redress.” —Gore Vidal, from the “Decline and Fall of the American Empire” (1992)

  • Eliot is at it again. For all the many flaws in the US electoral system, it beats the tyranny of the dictatorship in Cuba in spades. There is nothing voluntary about Cuban voting. Failing to vote in Cuba gets a knock on your door from your CDR representative. No Cuban wants the needless attention earned by NOT voting. Given the single slate of candidates up for election, most Cubans cast their votes fully aware that in the end the Castros are still in control as they have been for the last 56 years.

  • Isn’t interesting that it’s always the totalitarian state that enjoys massive got or turnout….why is that?

    Who are you kidding Elio. Everyone know the vote in Cuba is coerced. Ask any Cuban!

    As usual your writing is targeted at the foreigner, who is unfamiliar with Cuban reality.

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