Universal suffrage is the foundation of any true democracy, but all too often it is seen as a right of citizenship when in fact it is a civic responsibility.
By charging non-voters a nominal tax, that money could be put toward campaign finance reform, advertising local elections, or spent on programs aimed at getting low-income students involved in the political system.
For much of this country’s history, only white land-owning men could cast ballots in elections. Women didn’t gain that right until 1920, with the 19th Amendment. And although the 15th Amendment “guaranteed” black men the right to vote in 1870, many states continued to find new and creative ways to rob them of that right for nearly a century, until the Voting Rights Act became law in 1965.
Both of those groups fought an inconceivably difficult uphill battle against that inequality, defying odds that were heavily stacked against them, and ultimately secured the right to have an equal voice in the system that had treated them, at best, as second-class citizens.
Their struggle against that system began before America declared its independence, and the torch was passed from one generation to the next for nearly 200 years before they won that fundamental human right. People were imprisoned, beaten, committed to asylums, and hanged, but they kept fighting, knowing that even if they never lived to step foot in a voting booth, their children and grandchildren could benefit from the blood they spilled.
Now, just 50 years after the Voting Rights Act guaranteed that right to all Americans, the vast majority of the country seems to have developed mass-amnesia. The United States Election Project found that only 30 percent of registered voters in California cast their ballots in the 2014 general election which saw Republicans take control of Congress.
The Pew Research Center found that African-Americans, and minorities in general made up only 22 percent of likely voters in 2014. Conversely, minorities made up 43 percent of those likely not to vote in the same election.
That figure is startling. Three in 10 people in this state are making decisions that affect 100 percent here, yet the other seven believe their votes are inconsequential. As that statistic creeps closer and closer to one person in 10, or five in 100, it is likely that the elected officials who win with such minute support will have little-to-nothing in common with 95 out of 100 people they’d be tasked with governing. The interests of the candidate and the interests of the governed would be at irreversibly crossed-purposes.
A world where nobody votes won’t look like Shangri-La, it will look like Berlin circa 1938. A small tax for those refuse participate in the decision-making process looks far less like fascism than a future where 1 percent of the population makes all of our decisions.