When we receive a summons for jury duty, we are required to present ourselves at the court. Should we treat showing up at the polls in elections the same way? Although the idea seems vaguely un-American, it is neither unusual, nor undemocratic, nor unconstitutional. And it would ease the intense partisan polarization that weakens both our capacity for self-government and public trust in our governing institutions. It is easy to dismiss this idea as rooted in a form of coercion that is incompatible with our individualistic and often libertarian political culture. But consider Australia, whose political culture may be as similar to that of the United States as the culture of any other democracy in the world. Alarmed by a decline in voter turnout to less than 60 percent in the early 1920s, Australia adopted a law in 1924 requiring all citizens to present themselves at the polling place on Election Day. (This is often referred to as mandatory voting, although Australian voters are not required to cast marked ballots.)
Enforcing the law were small fines (roughly the same as for routine traffic tickets), which increased with repeated acts of nonparticipation. The law established permissible reasons for not voting, such as illness and foreign travel, and procedures allowing citizens facing fines for not voting to defend themselves in court.
It also required citizens to register to vote (much as the United States has draft registration) and the Australian authorities have created systems to make registration easy.
The results were remarkable. In the 1925 election, the first held under the new law, turnout soared to 91 percent. In the 27 elections since World War II, turnout in Australia has averaged 95 percent.
Full Article: Should Voting Be Compulsory?.