Increasing voter participation rates may be as simple as fining eligible voters for not showing up at the polls. It worked in Belgium, and it’s working in Australia. Peter Miller, a 2002 graduate of Billings Senior High School who’s now a John Templeton Foundation post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, told the League of Women Voters of Billings Thursday that compulsory voting is “a proven way to increase turnout,” but noted it has very little chance of becoming law in the U.S. According to its website, the Templeton Foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity and evolution to creativity, forgiveness, love and free well. The foundation encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers and theologians. Every Election Day, Australian voters are almost all in — and if they don’t vote, they pay a $50 fine, Miller said. During the last national election, 93 percent of eligible Australians voted. By comparison, 57 percent of Americans cast their ballot in 2012.
In 2003, Belgian legislators eliminated that nation’s financial penalty for not voting, but the voter participation rate hasn’t wavered, Miller said. Every election, more than 8 in 10 Belgians vote.
Reformers who want to boost this country’s participation rates have other options, Miller told the crowd of about 50 people meeting at the Elks Club: they can make voting more convenient or they can automatically register people as they turn 18.
A study Miller cited said removing barriers to voter participation improves turnout by 10-14 percent, and allowing Election Day registration boosts turnout by 7-10 points.
Montana voters — at least, those voters who participate — will decide when they vote Nov. 4 on the fate of Legislative Referendum 126, which would eliminate same-day registration.