Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on March 19, 2015. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016. I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.
Think-tank head Jason Grumet reacts to Obama's mandatory voting idea
Speaking in Cleveland on March 18, President Barack Obama raised the idea that compulsory voting could improve the U.S. electoral system.
“In Australia, and some other countries,” the President pointed out, “there’s mandatory voting. It would be transformative if everybody voted... that may end up being a better strategy in the short term.”
The next day in Charlottesville, the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, Jason Grumet, spoke about Washington's dysfunctional politics at the Virginia Festival of the Book. He was featured on a panel sponsored by local non-profit Charlottesville Tomorrow called “Bipartisanship and Everybody Loves Jefferson” along with Louisiana State University historian Andrew Burstein.
Aspirational, not practical
Grumet described his 2014 book, City of Rivals: Restoring the Glorious Mess of American Democracy, and, in a post-panel interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, he reacted to the president's idea of making voting mandatory, under the threat of punishment, for American citizens.
Compulsory voting, he explained, is “more of an aspiration than a practical solution. Like everything, there are pros and cons.”
Grumet conceded that “it would be terrific to have greater participation in a participatory democracy” but he pointed to problems in the country identified by President Obama as a potential model.
In Australia, he said, experience has shown that “the downside is a lot of people are essentially forced to vote who have no desire to participate in the process, no information about the process, and so there's a question about whether you dilute the quality of the voter pool.”
There are good and bad levels of participation, he continued.
“Having 20 percent participate [or] having 100 percent participate probably also has some problems,” he said. On the other hand, “60 to 70 percent would be great.”
Gerrymandering 'doesn't matter'
During the interview and the panel discussion, Grumet also addressed a widely-held electoral concern – legislative redistricting.
“Gerrymandering is a concern,” he said. “It is undermining to the democracy to have politicians choosing the voters as opposed to the voters choosing the politicians.”
However, he added, “it just doesn't matter as much as a lot of people think. The high water mark for redistricting reform would be the tenor of the U.S. Senate. There are no districts in the Senate [yet] it is not exactly a venue of great collaboration.”
Nationwide, he explained, “we have essentially sorted ourselves so that no matter how you draw districts, we are still going to have a diminishing number of competitive” elections.
While Grumet continues to believe there should be efforts to create “bipartisan redistricting commissions and get away from some of these crazy, gerrymandered districts but,” he cautioned, “in and of itself [that] is not going to be the solution to the fractious nature of our democracy.”
He noted a case now being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the redistricting commission in Arizona, which was created by voter initiative to bypass the state legislature.
That case, he said, poses “an interesting question because the essence of it, as I understand it, is that the legislature was basically taken out of the redesign process.”
Arizona has “an independent commission and there's a question about whether, in fact, it is constitutional to have redistricting happen without legislative prerogative. That doesn't mean that you couldn't have redistricting commissions that have three Democrats and three Republicans. It wouldn't eliminate the capacity to seek better efforts when it comes to redrawing lines but it could limit a certain type of redistricting commission.”
As to the ultimate ruling in the Supreme Court case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Grumet quipped, “If I could tell you the outcome of that case, I could also tell you the price of oil in a month.”
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Original URL: http://www.examiner.com/article/think-tank-head-jason-grumet-reacts-to-obama-s-mandatory-voting-idea