Unlike in Australia, people don›t have to vote in US elections. Here›s why that matters

More Americans than ever have cast their vote early ahead of the US presidential election, but millions haven›t, and still won›t on 3 November. Here’s how that might impact things.

More than 70 million Americans have already cast their ballot ahead of the United States presidential election on 3 November.

That’s almost three times the Australian population and more than 50 per cent of the total votes cast in the last presidential election, according to the US Elections Project. The record-breaking number means the country could be on track for its biggest voter turnout on record.

Because unlike in Australia – where heading to your local public school, casting your vote and chowing down on a democracy sausage is a compulsory excursion – Americans are not required to vote.
That was made starkly clear in 2016 when just 55 per cent of people eligible to vote in the US did so – the lowest turnout in 20 years. The 2018 midterms, though, saw an almost 100-year high with just over 50 per cent of eligible voters participating.

Based on early voting, the number of ballots cast this year is likely to be much higher.
“We expect that we are going to break records,” said John Fortier, the director of government studies at the Bipartisan Policy Centre in Washington.

“Seeing 65 per cent, for us that would be a very large increase, the highest in a very, very long time. Perhaps we will even get up to 70, high 60s, that would be extraordinary for us.”
By comparison, in the almost 100 years since Australia introduced mandatory voting in 1924, voter turnout has never dropped below 90 per cent.

Would the US introduce mandatory voting?
There has never been a concerted push to make voting mandatory in the US like in Australia, and political experts say this is likely because Americans don’t like being told what to do.
Built into the United States Bill of Rights is the civil rights and liberties of the individual, with personal freedom dictating much of the country’s political discourse.

“To basically mandate having to go to the polls would be something that might be considered highly un-American when it comes to political culture,” said Gorana Grgic, a politics expert at the University of Sydney’s US Studies Centre.
But while there are no plans for a mandatory voting system, some states have moved to make it easier for people to become registered to vote.

Just like Australia, in every US state, except North Dakota, residents need to be registered to vote before they are allowed to head to the polls.
But unlike Australia, where federal elections are regulated by a national body (the Australian Electoral Commission), each American state is permitted to set its own rules. That includes what methods of voting are acceptable, what deadlines are in place, and how someone can register to vote.
Over the past few years, a number of states have moved to make it easier for people to vote by automatically registering residents who apply for government services or a drivers licence, and making it opt-out rather than opt-in.

A report from The Brennan Centre for Justice last year found automatic registration resulted in a 93 per cent increase in registrations in Georgia, 60 per cent in Vermont, and 47 per cent in Rhode Island.

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