California state Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-Marin County) wants to make it mandatory for residents to vote in elections and give authority to the secretary of state to impose “civil remedies” to promote compliance.
If the proposal were passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, California voters would be required to submit a ballot either in person or via mail, beginning in 2022, in order to avoid incurring a civil penalty. According to the LA Times, voters who did not want to vote in an election could adhere to the law by submitting a partially completed, or blank, ballot.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport – it requires the active participation of all its citizens,” said Assemblymember Levine in a press release Wednesday announcing the proposal.
“California is a national leader on expanding voting rights to its citizens. Those rights come with a responsibility by registered voters to cast their ballot and make sure that their voice is heard by their government. This is not a time to be complacent at the ballot box,” said Levine.
However, through his very own words, Levine has seemingly brought forth a contradiction between the First Amendment, which guarantees the people’s freedom of speech, and the phrasing of his statement announcing the proposal: “…registered voters to cast their ballot and make sure that their voice is heard…my [bill] will ensure that the voices of all California voters are heard…”
When former President Obama openly considered a similar election reform five years ago, the Heritage Foundation was quick to point out that compulsory voting laws don’t square with the Constitution because the First Amendment “includes the right not to speak.”
In proposing that the California state government impose civil penalties on citizens who refuse to use “their voice” in a particular way, Levine has exposed the proposal to clear constitutional challenges.
The Daily Wire contacted Levine’s office in order to seek clarity on the contradiction between the First Amendment and the assemblymember’s official statement. His office declined to comment.
Advocates of mandatory voting argue that compulsory voting has already been passed in other countries, and Levine specifically mentions that Belgium passed a compulsory voting law back in the 19th century. But to say the least, Belgium has a strained relationship with freedom of speech.
Just last month, Sophie Wilmes, the country’s interim prime minister, announced a crackdown on online comments following a rescue effort for a capsized boat that was carrying migrants. “More than ever, we need to realise that hate has no place in society,” Wilmes said, according to The Brussels Times. “Free speech is sacred, but racism is not an opinion — it is a crime.”
The news agency reports that a 1981 Belgian law prohibits people from inciting violence or hatred against others on the basis of racial or xenophobic motivation, and that the online comments that prompted the prime minister’s crackdown included: “let them swim, it’s not far and we’ll get rid of them,” and “the most important thing is finding the boat.”