Submitted by Karen Fassuliotis
Get ready non-voters! Senator Will Haskell (District 26) has introduced a bill in the State Senate that would penalize you with a fine if you do not vote in an election.
Perhaps Mr. Haskell, and any other Connecticut legislator who thinks his idea is a good one, should read the Constitution of the United States. If he and they did, they would find that this bill would not stand up to constitutional scrutiny. That’s because Mr. Haskell’s bill is unconstitutional.
Let’s look at why that is so.
In the United States, our Constitution, through the First Amendment, guarantees that all of us have the right to speak. But just as the First Amendment protects our right to speak, it also guarantees all of us the right NOT to speak. Think about it. If a person votes they are, in reality, speaking as to their choice of which candidate they prefer. Conversely, when a person does not vote they are exercising their right NOT to speak and, as a result, they are sending a political message.
Put simply, the First Amendment guarantees that our government cannot force folks like me and you to speak, or, in other words, to vote.
Mr. Haskell may point to foreign governments, such as Australia, which has passed laws making it mandatory to vote. But in the United States, such a requirement would violate the basic constitutional right enjoyed by us all – the right to be left alone by the government.
I could provide other examples of countries who imposed fines on those that did not vote, but ultimately reversed their mandate. Indeed, Italy rescinded such a law. The Italians ultimately realized that such a law impinged on the right to free speech because the freedom of speech includes the right not to speak.
If Mr. Haskell and the rest of our legislatures in Hartford need further convincing, they should also look to the 24th Amendment, which was ratified in 1964. This Amendment bars the imposition of a poll tax. Prior to this Amendment being ratified, a poll tax would not allow you to vote unless you paid a tax. Many of African descent were barred from voting because they could not afford to pay the tax. But if a poll tax to vote is now prohibited by our Constitution, Mr. Haskell’s mandatory fine on people who choose not to vote would be, in essence a reverse poll tax, which would penalize any American who decides not to vote. Clearly Mr. Haskell’s bill, if law, would not pass Constitutional muster.
And contrary to what Mr. Haskell and his like-minded legislators believes, forcing non-voters into the voting booth will not transform American into the progressive “utopia” that he and those that think like him believe to be true. It will not bring more voters to vote for him or any other candidate. Indeed, research has shown that the vast majority of those who do not vote are simply either not interested in the candidates, do not identify with the issues of the election or they are simply not interested in the political process. Their choice not to vote is a political message unto itself – and to force them to speak differently by forcing them to vote is simply prohibited by our Constitution and is contrary to what this nation was founded on.
Don’t get me wrong. I am the first to agree that, regardless of party or non-party affiliation, we should all be encouraging people to vote. I remind people all that time that men and women in our military have fought wars and died so that we can exercise the freedom to vote in an election. However, encouraging someone to vote is different from coercing them to vote. The first is acceptable, the second clearly is not.
Hopefully the majority of our legislators will exercise their voices to let this bill die in Committee. And if you are reading this, please make sure you contact your legislator in the House and Senate in Hartford to tell them that this bill should not be allowed to become law in Connecticut. It’s unconstitutional and it is simply bad policy.