The U.S. prides itself as the beacon of democracy, but it's very likely no U.S. president has ever been elected by a majority of American adults.
It's our own fault -- because voter participation rates are running below 60 percent, a candidate would have to win 85 percent or more of the vote to be elected by a majority.
Compulsory voting, as exists in Australia and more than two dozen other countries, would fix that problem. As William Galston of the Brookings Institution argues, "Jury duty is mandatory; why not voting?"
During the 2008 election cycle, voter participation was approximately 64 percent; in 2004, it was about the same. Orszag wants that number up. Why?
Beyond simply raising participation, compulsory voting could alter the role of money in elections. Turn-out-the-vote efforts, often bankrolled by big-money groups, would become largely irrelevant. Negative advertising could be less effective, because a central aim of such ads is to discourage participation in the opponent's camp.
It is no coincidence that Orszag is calling for mandatory voting on this basis at the same time that the Obama administration pushes against Citizens United, attempting to bridge the money gap Obama now faces against Mitt Romney. It is also no coincidence that Obama wants mandatory voting at this point in time – it is widely accepted that mandatory voting would raise participation rates in heavily Democrat-leaning populations, particularly minorities.
The irony, of course, is that the Democrats seem fine with forcing people to the polls, but object strenuously to people showing ID at the polls when they show up voluntarily. Forcing people to vote seems significantly more burdensome than asking them to show identification. But one measure prevents voter fraud, while one promotes liberal constituencies stuffing the ballot box. So that explains that.
The Obama campaign must be desperate if they're calling for this sort of action. Such a policy would be massively unpopular with the American people – but apparently Obama is willing to risk that so long as he can get more of his friends to the polls. Even if he has to force his friends.