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Universal Civic Duty Voting

Political journalist and author, E. J. Dionne, joins us to argue that voting – like jury duty – is a civic duty and should be mandatory in the United States like it is in Australia and as outlined in the new book he co-authored entitled “100% Democracy.” And peace advocate, Colman McCarthy, drops in to pitch his bold idea of how to make peace between Russia and Ukraine.


E.J. Dionne is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, University Professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University, and visiting professor at Harvard University. He writes about politics in a twice-weekly column for the Washington Post, and he is co-author with Miles Rapoport of the book 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting.


[Universal civic duty voting] shouldn’t be a partisan idea. There’s no guarantee that if everybody votes, Republicans lose. I think it’s their worst advertisement for themselves whenever they say, “We can’t win if the electorate is big.”

E.J. Dionne, co-author of 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting

When people talk about “rights and responsibilities,” they often think of the responsibility, as some kind of limit on the right. In fact, the responsibility can reinforce the right… The right to a fair trial depends on everyone being willing to serve on juries. And one of the greatest victories of the Civil Rights Movement was to block discrimination against Black Americans from serving on juries, which really meant that Black Americans were required to serve on juries just like white people were. So, rights and duties can really reinforce each other, and that’s what we think is true of this system [universal civic duty voting].

E.J. Dionne, co-author of 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting

When you look at what the Roberts Court did, at one and the same time, with Shelby v. Holder, they undercut the Voting Rights Act, which means they disempowered less-advantaged Americans— less privileged Americans— and they made it harder for the Justice Department to enforce voting rights. And then with the other hand, they did Citizens United v. FEC, which empowered the already very wealthy and empowered. So, you’re talking about two court decisions that push away from “small d” democracy, and towards something like oligopoly, or whatever you want to call it— a system that is less and less democratic

E.J. Dionne, co-author of 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting


[Jeannette Rankin] flew down and she sat around a table with all kinds of college interns, and I introduced her, and I wanted to give the college interns an idea of stamina. Because, when you’re very young, you tend to think if you work a few weekends to try to stop a polluter, that’s about all you can do. And I asked her “Ms. Rankin, when did you start supporting this idea?” And she said, “Well about 58 years ago.” That drove the point home of civic stamina all right.

Ralph Nader

Colman McCarthy is a journalist, teacher, lecturer, pacifist, progressive, and long-time peace activist who directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C. Washingtonian magazine has called him “the liberal conscience of The Washington Post.”  Mr. McCarthy’s books include I’d Rather Teach Peace

It makes you wonder, why are we so blind to our own militarism? We’ve had endless wars going back to as far as you can count. And Jimmy Carter once said, “there’s no nation that’s as militaristic as the United States.” That’s our background. We’ve got to examine– why are we doing this? We have endless wars, endlessly supporting dictators, and the death toll goes up, and so does military spending increase.

Colma McCarthy, Center for Teaching Peace

Ralph Nader Radio Hour Ep 425 Transcript (Right click to download)


  1. robert says:

    Australia has required voting since between WW1 & 2,, I’ve read that spreads out the middle , to have more influence , rather than opting out and leaving the highly motivated right , and less influential left to battle over policy priorities,, a topic for discussions? actual benefit noted?

    • Beto says:

      No benefit except for the government to brag about high numbers. If you don’t vote, there’s a fine. If you want to avoid it but are not interested in the process, you vote without regard for whom or why. Is that what Ralph Nader and EJ Dionne want?

  2. Ben Leet says:

    The Pentagon budget for 2022 is $1.614 trillion, states an article in the Monthly Review, April 2022, by James Cypher.
    “The Political Economy of Systemic U.S. Militarism”.
    This is over 40% of all “on-budget” spending, which means Social Security spending is excluded,
    Authors Smithburger and Hartsung also estimate the military budget for 2022 at $1.268 trillion for 2021, “What Price Defense?”, at
    Project on Government Oversight, and also published at The Nation magazine.
    The White House document on the U.S. Budget, Historical Tables,
    “Table 8.7 Outlays”, places “Total National Defense” for 2021 at $741.606 billion.
    The $1.6 trillion amount is 2.17 times larger than the official amount.
    Cypher devotes time to critiquing the wastefulness of a Navy ship building program.
    Out of 20 newly built ships delivered to the Navy, 8 were decommisioned within 5 years.
    “By 2020, the Navy had decommissioned the first four delivered littoral combat ships because they were “less capable” (meaning water leakages, power system failures, and so on). It was then announced that they would scrap several more. By 2021, eight of the twenty ships commissioned had been discarded—some with less than four years at sea (or left docked) compared to the expected thirty to forty years . . .
    All in all, even ignoring the hardware and software of the mission packages and operating costs, the jettisoning of the eight ships (at $3.4 billion) is the equivalent, in 2020 prices, of blowing up 232 brand new U.S. elementary schools.” He references various articles such as one in Forbes magazine.
    He explains the expensive and corrupt process of “profit pyramiding” by inter-related prime contractors and subcontractors.
    He explains the current plans to meet the challenge of China, and the goal of maintaining global dominance of the U.S. military.

    The Social Security Administration report on wage income for 2020 shows that total wage income for the lower-earning
    half of all workers, 83 million workers, all earning less than $34,612/year, was $1.24 trillion.
    The military budget is more than all income for half of U.S. workers. We have a lot of poverty, hardship, and severe inequality, and we spend too much on the military.

  3. Robert says:

    I’ve always favored mandatory voting. It’s a right and a duty. That means you have to differentiate Joe Smith from the other Joe Smiths and that is done by creating a universal national ID– just like most developed countries have. This will do away with having to show some of the other kinds of ID required (like now) to vote in person. It will also open up voting by mail and/or online. Because voting is mandatory, there must be a place on the ballot for “none of the above.” If “none of the above” gets the majority of votes the ballot for that position is wiped clean and your voting district would not be represented until a re-election is held that shows who got the majority. Four other things should also take place: (1) election “day” becomes a weekend holiday; (2) election “day” is moved from the first Tuesday in November to the weekend before April 15th; (3) campaigning only occurs for 6 months (as opposed to the current “it never ends”; and (4) all TV & radio media who are licensed by the government to use our airwaves must provide free debate time under an independent authority (e.g., the League of Women’s Voters).

    • Barbara says:

      Why move election “day” to the weekend before April 15th? What would be the benefit of that?

  4. Paul Cohen says:

    We do need more widespread participation in elections and the idea of mandatory voting would seem to be a promising way to accomplish that. Having more competitive elections with more candidates would surely help as well and having a better voting system so that voters could more accurately express their opinions would be another approach.

    This recent podcast joins the bandwagon to support the adoption of ranked voting and ranked choice would seem, at first glance, to be the answer. But I would caution against this exuberance and urge a more careful study of ranked voting. I’ve tried to do this in an article at called Ranked Voting: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

    Ending the two-party duopoly would seem to offer a major improvement in our democracy and plurality voting is surely the root cause for that two-party limitation. Ballot access limitations need to be addressed as well, but these limitations, it is argued, are needed to enable plurality voting to function at all sensibly. Disappointing as that conclusion is, the argument is a good one. A better voting system is needed but that does not mean we need to adopt a ranked choice system. There is a better way and that is the topic addressed in the second substack article, Avoiding the Two-Party Duopoly.

  5. Don Harris says:

    Mandatory voting isn’t a bad idea, but as E.J. Dionne said it’s not going happen anytime soon. That makes it a good subject for a book and theoretical discussions but not much else.

    Why do you have guests like E.J. Dionne back again to hawk their books when you still haven’t made good on your statement on Washington Journal (10-24-2018) to have me on the Radio Hour to discuss One Demand?

    All you have done since 2015 when i first started contacting you about One Demand was address it as a listener question in which you and guest agreed it wouldn’t make a difference because Bernie and Trump ran small donor campaigns which is not true. They did not run true small donor campaigns, just got more small donors than previous candidates.

    At this rate it will take decades to have a real discussion of One Demand when decades of discussion could happen in one segment of the Radio Hour.

    If you had lived up to your word and had me on the Radio Hour in early 2019 and listeners responded by participating in 2019 we could have had around 10% participation by the beginning of 2020.

    This could have inspired Bernie to run a true small donor campaign in 2020 instead of the pretend small donor campaign he did run again in 2020 and could have made a difference in the 2020 primaries.

    We would have at least found out if Bernie was serious or just trying to fool people into his fake small donor campaign to absorb any small donors that might support real small donor candidates.

    And instead of being exactly where we were in 2020, 2018, 2016, etc. we would have many more citizens participating in 2022 producing many true small donor candidates running now in 2022.

    So the question is where do you want to be in 2024?

    This can still be effective in 2022 if started now. Most mid-term elections have a lower turnout as well as no presidential election to absorb media coverage and contributions.

    Why not try to get some of those people to participate in One Demand in 2022 instead of wasting their vote by not voting?

    Part of the One Demand strategy is to write in your own name when there are no small donor candidates on the primary or general election to register a vote against the big money candidates on the ballot and to create and demonstrate demand for small donor candidates in subsequent elections.

    Many Current Major Party supporters have claimed that using a write in vote is wasting your vote because you are not voting for a candidate that can win the current election, ignoring the purpose of the write in vote which is not to elect a candidate on the current election.

    But if it is a waste of your vote to vote for a candidate that can’t win then voting for a Deathocrat in a district gerrymandered for Republikillers or a Republikiller in a district gerrymandered for a Deathocrat is also wasting your vote.

    Even a small percentage of people in those districts deciding to not waste their votes on a candidate that can’t win participating in One Demand instead in 2022 could easily get the national participation average over 10% of the vote in 2022 which could inspire more citizens to participate in 2024 and change the dynamic for 2024 instead of a repeat of 2020, 2018, 2016, etc. of only a choice between two big money candidates.

    You have said that politicians want our votes more than big money.

    Let’s find out if this is true by forcing candidates to choose between taking big money and getting our votes.

    Power concedes nothing without a demand so let’s make the demand that candidates run small donor campaigns and enforce that demand with our votes instead of just accepting the big money choices offered.

    Isn’t that how democracy is supposed to work?

  6. Fred Glienna says:

    “We LOVE war. It’s the only thing we’re good at.” —George Carlin

  7. Beto says:

    Compulsory voting …. what an authoritarian regime likes to hear. I don’t care if only 5% of the electorate votes because I know they will be somewhat informed. If the other 95% don’t want to, it’s their business.

    • Barbara says:

      If voting becomes compulsory then, as a disaffected voter, I might be willing to sell my vote to the highest bidder since the difference between Dems and Repubs is cosmetic in my opinion.

  8. Don Harris says:

    Your recent blog about Deathocrats being like deer in the headlights misses the point entirely.

    Deathocrats today do not care what Democrats did fifty years ago or Truman before that. They have a different agenda because they serve a different master- the big money interests.

    This is why you need to stop pretending the Deathocrats today are the Democrats of yesteryears and listen to Harry Truman that you quoted in the article as saying “Vote for yourselves.”

    You are just as frozen as the examples in your blog.

    Join in on getting citizens to vote for themselves as described in my previous comment putting your theory that politicians want our votes more than big money to the test by demanding small donor candidates and enforcing that demand with our votes.

    Harry Truman would not be talking today about a return of Wall Street dictatorship, he would be talking about ending it.

    Pretending the Deathocrats today are not part of Wall Street dictatorship is ignoring the reality you mention in your blog in referring to their record breaking fundraising and corporate-conflicted consultants.

    We can’t “Give ’em Hell” if we keep giving them our votes when they keep taking big money.

    • Paul Cohen says:

      Democrats of 2022 may not have the same agenda as they did in 1938 but neither do they have the same third-way agenda that Clinton brought to them in 1994. The only thing that stays constant is Will Rodgers’ observation that the Democratic Party is not of one mind.

      I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.

      Will Rogers

  9. John Puma says:

    To ask “what should Biden and the state department do to end the war in Ukraine” belies an essential misunderstanding of why there is a war at all … and an unawareness of the US’s own public description of what it’s seeking with that war.
    The end game is the control of Russian assets and its massive amounts of natural resources. The US and the Dems (for now) are NOT seeking an end to said war but, rather, the opposite, a war of attrition to achieve regime change in Russia – an angelic neo-Yeltsin. If all of Europe needs to be sacrificed, so be it!

    If the US succeeds (assuming no nuclear annihilation), there might not be an economically viable Europe to, once again, buy essential food/energy products from Russia … this time paying in US $$$$$’s. But neither will those products any longer be available to China.

    Note: I was again accosted by this message in the process of posting my comment. I’ve never seen it but on this website.
    “Access Denied
    This site is protected by the Stop Spammer Registrations Plugin.”

  10. Jon Ralston says:

    I enjoyed and appreciated this segment on mandatory voting. I also appreciated the brief discussion of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) i.e. Instant Runoff Voting/Single Transferrable Vote. However, can you please have someone like Rob Richie of Fairvote or Nathan Lockwood of Rank the Vote (please do not have Katherine Gehl of the Institute for Political Innovation) on to have a more in depth discussion of the importance of RCV in non-wonky language? Thank you, and keep up the great work!