President Obama, whose party was trounced in last year’s midterm election due in part to poor turnout among Democrats, endorsed the idea of mandatory voting Wednesday.
“It would be transformative if everybody voted,” Mr. Obama said during a town-hall event in Cleveland. “That would counteract [campaign] money more than anything. If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country.”
Mr. Obama raised the subject during a discussion of curbing the influence of campaign donations in U.S. elections. The president said he had never discussed the idea publicly before, but said Australia and some other countries have compulsory voting.
The president didn’t commit to pushing a mandatory voting initiative at the federal level but said, “that may end up being a better strategy in the short term” than finding a solution to curbing campaign donations.
Australia is one of 11 nations worldwide with mandatory voting. Australians who fail to vote can be fined, or even jailed for repeatedly not casting a ballot.
The president repeated his frequent complaint that Democrats tend to stay home in midterm elections. Last November, Republicans regained control of the Senate and added seats to their majority in the House despite Mr. Obama’s massive fundraising efforts for his party.
“The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups,” Mr. Obama said. “And they’re the folks who are scratching and climbing to get into the middle class and they’re working hard. There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls. We should want to get them into the polls.”
General election voter turnout for the 2014 midterms was 36.4 percent, the lowest in any election cycle since World War II, according to the United States Election Project.
In the presidential election year of 2012, about 58.2 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Mr. Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney, 51.1 percent to 47.2 percent — a margin of about 5 million votes.
But in House races nationwide last November, about 5 million more Republican voters cast ballots than Democratic voters.
The president, who raised $1.1 billion for his re-election, said the “blitzkrieg” of campaign spending is “bad for our democracy.”
“I speak as somebody who has raised a lot of money,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m very good at it. It just degrades our democracy generally.”
Referring to the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling that resulted in increased campaign spending by third-party advocacy groups, the president said it would be difficult to change the law with a Constitutional amendment.
“We have to think about what are other creative ways to reduce the influence of money,” he said. “There are other ways for us to think creatively, and we’ve got to have a better debate about how we make our democracy better and encourage more participation.”
Mr. Obama also said the process of gerrymandering is harmful to democracy.
“I don’t think the insiders should draw the lines and decide who their voters are,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans do this, and it’s great for incumbents. It pushes parties away from compromise.”