Strategy 2 Empowered Voters

Universal Voting

Strategy 2
Empowered Voters

Recommendation 2.5

Establish, through congressional legislation, that voting in federal elections be a requirement of citizenship, just as jury service is in the states. All eligible voters would have to participate, in person or by mail, or submit a valid reason for nonparticipation. Eligible voters who do not do so would receive a citation and small fine. (Participation could, of course, include voting for “none of the above.”)

Read in the Report

Recommendation Update

Read Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting from our Champion, the Working Group on Universal Voting convened by The Brookings Institution and The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School.

A core obligation

When voting is easy and accessible, it is more than a right – it is a core obligation of democratic citizenship. The United States should require attendance at the polls.

Implementing a system of universal voting in the United States would be a major task. The first step is to establish universal voting as a “North Star” for democratic citizenship and to encourage reforms that help lead us in that direction. Once the expectation has been set, Congress should pass legislation that enshrines it. States and municipalities should also begin to adopt universal attendance requirements for their own elections.

Many Americans may see this recommendation as “un-American” or “undemocratic.” Yet it is no less American or democratic than the requirement to serve on juries. Americans have long accepted jury duty as a fact of democratic life. Now it is time to accept voting, too, as an obligation of citizenship.

With universal voting, would I have to cast a vote for a particular individual or party?


Universal voting requires eligible voters to show up at the polls – that’s all. Voters do not have to cast a vote for an individual or a party. They can also vote for “none of the above,” sometimes called a “donkey ballot.”

—Bangor, Maine
“But wouldn’t forcing somebody to go vote—wouldn’t that go directly against our democracy?”
—Jackson, Mississippi
“Your responsibility in a democracy is to participate in setting the agenda. And you do that in a representative democracy by voting for people and participating in an election process in which people come together, the best ideas are put on the table, some win, some lose, but you are vested in that process.”
—Phoenix, Arizona


A system of universal voting – with the option to cast a donkey ballot – has been in place in Australia since 1924. Voters who fail to file a ballot on or prior to election day are subject to a fine that, in U.S. dollars, falls roughly between $15 and $60.

Before the country implemented universal voting, Australia’s turnout was like ours, averaging around 50 percent. Since the reform, turnout in every election has been over 90 percent of enrolled voters. Australians now see voting as a civic duty and as part of their civic culture. The government has to fine nonvoters relatively infrequently.

Universal voting is currently the law in over 20 countries.

2.5 Countries with Universal Voting .png


RepresentWomen and Faithful Democracy and the Working Group on Universal Voting at The Brookings Institution and The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School are committed to working to implement this recommendation in order to help reinvent American democracy for the 21st century.


The Working Group on Universal Voting at The Brookings Institution and The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School believes the concept of making voting a universal civic duty in the United States would significantly enhance our democracy by broadening civic participation in all communities.

RepresentWomen works to advance women's representation and leadership through research and advocacy on data-driven systems strategies that enable all women to run, win, serve, and lead in appointed and elected offices in the United States.

Faithful Democracy is a multi-faith coalition of faith-based organizations and congregations who share the moral imperative of fixing our democratic systems. While our partners represent a diversity of beliefs and traditions, we unite around the common goal of creating a healthier, thriving democracy. 

See the full list of Our Common Purpose Champions.