Both Uruguay and Brazil voted over the weekend. Kathy Gilsinan focuses on the fact that those “countries have compulsory voting, under which failure to vote is punishable by a fine.” She looks at why these laws came about:
In a 2010 paper, Gretchen Helmke and Bonnie Meguid of the University of Rochester investigated the origins of compulsory voting laws and the factors that could motivate a ruling party to adopt them. Comparing countries that instituted mandatory voting laws with a random sample of countries that didn’t, they found support for the theory that “the more incumbents fear that they are losing the ability to get their own voters to the polls, the more appealing an antidote compulsory voting will be. In essence, the decision to adopt [compulsory voting] is based on the incumbent’s wager that abstaining voters are the equivalent of untapped supporters.”
Ruling parties in Western European and Latin American countries, the authors write, faced the rise of unions and workers’ parties as their countries industrialized during the late 1800s and early 1900s, when many of them implemented their compulsory voting laws. “During this period, the Left’s organizational ability to mobilize—and, in particular, turn out—its potential voters was increasingly perceived as being unmatched by other parties,” they write. Ruling parties, according to this theory, were essentially trying to get out the vote for a silent majority of what one Argentine official called “the rich and content” to protect their incumbency from the growing power of the leftist opposition.