Wow just Wow... Mass Senate Candidate Dan Winslow (R) - proposes court ordered mandatory voting, and said his scheme could raise significant amounts of monies, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars if applied statewide. Full Text of Article and quotes below:
IDEA TO TAX NONVOTERS IS FLOATED ; 'APATHY' FEE PROPOSED BY EX-WRENTHAM JUDGE
Ned Bristol, Boston Globe
June 9, 2005
Exercise your right as an American to vote. Participate in our great democracy. Or else pay an "apathy tax."
That's the choice that residents of Norfolk would face if a proposal championed by one prominent resident is approved.
Daniel B. Winslow, who has been active in town government and served as chief legal counsel to Governor Mitt Romney as well as a district court judge, has called for people who don't vote in the annual town elections to pay higher local fees. The idea is to increase voter turnout and raise revenues.
"The failure to participate in civic life at the local level has costs," he said. "Usually, they're hidden costs. This kind of approach would make those costs apparent."
Winslow's plan, presented informally to selectmen in April, has gotten a generally cool reception.
"I don't see the average citizen of Norfolk viewing it as a great thing. They might think they're being forced to vote," said Ramesh Advani, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
Advani said selectmen have no plans to pursue the proposal.
Winslow, 47, now in private practice, did draw praise from some for bringing attention to what many see as a decline in civic engagement.
"I think any proposal to increase voter turnout deserves serious consideration," said Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat. Joyce himself has filed legislation to provide for a $25 tax credit for voting in the state's general election and to allow municipalities to offer a $25 tax break for voting in local elections.
But some close observers of state and national voting initiatives see problems with proposals like those made by Winslow and Joyce.
Harvard Law School professor Heather K. Gerken, an election law specialist, said that while she's "wildly in favor of experimentation," Winslow's proposal "has the smell of a poll tax," the illegal requirement that people pay money in order to vote.
She said if the proposal were to become law, "some people might argue it sullies the right to vote. . . . a judge would give it a close look."
Juan Martinez, executive director of MassVOTE, a nonprofit organization that works for increased turnout, said Winslow's plan "brings up a lot of the implications of paying someone to vote." It's a "slippery slope," he said.
Eric Holland, a spokesman for the US Justice Department, said the agency couldn't give a legal opinion on the Winslow and Joyce proposals, but added, "Federal law makes it a crime to pay for a vote. The receipt of anything of value, including a tax incentive, could potentially violate federal law."
Winslow said his proposal is not to pay a person to vote but to create a "disincentive not to vote." His proposal is actually the reverse of a poll tax, encouraging people to vote, rather than trying to bar them, he said.
The idea of offering a financial incentive to vote comes as turnout has declined in national, state, and local elections. This spring's election in Norfolk drew just 15 percent of registered voters.
Winslow said the state has a unique opportunity to take action. He cites Article 61 of the Massachusetts Constitution: "The general court shall have authority to provide for compulsory voting at elections, but the right of secret ballot shall be preserved." No other state has such a provision in its constitution, he said.
Winslow wants the town to submit a home rule petition to the Legislature and then hold a binding referendum on his plan. Under the plan, voters would be given a receipt upon leaving the polls that would entitle them to pay lower fees for such things as dump stickers and burning permits.
The voting requirement would apply only to the regular annual town election. It could double or triple turnout, Winslow said.
"What it could do is validate existing local officials' actions by putting the approval of not 7 or 10 percent of the citizens but 50 or 60 percent of the citizens behind their local government," he said.
He also said it could raise significant amounts of money, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars if applied statewide.
Winslow said he had discussed his idea with a few other municipal officials and the Massachusetts Municipal Association, but so far has found no takers.
Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the municipal association, said his organization's policy committee hadn't reviewed Winslow's idea and had no position on it.
Winslow said he was confident his proposal would improve civic life. "Whatever the initial motivation, voting will engage citizens on a broad scale in their local government. People can't help but take an interest in the outcome" of an election they participated in, he said.
Winslow, a third-generation Norfolk resident, is known for advancing original and sometimes radical ideas. He won the Pioneer Institute's Better Government Competition in 1998 for a plan to make the civil justice system more efficient, and he initiated a number of administrative improvements in the state courts.
He also made headlines in the 1990s when, as a Wrentham District Court judge, he proposed putting stickers on vehicles of those convicted of multiple drunken driving offenses to try to shame them.
"I've had some bad ideas along the way," Winslow said. But he added, "Ideas are the means by which we move society forward."