Massachusetts Democratic State Senate Candidate Filed Bills To Fine People For Not Voting

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A Democratic state Senate candidate in Massachusetts likes voting so much, that he has previously supported fining people who don’t vote.

In the past, state Representative Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth) has filed bills that would give you two options:  vote in the November general election every two years or face a small fine.

Fernandes is running for Massachusetts Senate in the Plymouth and Barnstable District to replace the incumbent, state Senator Susan Moran (D-Falmouth), who is not seeking re-election.

Fernandes twice proposed a bill titled “An Act Making Voting Obligatory and Increasing Turnout in Elections,” as NewBostonPost previously reported

It would have made voting in November general elections obligatory. If enacted, it would have established a $15 fine to be added to every eligible non-voter’s state income tax for each general election the eligible non-voter missed. The bill would have eliminated voter registration deadlines.

Fernandes told NewBostonPost in a 2020 interview that he didn’t think the bill would pass, but thought it was still an important proposal.

“I think this is a conversation starter,” Fernandes said at the time. “There are two schools of thought when filing legislation. One is neatly putting up a bill that you neatly comb through line by line and want it passed exactly how it is. And then the other route is filing an idea because you think it’s worthy of debate and conversation. You want it to be an idea you want the public to consider.”

“This is more filed as an idea,” he added. “A number of different things would have to happen for it to pass. It won’t pass this session, and there’s a chance it never passes. But I think it drives at a fundamental question of living in a democracy:  is voting a civic right or is it a civic duty?”

Compulsory voting is an unpopular idea in the United States. A 2015 YouGov poll found that 26 percent of Americans favored compulsory voting whereas 66 percent opposed. Among Democrats, 45 percent supported and 46 percent opposed.

With 2,511,461 out of the 4,884,076 eligible voters in Massachusetts (51.4 percent) voting in the November 2022 midterm election, according to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, Fernandes’s legislation would have resulted in $35,589,225 in fines for those who chose not to vote, if they all paid the fine.

Paul Craney, the executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, ripped the proposal.

“The way this works is first they will impose a fine in order to force you to vote, the next step is to fine you even more if you vote for the wrong candidate,” Craney told NewBostonPost in an email message. “Rep. Fernandes should be ashamed of himself. He’s too young to have these sinister types of motives.”

To not pay the fees, under the proposal, voters would have just had to have returned their ballot blank either in person or through the mail. The bill states:  “nothing shall impede a voter’s right to complete and return a ballot that does not include any actual votes for candidates.”

Some opponents of compulsory voting argue that such a requirement would lead to more uninformed voting.

Just 23 percent of registered voters can find Iran on a map, according to a Morning Consult poll. A 2016 poll conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that 10 percent of college graduates thought Judith Sheindlin, better known as “Judge Judy,” is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fernandes in 2020 argued that the state has taken steps towards teaching more civics in public schools to create a more well-informed state.

“That’s so important,” said Fernandes, whose office is on Beacon Hill in Boston. “I can’t tell you how many times adults have asked me what it’s like to commute to Washington D.C. for work. I think it’s wonderful we passed it for kids. And frankly, maybe some adults could use it as well.”

Fernandes also noted there are other places in American life where service is mandated by law, citing jury duty and past conscription laws.

The U.S. Census Bureau released data in 2018 explaining why people did not vote in the 2016 presidential election. Some of the top reasons were:  “did not like candidates or campaign issues” (24.8 percent), “not interested” (15.4 percent), “too busy, conflicting schedule” (14.3 percent), illness or disability (11.7 percent), and “out of town” (7.9 percent).

The top two reasons — more than 40 percent of the total — came from people who said they did not want to vote in that particular election. 

Compulsory voting exists elsewhere, including in Australia.

The country had an 89.82 percent voter turnout rate in its 2019 federal election. There, voters get a $20 fine ($13.21 in U.S. currency) the first time they don’t vote and $50 ($32.80) for each repeat offense, according to the Western Australia Election Commission.

Fernandes filed the bill during the 2019-2020 legislative session and in the 2021-2022 legislative session. It was killed times as committees sent it to study. He did not re-file the bill this session.

The Plymouth and Barnstable District, which Fernandes is running to represent, includes Kingston, Pembroke, Plymouth, Plympton, Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich, according to Senator Moran’s office.

Fernandes will face either state representative Matt Muratore (R-Plymouth) or Bourne school committee member Kari Macrae, another Republican, in the general election, depending on who wins the GOP primary.


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