Props for putting some work into the quantitative side of things! Not to nitpick too much, but the USA number looks fairly high (according to Wikipedia the 2012 Presidential election had a 57.5% turnout and hasn’t been above 60% since the 60’s). The trend is interesting though, and I think it makes intuitive sense that smaller populations will have larger voter turn out. Putting on my fanciest math hat, I think it’s worthwhile to check what happens when we extrapolate to either extreme (in this case, a small or infinite group). If you’re living with a few room-mates, do you vote for what food to order or what movie to watch? I think barring extenuating circumstances, you certainly do. In the other extreme, if there is an infinite amount of people, does it even make sense to vote at all? (Countably infinite sets? Cardinality?).

So yes, I agree with you, one of the challenges with large democratic systems is dividing a state in order to give votes more of a gravitas. One of the major problems with this type of approach is the actual divisions themselves. ‘Gerrymadering’, as the practice is called, has been a hot topic in the U.S. recently. It’s really easy to try and cheat the system by subdividing parts in such a way as to give an advantage to one party. Something to keep in mind. As my 80 year old Russian Electromagnetism professor told me: ‘there is no free lunch.’

To answer your call for ideas: I have two major thoughts, one practical and easily implementable and one that may be difficult to pass into law. First, the easy one: make voting day (at least for national elections) a federal holiday. I’m not sure why this is not already a policy. Most people in their voting age have jobs during the day and giving them some extra freedom to participate just seems like a no-brainer. Us ‘youth’ can say that it’s easy to find time throughout the day (or maybe cast an early ballot) but the reality is many people are not that organized. If you have to pick up your kid from day-care at 5 and then cook a meal for them, having to rush to the voting booth by 8pm doesn’t sound too appealing.

Second: give city, state/provincial and federal tax credits for people who have voted in any of the three tiers of elections (Municipal, Provincial, or Federal). This is similar to the ‘fines’ you mentioned, but it provides positive reinforcement, not negative. This may be difficult to enact into law, from a political standpoint, though it doesn’t seem impossible. In fact, from a logical point of view it should be clearly possible since the politicians who propose such a law shouldn’t be voted out of their positions. How could they? The people who would vote them out are the ones who would be eligible for the tax-break.

Positive reinforcements and clear opportunity is what I think society should provide to the voting public. If that still doesn’t work, well then, maybe we need to think deeper about the world we live in. As the saying goes: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Looking forward to our podcast next week 🙂