KENTFIELD (KPIX 5) — Americans often celebrate the right to vote in this country, but at what point does that right become an obligation? A Marin assemblyman is proposing legislation that would penalize people who fail to cast their ballots.

North Bay State Assemblyman Marc Levine has proposed AB 2070, a bill that would require anyone registered to vote to cast a ballot in every election in the area the person resides. The ballot can be a partial one, or even left blank, but it must be cast or non-voters would be penalized.

“We need to change the culture of voting,” said Levine. “We need to make it something that people expect to do, that they know it’s a civic obligation. And with greater turnout, we can have far more positive results.”

That sounds like the heavy hand of government to Jack Wilkinson, the Chairman of the Marin County Republican Central Committee.

“Freedom is a two-sided coin. You’re free to vote or not to vote,” Wilkinson said said. “You can’t force people to do something unless you’re controlling the outcome of what they do, which is what this bill will lead to.”

“You’re forcing people to do something, which isn’t really democratic,” said College of Marin Political Science Professor Yolanda Bellisimo.  She said punishing registered voters for not casting a ballot could probably increase voting a bit, but only in the short term.

“Then what you might find is that you’ll have less people registered to vote,” she said. “That defeats the purpose.”

Out on the College of Marin campus, the proposal drew a mixed response.

“If they force people to vote, it’s going to be like jury duty and people are going to hate it even more,” said student Braulio Resendiz Cordova. “We’re not supposed to hate to vote. We’re supposed to enjoy it.”

But Eric Garro, who works on campus, supports the idea of mandatory voting.

“I’m from Costa Rica and I think it’s an obligation of any citizen to come and vote,” said Garro. “If they don’t want to vote for anybody, vote for nobody. But it is an obligation to be a part of society.”

Countries like Belgium and Australia fine people for not voting. In Bolivia, if people cannot prove they voted, their salary can be withheld at the bank.

AB 2070 does not specify what the penalty should be for not voting, leaving that up to the California Secretary of State. On Monday, his office said they have taken no position on the legislation.

Levine says he just wants to encourage voting in California, even if it means forcing people to do it.

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