How Voting Became a Duty in Kansas City

Nate Ela, American Bar Foundation

Is compulsory voting un-American? In the United States, we have a right to vote, but no duty to vote. Other countries have mandated voting, but this is difficult to imagine here. Yet it has happened here. In 1889, Kansas City became the only place in U.S. history ever to have required residents to vote. The experiment lasted six years, before the Missouri Supreme Court deemed it contrary to the state constitution. How and why did voting become a duty in Kansas City? This paper explains why civic leaders came to see compulsory voting as a necessary municipal reform, and how they advocated it as a means of forming a more perfect city. The historical experience of Kansas City offers a unique opportunity to envision how cities might again advance a reform that could reshape the terrain of contemporary struggles over voter suppression and enfranchisement.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 87. Governing the Private Sphere