It's hard to see how Orszag is interested in anything other than changing the rules for his side's benefit. As Reason magazine's Tim Cavanaugh notes, just last year Orszag argued for taking some policymaking out of the hands of voters and empowering technocrats -- like him -- to run the country. "We need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions," Orszag explained, "by making them a bit less democratic."
Ornstein and Mann, whose new book blames Republicans for all that's wrong in Washington, make a slightly different argument. They claim that coerced voting would revive the political center by reducing the influence of activists and ideologues.
Ultimately, this is a more sophisticated way of making the same argument. They do not like the way conservatives have been winning battles in Washington. Forcing people to vote, they hope, would put an end to that.
And it's worth noting that we are talking about making nonvoting a crime. If a citizen refuses to vote or pay the fine -- and countless would -- he would be breaking the law. How far would the government go to compel these citizens to pay up or comply? This is how the "experts" would make democracy healthier?
It's an unfashionable thing to say, but if anything, voting should be harder, not easier. Scarcity creates value. Sand is cheap because there's so much of it. Gold is valuable because it is rare. If you want people to value their vote, we should make it more valuable.
Personally, I wouldn't mind tying eligibility to vote to passing the same citizenship test we require of immigrants. We might get fewer voters, but the voters would be far more likely to appreciate the solemnity of their ballots.
But such proposals just elicit rage from people who love democracy -- albeit only when they're winning.