Here's what the president said during a Q&A session at a Cleveland town hall event last Wednesday:
I don’t think I’ve ever said this publicly, but I’m going to go ahead and say it now. In Australia and some other countries, there’s mandatory voting. It would be transformative if everybody [in the U.S.] voted — that would counteract money more than anything. If everybody voted then it would completely change the political map in this country.I guess technically he doesn't actually endorse mandatory voting here although it's hard to understand why he mentioned it right before saying how it would be a wonderful thing if everybody voted. In any case, the dreadfulness of endorsing compulsory voting, complete with fines and prison sentences for those who fail to show up at the polls, is exceeded by the reasons why he wants everyone to vote:
The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups. They are often the folks who are scratching and climbing to get into the middle-class. They’re working hard.One can understand why Mr. Obama wants these particular people to vote. When they do they tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, but I could never understand why anyone who cares about the well-being of our republic would want them to vote. The demographic the president identifies is usually not only the most politically disengaged they're also the most apathetic, least informed, and least invested in their communities. If they do vote their ballot is often based not on an informed consideration of the issues and candidates, and what's best for the country, but on the basis of emotional appeals or self-interest, the candidate's looks, charisma, sex, race, or age. None of these are good reasons for voting for someone - voting for president is not like voting for homecoming queen - but they're often the only reasons the uninformed can think of.
Here's a simple test: If someone can't name their state's U.S. senators and their district's congressional representative that should tell them that they really don't know enough yet to vote responsibly. If someone doesn't care sufficiently about voting to register on time, to secure an ID, to study the issues, to read a newspaper or its electronic equivalent, why should we make it easier for them to vote? The only answer is that if the uninformed can be compelled to vote it would guarantee political hegemony for whichever party promised them the most free stuff, and we know which party that would be.
We should not be encouraging people to vote who have no idea what they're voting for. What we should be encouraging people to do is to educate themselves on what's going on in their country and the world. If they do that then they'll be self-motivated to vote and the government won't have to make it easy or force them to do it. They'll care enough to do what's necessary to cast their ballot. Every adult citizen should be eligible to vote, but only those who are informed and engaged should be encouraged to vote, and those who are informed and engaged won't need much encouragement.