Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Compulsory Voting

I mentioned a few days ago that compulsory voting seems somewhat ironic in a democracy.  On the other hand, a right we take for granted – to elect our representatives, free from fear – is something that people have fought and died to attain for centuries past.

Some notes on compulsory voting:
  • Australia is part of a minority of 23 countries with mandatory voting laws. Only 10 of those enforce them.
  • Compulsory enrolment for federal elections in Australia was introduced in 1912 Compulsory voting for state elections was introduced in Queensland in 1915 Compulsory voting at federal elections was introduced in 1924.
  • From the Australian Electoral Commission website:
Arguments used in favour of compulsory voting
Voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform e.g. taxation, compulsory education, jury duty
Teaches the benefits of political participation
Parliament reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate"
Governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management
Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll
The voter isn't actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by secret ballot.

Arguments used against compulsory voting:
It is undemocratic to force people to vote – an infringement of liberty
The ill informed and those with little interest in politics are forced to the polls
It may increase the number of "donkey votes"
It may increase the number of informal votes
It increases the number of safe, single-member electorates – political parties then concentrate on the more marginal electorates
Resources must be allocated to determine whether those who failed to vote have "valid and sufficient" reasons. 

  • ‘The 2010 election was a good advertisement for voluntary voting. What other conclusion can be drawn from a campaign that produced a sharp increase in the informal vote, vast numbers who could not be bothered voting and a significant protest swing to the minor parties?’ – Mark Latham, former leader of the Australian Labor Party and boofhead
  • “Australia has got mandatory voting, you start getting 70-80 per cent voting rates, that’s transformative. We really are the only advanced democracy on earth that systematically and purposely makes it really hard for people to vote.” US President Barack Obama, address to students at the University of Chicago Law School, 8 April 2016.
  • In the 2013 federal election in Australia voter turnout for the lower house of parliament was 93.34% and 94% in the Senate, according to the Australian Electoral Commission. In the 2010 election the figures were 93.22% and 93.83% respectively. This compares with just 36% of America’s voting-eligible population casting ballots at the crucial mid-term elections in 2014 –the lowest turnout in more than 70 years, despite control of Congress being up for grabs and state governor races contested. Just 53.6% of voting-age Americans voted at the 2012 presidential election.

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