Saturday, March 24, 2007

Should voting be compulsory?

OK, we are knee deep here in the United States with a Presidential election that has 2 years to run its course. So it’s hard to get excited about a state election in NSW in Australia.

The truth is, wife and I forgot to let the Australian Electoral Commission know that we are out of the country. This means that as far as the AEC is concerned, we are not doing our civic duty by voting today. In Australia, my US readers might like to know (to their horror), voting is compulsory (with the threat of a fine). You heard it, compulsory. With a fine.

The idea that 24% (+/-) of potential voters elect the leader of the free world is unheard of in the Antipodes.

Now, to those who don't know, my wife is American. So she don’t have to vote in the country of her birth. But she married me, and she lived in Sydney for the requistite time. And so she became a (dual) citizen of Australia to the resounding sounds of Waltzing Matilda.

So today, in NSW, she is missing her first compulsory election.

She and I didn’t vote. We couldn't vote.

So here is my question: ought we to be fined (in principle)? Should voting be compulsory? Arguments for? Against? And I am very happy for American perspectives as well…


Justin said...

For the record, we are registering with the AEC ASAP. We want to vote in next year's federal election.

And the AEC allow for the fact that people move O/S without letting them know, and so we will need to show that we have moved here in order to avoid the fine.

(I know that this sounds odd to the US readers).

SUDS said...

Well, I wish I was in your situation J-Man. I normally get into elections, take voting seriously. But this was the most boring and uninspiring election ever. EVER!

The Greens get more and more scary/evil by the minute. The CDP manages to spoil the name of Jesus with crazy policies that make it appear like they hate everyone who isn't a Christian.

I don't even know of anyone who wanted to vote for any of the major parties!

And the Labor Govt, that has had some of the biggest blunders in the last few weeks is going to get re-elected with a slogan "More to do but - we're heading in the right direction."

For me the right direction is to move to QLD or VIC!

Luke said...

'and so we will need to show that we have moved here in order to avoid the fine'

I am sure you moved to the US for better reasons than that!

chelsea said...

Well Im so with Sudsy on this - this was a very uninspiring election!
And I think thats the problem when it come to compulsory voting because regardless of whether people are 'inspired' they gotta put a number in a box - i say this is a problem because when ppl dont want to vote for anyone in particular they'll either hand in an invalid vote anyway or pick anyone (or something like that). And that should not be the basis for which a government is elected.
So perhaps when voting is not compulsory people are able to become more inspired by it (maybe its psychological haha) and take a genuine interest that makes a genuine difference.
Having said that, i guess people should just make themselves tkae that interest when they are forced to vote...

when i said yesterday that i didnt like the whole voting thing cos i was uninspired etc, my brother simply said "perhaps you should go live in a country where you arent allowed to vote".
That made me think - it should be seen as a blessing rather than a hinderance surely?!

Benjamin Ady said...

I think the compulsory voting thing is inspired. That's one of several rather largish election reforms I'd love to see in this country.
Do you guys have an allowance for ... conscientious objectors to voting--like some branches of mennonitism (see my post "Is it evil not to vote?" over at Or do they just all end up having to pay the fine if they choose not to vote?

Kate said...

Bens, everyone I've met votes every time. All the local communities hold sausage sizzles, cake stalls, garage sales etc at the schools or churches where the voting is held. Rebellion is usually what we call a 'donkey vote" (do you have these?) or by voting *shock horror* for a minor party. Our kids' primary school here in Melbourne considers an election day to be a great little fundraiser. I think compulsory voting is great, LOL.

There is very little difference between the two major parties here in Oz (at least for the past decade or two), so most people seem to vote based on which party offers them the best freebies (eg, cash when you have a baby or when the kiddy starts school -- this really does happen here!). Voting whilst compulsory seems a highly cynical exercise here in Oz, but we all enjoy the sausages!

Oh Suds, and while I grew up in Sydney, went to Sydney uni etc (Hi Megs) I have lived in Melbourne for years and *love* it here. I'd recommend moving here to anyone.

Ev said...

I'm o/s atm and was totally bummed I didn't get to vote 1 Mike for Manly.

I guess it makes a difference when you're in a marginal seat. Voting in St Ives always felt a litle pointless.

As for the question at hand, I like compulsory voting. I don't know why.

Anonymous said...

Oops...forgot to vote too (here in Sheff. UK). Justin how much is the fine? Mind you I have never voted in a local election in my life and am yet to be jailed. Am keen to vote in the Federal election too...seems to be a lot more at stake in a Federal election and the two potential Premiers did seem equally uninspiring. Still, the State level of government is constitutionally the most powerful level of government in the land, so something about the way the media portrays the different spheres (State & Fed) seems mixed up, or it is the constitution that's mixed up.

I'm with Evan, always seemed pretty pointless voting in St.Ives...but back then I was a liberal voter


seapea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seapea said...

i'm glad to NOT vote in the US (isn't it strange that I want a greencard but i don't want to be a citizen?). canucks don't have mandatory voting, thank goodness, as i have no clue what's going on in canada.

basically, i'm clueless in terms of any kinds of voting.

so, i think you're fine. I can't wait to see the boy & the girl again!!!!

Luke Collings said...

If you're going to have a legislative democracy then voting MUST be compulsory. Otherwise the institutions of government become meaningless and we might as well invest Rupert Murdoch as Grand High Poobah of the Universe right now.

If voting is optional then you remove communal responsibility for national action, policy, and justice. If less than 100% of your population votes, then its the same as if no-one voted and you might as well avoid the charade. Optional voting allows individuals and communities to bury their heads in the sand in regards to important issues, as though political and social problems only concern those who turn up to a polling booth every four years.

And another thing. To all those over in the Land Of The Free: stop using those stupid computer voting terminals! A pencil and paper cannot have major system failure or be reprogrammed to dump unfavourable votes.

Peace & Love.

Eddo said...

@hotNeh - I'm in NZ J,
and it came and went on across page 3 of the Wellington Dominion.

I agree with Sudsy - what a boring election.

With no inspiring, beer-bellied Occa to vote for I don't feel upset that I missed this one.

Though I may check in with the AEC to avoid some troubles.


Jonathan said...

Being out of the state and religious convictions against voting are both valid reasons for not voting, and so not paying the fine.

I have been registered as an overseas elector for more than three years now, so I couldn't vote in the state election anyway.

As for compulsory voting, random or donkey votes might not be the best way to elect someone, but informal votes surely aren't any worse than choosing not to vote if it weren't compulsory.

Anonymous said...

J Man

Over in in Cape Town i'm not allowed to vote, and I don't vote in Oz either - same predicament as you I suspect. I'm a man without a voice - that makes me feel kind of . . .weak. I think voting is great, I reckon we should, and I like Luke collings thoughts.

But here is another thought - has anyone noticed that all these issues re voting kind of mirror our attitudes to quiet times?!


cyberpastor said...

In nearly all Western countries democracy has come at a price. We should be thankful that the only price we have to pay for democracy is a fine for not participating.

Justin said...


What other prices did you have in mind?


Mike said...

A few interesting tidbits...

The fine for not voting is only $20 (token).

You aren't actually forced to vote - just turn up at a voting booth. Once you enter the voting booth and have your name marked off, you can do anything you like - throw out the ballad paper, donkey vote, or really actually vote.