Compulsory Voting

A voter dashes in from the beach at Bondi to cast a quick vote.
A voter dashes in from the beach at Bondi to cast a quick vote.

A Defence of Compulsory Voting

Compulsory voting was introduced in Australia in 1924 by conservative political factions who feared union organization of working class votes. Ironically, that same faction would now like to see it's demise. Yet compulsory voting promotes a more vigorous democracy by encouraging people to think about issues which concern their lives and ensures a broad representation of the electorate.

Critics complain compulsory voting is undemocratic and an infringement on our right not to vote. Well, perhaps...but all it really means is turning up at the polling booth. If you don't wish to cast a vote you may do a "donkey vote" meaningless scribble, yet the vast majority of Australians do choose to have their say on polling day.If you really don't want to participate you can choose not to attend and pay the $20 fine.

Defenders of compulsory voting have argued that it reduces incentives for negative advertising, such as that seen in the US. Non-compulsory voting is also more expensive generally since money has to be spent on encouraging voters to the polls. In America it carries an estimated cost of between 18 to 25% of the Republican and Democratic campaign budget .

Another offshoot of compulsory voting is that it has simplified polling arrangements. To ensure public accessibility for a large number of voting citizens, elections are always held on a Saturday and large numbers of polling booths at set up at central community locations.

Perhaps the most important argument against non-compulsion is that it favours the more affluent and better educated citizens. Research indicates that those from lower socio-economic groups would be less likely to turn up at the polling booth and while it hasn't been put to the test, the supposition is that lower voting rates would benefit conservative governments, since lower turn-out favours privileged voters.

Certainly there are rights and freedoms inherent in living in a society [or should be] but there are also obligations . Is it so tough to turn up at the polling booth every 31/2 years or so? Sometimes the cloak of liberty may conceal inequality and a reduction in choices.

The Australian experience of compulsory voting has largely been a positive one...there is a high degree of compliance and only a minority of Australians wish for its demise. It has become a civic tradition.

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Comments 8 comments

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logic,commonsense 6 years ago

Personally, I think every country should make voting mandatory! I believe in the long run it would make government more honest! Thanks for sharing, I did not know about this!

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Well it works for us! Thanks for the comment.

epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

my compulsory voting goes towards your hubs: they're witty and engaging - well just like you - and thank god we have people like you in this world - because it makes our lives anything but dull!!!

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hey Happy...thanks.

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TransScribbler 6 years ago

The introduction of compulsory voting was one of the worst political decisions ever made in here in Australia. Personally, I rate it right up there with The Dismissal.

If Australia were truly a democracy, we would not have mandatory voting, or an electoral system which allows the person/party with the fewest votes to win office.

Let us not forget that Kim Beazley won 53% of the two party vote in 1998, yet under our current system, still lost the election on preferences.

And no, I do not vote - I am not even registered.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi TransScribbler...Thanks for contributing here. Well, prior to the introduction of compulsory voting, voter turn-out was around 47%, now it's something like 96% so most people do choose to vote.

One argument against compulsory voting is that it does tend to increase the number of safe, single-member electorates so that political parties then concentrate on the more marginal electorates, which can scew things.

The two party preferred system has its critics yet I still beieve our system works pretty well compared to many others. One thing I do like about two-party preferred is that a vote for a minor party is not wasted.

I know quite a few people who don't vote and most of them have never been fined.

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TransScribbler 6 years ago

Hi Jane.

Did you hear about one of the candidates for East Gippsland in the recent Federal Election? Not only was he anti-compulsory voting, but he had never enrolled or voted in his life! Not sure how he went.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Really..? No I hadn't heard of him. Well, I wouldn't have voted for him!

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