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"..ie..a 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.
More by this Author
Dignitas is the name of an organisation in Schwerzenbach, Switzerland where people from all over the world travel to die, via assisted suicide.
I clearly remember the first time I heard The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda - Eric Bogel's poignant ode to the men who were maimed and killed in the Great War and in particular Gallipoli.
Post-feminist revolution, 1950's housewives carry a certain amount of hip kudos. Now that we have equality (or a facsimile thereof) we don't have to be on the defensive anymore. We can wear a stiff, full skirt, vintage...