Should voting be compulsory?

Bookmark and Share Ideas & Liberty and Deregulation Unit | Lydia Bevege
Herald Sun 10th June, 2012

The biggest myth in this debate is that Australia's system of compulsory voting is normal. Forcing our citizens to vote in every state and federal election is not normal. Virtually no other democracies in the world do it.

Australia's compulsory voting laws are coercive and paternalistic, and they are out of step with the majority of developed countries, including the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

People who support our current system claim that we have to force citizens to vote otherwise they might lose interest in the political process. The reality is that, compulsory voting or not, some people just don't care much about politics.

Australian democracy is not enhanced by forcing these people to express an opinion on parties and candidates they dislike.

Rejecting all candidates on the ballot paper and staying at home on election day is a legitimate democratic expression that Australians do not have the right to exercise. We are all forced to vote because other people have decided that we ought to be involved in the political process.

Lots of people claim that Australians are not actually compelled to vote. They say all we are required to do is show up at a polling place and have our names marked off. They are wrong. The Commonwealth Electoral Act says it is our duty to vote, not just to show up.

People who support compulsory voting argue that we should be compelled to vote to stop us from becoming politically disengaged. But on the other hand, they defend their stance by saying that Australians aren't technically forced to vote. They're telling us we don't have to vote while frog-marching us into the polling booth.

It's also likely that compulsory voting has a negative impact on politicians. Though we're told compulsory voting forces our politicians to appeal to the entire electorate, in reality it encourages them to adopt stances that will offend the least number of people. As a result, politicians embrace the policy-by-focus group approach to governance.

This approach has led to unprecedented disillusionment with the political process by voters.

And with electronic voting potentially around the corner, gone could be the days when you could scribble "none of the above" on your ballot paper, or even just fold it up blank and pop it into the ballot box. Voters could be forced to submit a valid vote by numbering all the boxes before a computer will accept their vote.

The last refuge of a voter who does not wish to support any candidate -- the blank ballot -- may soon be denied to Australians too.


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