Compulsory voting

In Australia voting is compulsory. Everyone is expected to do it. Basically that’s because everything back home is geared towards making voting as easy as possible. Over here in the US of A it often seems to me like everything is organised to make voting as difficult as possible. What’s up with that?

In Australia if you don’t vote you pay a fine. Some people routinely pay the fine. Others who don’t want to vote register their dissatisfaction by filling out their ballot wrong or donkey voting. Often by scrawling a message across the ballot. Usually their message is a bit on the rude side. That’s fine. They’ve done their democratic duty. They showed up. The percentage of people who donkey vote is pretty small.

Some people object that many people are too stupid or ill-informed to vote.

Sure, I respond. But who’s going to make that determination? I kind of think what you just said is stupid and ill-informed. Should you be banned from voting? I think liking certain books by certain unnamed writers is stupid and ill-informed. Should they be banned as well?

Others say that voting should only be for the people who care passionately about the issues. When voting isn’t compulsory then only those who really care vote.

The problem with that is many of the people who really care are kind of crazy. Fanatics even. Who wants to live in a country where it’s mainly the fanatics voting?

Non-compulsory voting also leads to campaigns to stop the people you think will vote against you from voting. See: Florida and Ohio. It also leads to doing everything you can to get people you might be able to persuade to vote for you to the polls. Sometimes this is done in less than honest ways.

So you USians can give us limited terms and we’ll give you compulsory voting. You might also want a spot of preferential voting1 and weekend voting. Or at least have a national holiday. Also you could probably lose the Diebold voting machines. Other than that you’re good.

  1. that way protest votes—a la Ralph Nader in 2000—are not such a big deal. []


  1. Jessica on #

    I love our system. Except of course in election day when i’m in a lazy mood. but still, i’m glad that it’s something that’s expected of us, something we have to do or else. Knowing how hard it can be to vote in other countries and how hard the right to vote has been fought puts it all into perspective. (Only have to look at East Timor for that.)

    What i’m amazed isnt compulsory is studying australian politics in school …! I studied politics in my senior year of high school (VCE for me, HSC for you NSW’ers) and without it i would be a total dolt come election time. So it’s no wonder people are ignorant of politics and voting in this country (preferences is one thing that comes to mind.) Learning about who is responsible for what (federal and state government) is also really, really important.

    I think politics should be compulsory in school just as English is. What seems really boring from the outside looking in is totally interesting once you scratch the surface. learning about politics illuminates so much.

  2. David Moles on #

    some texas ex-politician — jim hightower, maybe? — has a story about how when he was running for office, he suggested a get-out-the-vote drive in some provably democratic area, and his consultants reacted in horror: “the last thing we want is more voters!”

    usians make voting so hard because every usian political consultant’s dream is reducing the whole electorate to one voter for whom they can then produce the perfect targeted marketing campaign. preferably via television, so they can collect a lot of commissions on the advertising time they’re buying.

  3. Patrick, The Space Lord on #

    We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them, she’s to blame for their lot in life, and you go on television and you call her a whore.

  4. rebecca on #

    while we’re at it, somebody needs to get rid of that bloody electoral college. and the supreme court shouldn’t be allowed to decide, over the votes of the entire effing country, who gets to be president.

  5. Kadie-Wa on #

    Having to pay a fine not to vote? is it a big fine?

  6. hillary! on #

    I really like this idea of compulsory voting. I never heard of it. What do your Jehovah’s Witnesses do? I think that it would be Fawesome if OZ could have 2 terms. That’s one of my favorite things about America.

  7. Suzanne on #

    The fine for not voting is only about $20–so no real impediment. Election day is always on a weekend, polling places are everywhere, and it is very easy to postal vote or absentee vote. So, if you did feel passionately that you didn’t want to vote, it’s easy enough to go along, get your name ticked and then just donkey vote. But why would you? the fact is, everyone has to live with the laws our government makes. Surely you would want to have a say in the direction of that government! remember people: if you didn’t vote, you can’t complain.
    I’m not sure what jehovah’s Witnesses do — or Exclusive Bretheren, who don’t vote but lobby extensively and fund their preferred party . . . grrrr.

    Oh, and preferences? are awesome. I know the Greens won’t get up, but I vote for them to send a signal to whoever does.

  8. Lydia on #

    Ooo… i like that idea.

    i once read (not sure if it is true or not) that if all the non voters in the US created thier own party and voted… they would win every time…

    That’s sad. Stop complaing about the way things are and go make a difference! Vote!

  9. akkadis on #

    I think it’s pretty easy to get out of paying the fine if you have a reason for not voting – eg, religious reasons, illness, etc. I was sick on the day of the last federal election and my doctor wrote me a sick note :p

  10. Steve Buchheit on #

    excellent, well said. when people ask me about voters I always say everybody should vote. when they say, “but they don’t follow the politics” or worse, “what about the dumb people” (i’m developing an allergic reaction to statements like that last one) i reiterate that everybody should vote. what’s the quote, “while one human is in chains, none of us are free.” Same thing with disenfranchising people.

  11. sylvia on #

    I am completely in favour of making voting compulsory. it was suggested on a message board where i used to hang out a few years back, and a lot of people (mostly us-ian) thought it was a terrible idea, for a variety of reasons — mostly “but it violates our civil liberties!” or “but it’s so complicated, and what about people who can’t cope?” and “but people who are ignorant about politics shouldn’t be voting anyway!” or similar. all of which objections, frankly, i think are spurious. and most of them in any case don’t apply to canada, where i live — our voting process is childishly simple (you get a card in the mail with the addresses of your polling station and advanced poll; you take the card there; they tick off your name on their list and hand you a ballot; you go behind a little cardboard screen and make an X with a pencil in the circle of your choice; you fold the ballot up and put it into the ballot box; you dust off your hands and stride briskly away to wait for the results to be on the tv). it seems like a no-brainer to me. want more people to vote? make it (a) easy and (b) compulsory.

    query, though: where does the $20 go?

  12. Mark on #

    “Others say that voting should only be for the people who care passionately about the issues. When voting isn’t compulsory then only those who really care vote. The problem with that is many of the people who really care are kind of crazy. Fanatics even. Who wants to live in a country where it’s mainly the fanatics voting?”

    That is an absolutely brilliant argument and simply put, the best one I have ever heard!

  13. Corey on #

    My state (AZ) last year passed a proposition to allow it’s citizens to register for a ‘permanent absentee voting status’, e.g. you will be mailed a post-free ballot for every eligible election, until you elect to cancel your status. I think this is a nice compromise between voluntary and compulsory. You know have thirty days to check a few boxes and mail it back at your leisure so you can take all the time you want to research your options…if you cant fulfill that time-line then you don’t deserve the privilege to vote in any democratic country 😉

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