Get Shouty

The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men
November 4, 2008, 7:31 am
Filed under: Get Activist

In Australia, compulsory voting means that every Australian citizen (18 years or older) is required by law to enrol and vote.

Proponents of compulsory voting argue that voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform, such as taxation, compulsory education and jury duty.

Our Electoral Commission puts the case like this:

• Opponents argue that it is an infringement of liberty to force people to vote, and that the ill informed and those with little interest in politics are forced to the polls.
• One argument against compulsory voting is that voting can be an onerous imposition on some citizens. Against this it has been stated that: ”All our voting system requires is for a voter to attend a polling booth and mark some papers as they wish, approximately once every three years. This does not seem to be an insurmountable burden to be part of a democracy”.
• Another argument is that both the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights refer to people’s rights to “freely chosen representatives”. It is then claimed that a “right” is something that a person posses and chooses to use, not something produced on demand.
• Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, states that “rights and freedoms” are subject to “duties to the community”, including the “just requirements of of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”.

So my friends in the States, I may be preaching to the converted but: Please vote.

UPDATE: I’m being interviewed on ABC radio tomorrow (6/11) about compulsory voting. What do you think about it? A good thing? A bad thing? What do you think Australia would be like without it?


13 Comments so far
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This is a really interesting question…

I like to think that compulsory voting makes people who vote here more involved in the democratic process, and more engaged with issues. But I think I’m being too optimistic.

I still fundamentally believe that for a state to be truly democratic then every citizen should cast a vote. That having a democracy requires every member of that state to participate – there is a duty of care to being part of a democracy. But I accept that many voters have no idea who or what they are voting for apart from headline issues, TV sound bites and hereditary labor/liberal bias.

Comment by kelpenhagen

this is a subject which is very, very close to my heart. and infact last election, i hassled all my friends to actually enrol. (enrolment may be compulsory, but if you don’t enrol, it’s easy to avoid a fine).

many people hate the idea of being ‘controlled’ to vote, but i often remind people that your only compulsion is to enrol and to get your name crossed off at the polling place. while you’re there, you might as well cast an opinion.

and, as my civic teacher said in year 10, if you don’t vote, don’t complain.

seeing the amount that has been spent encouraging people to vote in the US, which could, i don’t know, be spent on healthcare or education, i’m grateful that we’re required to vote.

and that we vote on saturdays. i don’t understand this mid-week voting thing (both in the US and the UK) – most people have the weekend off, which enables people to vote. at least our system provides access to engage and have a voice. even if the voice we have is conservative, most of the time.

go get ’em katie 🙂

Comment by lauren

I love this piece about the dangers of non -voting

Comment by katiechatfield

Katie – I also just came across this quote…

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. Winston Churchill.

Comment by kelpenhagen

@kelpenhagen and that would be why I’m proud to live in a country where there is compulsory voting:

Theodore Parker:
Democracy means not “I am as good as you are” but “You are as good as I am.”

Otherwise: who would decide who the average voter is? Who would decide who’s ‘better than average’ Who would decide who’s opinion is not worth listening to?

Agnes Repplier:
Democracy forever teases us with the contrast between its ideals and its realities, between its heroic possibilities and its sorry achievements.

Eleanor Holmes Norton:
The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with.

Lyndon B. Johnson:
Voting is the first duty of democracy.

Robert M. Hutchins:
The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.

Comment by katiechatfield

make sure you talk to engineers/fears about this on Friday if you see him – he has VERY interesting views on this topic…

Comment by kelpenhagen

@kelpenhagen- Matt is ALWAYS interesting!

Comment by katiechatfield

Katie – I’ll listen to that interview later today. My position is that compulsary voting (or not) has very little impact on levels of political engagement or quality of government. And I’d like to see research that proves me wrong.

It may save some money that would be spent on persuading people to vote who would otherwise not. But the almost moralistic position that people MUST vote because democracy is important and it’s good for them to vote seems slightly wide of the mark to me. Voting is a small part of a wider re-engagement that has to happen across society that cannot be achieved solely thru legislation (not that I think anyone commenting here would disagree with that broader perspective).

If I was going to pose my argument in a provocative way (which obviously I would NEVER do) then it would be: “Compulsary voting has given us governments of the quality of the current NSW state regime – who could argue against it?”

Comment by Matt Moore

If I was going to put that as succintly as possible it would be: “The ballot box is a pit stop in the great marathon of democracy – not the finish line”.

Comment by Matt Moore

@Matt Moore, yes but not everyone can make it to the finish line

Comment by Kate Richardson

I’ve just found your blog and after reading a few posts, I’m sure I’m gonna like it here!

Anyways. Yep. I was having the same debate with my beloved Yankee friends around the time of their election when they all nervously hoped and prayed… and luckily got their outcome.

Their view(s) are that the more people who are made to vote in the US, the dumber the election result would be. I disagree.

I think there’s a time and a place for change. Sometimes it doesn’t happen when we really need it. And as a result, appropriate social change takes a little longer than it should.

Australian’s without a compulsory vote, would, I believe, slowly stop voting all together. Then it becomes easy I think, to sway the vote if one of the more redneck or capitalist groups makes an effort to organise those who do vote…

Did you hear that in one part of America, voters were being offered free sex toys if they turned up and could prove they voted? Hilarious!

Comment by Svasti

If only more than 44 people could read this!

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