A Short Treatise On Compulsory Voting

06 September 2006

(Or failing that, here's my misinformed rant, which you might as well read - do you really have anything that much better to do for the next ten minutes?)

In spite of the fact that "compulsory voting" may seem a contradiction in terms, I've always agreed with the principle. I think it was put most succinctly on The Glass House a few weeks ago, when an American comedian who was a guest that night said, "I can't believe you guys have compulsory voting over here. Tell me, is it true that if you don't vote, you get fined?"
And Dave Hughes replied, in his inimitable drawl, "Yeah, but if you guys don't vote, you get George W. Bush!" It was one of the funniest unscripted lines I think I've ever heard.

Lately, however, I'm starting to change my mind on the issue. The genesis of this came a few weeks ago, when some friends and I were returning along the freeway from a trip to the Central Coast. We were overtaken by half a dozen police cars with their sirens and lights activated, and assumed there must have been a bad accident. When we came upon the scene however, it appeared to be just a man standing beside his car, which was stuck in a ditch it the middle of the road; and apart from wondering why that would require such a police presence, I assumed it was just some moron trying to do a u-turn despite the many and prominent "NO U-TURN ON FREEWAY" signs, and didn't think much more of it.

Well, moron was right, but I didn't know the half of it. Until I opened the newspaper last week, and read about that man's court appearance. He was charged with a range of offences - apparently he drove five kilometres north along the south bound lanes of the freeway, with a blood alcohol level of 0.214 (this at 4:30pm!) before finishing his afternoon's adventures in the ditch when he tried to escape the police. Truly a "thank God no one was killed!" moment if ever there was one.

And my point? This man votes!

Okay, it's probably not a good idea to do my own u-turn on one of my cherished political beliefs based on one incident. Abolishing compulsory voting would make politics in Australia far more partisan; only the people who really cared one way or the other would turn out to vote. It would diminish the importance of "middle Australia" in the political process - on election Saturday, most of the people in the middle would be too busy taking the kids to netball, catching up on housework, working their part-time jobs, and generally taking advantage of the weekend, to go and vote, when the majority of them don't have strong political opinions in the first place. Changing the law so that only the people who actually wanted to vote did so could also make it a lot harder to get rid of the Liberal government: old people love to vote, and generally what they love to vote for is John Howard.

But still. It's a pity that we can't abolish compulsory voting for just one election, so we could see how things turned out without the "idiot vote". And of course, the end of compulsory voting would mean I could get one of those "Don't vote - it only encourages them!" bumper stickers (yes, I like bumper stickers. I put them on backpacks). We can't do this, of course, because if it didn't work out, it would be impossible to re-instate it once it was abolished. But it's a fun idea. And frankly if you're a lefty in Australia these days you need to find fun wherever you can.


  1. Indeed. Australia is the only country in the world which has both compulsory voting and a compulsory preferential system. It's a system which is skewed to make sure there is no real choice in voting. Saturate the voting table with the mindless and politically ignorant and then force their votes to go exactly where you want them to go. And people call Australia a democracy.

    "Give the likes of Baldrick to vote and we'll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning and dung for dinner."

  2. Is that a...*guesses wildly*...Blackadder reference?

  3. It is indeed. The Third :)

  4. The USSR had compulsory voting. The candidates were all members of the Communist Party. The idea was to choose which party member you wanted. They also had a box to tick for 'None of the Above'. Good idea.

    Compulsory voting in Australia was a backroom deal worked out by both left and right together in the 1920s or '30s to save money on campaigning.


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