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The Benefits of Making Voting Compulsory in Australia

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Words: 1978 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

Words: 1978|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

Compulsory Voting

Compulsory voting was first introduced to Australia in 1924 via a legislative bill as a means of increasing the voter turnout. Years following the law, compulsory voting spread throughout Australia, going from Victoria (1926) to NSW and Tasmania (1928), then to Western Australia (1936), and lastly to South Australia (1942) (Evans, 2006). Since becoming law, it has come under much scrutiny as citizens have come to question whether compulsory voting is good for democracy. This essay will critically discuss why compulsory voting in Australia is good for the continuance of democracy. The restrictions as to what compulsory voting entails must first be mentioned.

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In Australia, the extent that compulsory voting affects its citizens are restricted under the “Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918” (Pringle, 2012) which states that “it shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election” (Evans, 2006). Present day, this means that the elector is mandated by law to attend a polling place, be crossed off a list as attending, collect their ballot, fill it out entirely, and put it in the ballot box. Because of the severity of the law, there are a number of options given to electors on how they may place a vote; whether it be by casting “their vote at an election, including postal voting, pre-poll voting, absent voting, voting at Australian overseas missions and voting at mobile teams at hospitals and nursing homes and in remote localities, as well as ordinary voting at a polling place in their electorate.” The fine for not engaging in this mandatory voting though is a mere $20 and possibly in court for a day (Beck, 2013); this has proven to be quite ineffective through in recent elections because the fine and laws go unenforced a lot of the time. In short, this is the extent that the Australian compulsory voting entails to it citizens, yet when looking at the topic as an individual elector it becomes evident that there are two very different views of this type of voting.

Like most debates, there are proponents and opponents of an issue; this same case applies here. Because of the longevity that compulsory voting has maintained in Australia, the proponents far outweigh the opponents, and so their viewpoints will be discussed first. As mentioned previously, the beginning of this mandatory voting was built on the basis of increasing the political participation of society, otherwise referred to as voter turnout in studies on this issue. The proponents for compulsory democracy believe that it is good for democracy for a number of reasons. The first of these reasons is one that seems to be at the core of governments these days - civic duty. A proponent would say that “the duty to vote is not a breach of liberal rights” (Lacroix, 2007) but like jury duty, taxes, and primary and secondary education, voting is a civic duty that all Australians citizens must participate in. Without their full participation, or similarly lack of participation, “the legitimacy of a country’s government and electoral system” (Lever, Compulsory Voting: A Critical Perspective, 2010) is put into question. When that occurs, all actions of the government can be deemed in a sense ‘un-constitutional’ and void; being the worst case scenario however. To reinforce that thought, the Australian government has been claiming that since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1924 the participation rate has never fallen below the benchmark of “90%” (Moraro, 2013).

A second reason in favour of compulsory voting for the betterment of democracy is that it forces the government to “consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management” (Compulsory Voting, 2011). In essence, this means that the views and concerns of the entire nation must be considered when making any number of decisions. It remains the job of the government to fully represent and act in accordance of its electorate body. Democracy allows for everyone to voice their views by way of votes and in turn the party receiving the majority of the votes represents those views in the government to the best of their ability; this being the theoretical definition which currently seems to stray away from the realistic definition. Compulsory voting allows also for a large and diverse representation of the people when considering the entire electorate. A number of different parties and representatives of the country are chosen and allowed to affect the direction of the government by way of their vote. In this way, this type of mandatory voting is good for democracy. Another argument, to be mentioned next, in favour of this compulsory voting is the political campaigning advantage.

In our days of extreme amounts of money and energy being spent on candidates’ campaigns, the issues that are chosen to be broadcast and voiced can become focused on more pertinent issues rather than that of voter turnout. With this system of compulsory voting in Australia, the politics of the parties truly have become more translucent with this idea of current pressing issues rather than voter turnout problems. These turnout accomplishments must be put in perspective however to see how effective they really are in comparison to the international community in which we live. To begin this comparison, it must first be known that only 17% “of the world’s democracies compel their citizens to vote and back this compulsion up with penalties for non-voters” (Ballinger, 2006). Worldwide, the trend for voter turnout over the years has been in a downward slope while the voter turnout in Australia has maintained around a 90% benchmark, with it being 93.22% in the 2010 parliamentary elections (Voter Turnout, 2013). To refute that though, it is said that the “high voter turnout is a myth when you consider that 10% of Australians are not even registered” (Beck, 2013) to vote. Like how most comparisons are done, the U.S. must also be mentioned here too. The 2010 parliamentary elections in the United States had a surprisingly low 41.59% voter turnout; as a guideline though “a turnout rate of 53 per cent is not exceptional in American politics” (Marien, 2007). This lack of votes can in part be explained however because of the fact that it was not an election for the president but solely for the members of Congress. A second comparison also much drawn upon in Australia is to the United Kingdom. The British general elections of 2010 “was a little…bleak, as 65% of the constituency pledged their political vote” (Pracilio, 2012) as compared to that of Australia’s. Even with all of these proponents’ views for compulsory voting, there are also a number of opponents’ views that must be reviewed in order to understand why, overall, it is good for democracy.

At the core of those who oppose compulsory voting, they believe essentially that “it is undemocratic to force people to vote, [by way of] an infringement of liberty” (Compulsory Voting, 2011). “Democracy means that we are entitled to participate in politics freely and as equals” (Lever, Liberalism, Democracy and the Ethics of Voting, 2009). In principle though, it is known as leaving the power of the nation in the hands of the people and letting them decide collectively the laws that govern them. This has, however, become solely a slightly referenced figure in the democratic nations of the world as their views of democracy involve largely the use of representatives of the people instead of direct voting. The “freedom of choice in a democracy must include the freedom not to choose” (Engelen, 2007); this seems to be the argument that claims that this compulsory voting is a violation of liberty. The Australian government imposes a number “of legal sanctions” (Orr, 2011) to those that find this side of compulsory voting to be riveting and act in refute of it by not attending the polls. In the end though, this is just a flaw in the components of democracy because of the basis that democracies rely on its citizens to voice their opinions via votes. Along with this opposition to compulsory voting is also the belief that there is a large presence of ill-informed votes.

When citizens are forced to vote when they have no recollection or knowledge of whom or what they are voting for, democracy in part fails. This is a major argument for those whom oppose compulsory voting, as it frequently happens. This democracy, and the laws that govern it here in Australia, are not set up to deal with this situation, and that is a current pressing issue. The media is currently held mostly responsible for informing the public of what and who stands for what issues in regards to the politics of the land. A significant number of votes are passed to candidates whom the electors know little to nothing about all because of this mandate to vote. These opponents of compulsory voting greatly acknowledge this and believe that if the right were given to people in regards to voting, they could choose not to vote if they were not adequately informed for the election. When elections are close and just a few votes makes a significant difference in determining the prevailing party, this particular viewpoint on compulsory voting becomes more and more relevant to consider. This misinformation and ill-informed era that exists in Australia has brought about this need for the government to acknowledge this fact, and yet, another leading reason still exists in regards to opposition of compulsory voting.

This next principle reason that fills the opposition is known largely as “donkey voting” (Engelen, 2007). Donkey voting is when “compelling citizens…participate [in voting], even when they have no opinion or do not want to express it…[which] results in a higher number of protest votes.” The opponents argue this point by saying that when citizens decide freely to vote, it becomes more legitimate. Because of this, there is a large percentage of votes cast in Australia that are donkey votes, solely because of the state’s coercion into voting, but they cannot be counted as it is near impossible to know which ones are and aren’t (Sun, 2006). It has been found that when countries abolish compulsory voting “the number of votes that do not count (invalid and blank ballots) drops about 2%.” This is both a pro and con for this type of voting as generally there are lower turnouts for non-compulsory voting while compulsory voting entails a much greater turnout. This was the subject of debate that began in Australia back in 1924 when compulsory voting was first largely introduced and mandated throughout all of the states of Australia. With this being the last key reason against compulsory voting, a conclusion can finally be drawn from all of these factors for and against compulsory voting.

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The debate on compulsory voting is one that calls for a realization of the entire issue, with an understanding of both the proponents’ and opponents’ views of the issue. This essay gave the proponents’ three main reasons to leave Australia’s compulsory voting in place: that it is a civic duty of every citizen, that the government must fully represent and act in accordance of its electorate body, and that the politics of candidates can focus on important issues rather than voter turnout. While the proponents’ issues were more than satisfactory to contend that compulsory voting is good for democracy, the opponents’ key reasons against it hold merit that must also be reviewed to reasonably draw a conclusion on the issue. These reasons were: that forcing people to vote is undemocratic, that making citizens vote when they are not properly educated or informed is bad in entirety for the government, and that there is a significant presence of donkey votes. After reviewing these fundamental issues, it can be summarily said that “compulsory voting is but one of several, mutually compatible ways to enhance democracy” (Engelen, 2007).

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The Benefits of Making Voting Compulsory in Australia. (2018, December 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-benefits-of-making-voting-compulsory-in-australia/
“The Benefits of Making Voting Compulsory in Australia.” GradesFixer, 11 Dec. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-benefits-of-making-voting-compulsory-in-australia/
The Benefits of Making Voting Compulsory in Australia. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-benefits-of-making-voting-compulsory-in-australia/> [Accessed 25 May 2024].
The Benefits of Making Voting Compulsory in Australia [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Dec 11 [cited 2024 May 25]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-benefits-of-making-voting-compulsory-in-australia/
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