Compulsory voting and its opposite evils

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Time and time again, we are told that getting people to vote improves representation and representativeness. Bringing them together under penalty will somehow maintain political honesty and ensure that members of parliament, or any chamber, are held accountable. Imagine how horrible it is to have a president elected with a mere third of the vote, or political representatives who only speak for a small part of their electorate?

The argument is only superficially attractive. A look at the ABC Four Corners Episodesfeaturing voters chosen by the national broadcaster, did little to inspire confidence in compulsory votingwhich has been the mainstay of Australia since 1924. Since that year, the electoral law stipulates that “it shall be the duty of every elector” to vote “at every election”.

What was lamentable about the national broadcaster’s exercise was the fortunately conceded ignorance of the punters, who, with the exception of one “voter”, appeared to have opted for all the political spread in their election history. In other words, they were swingers, with adjustable loyalty. This ignored the fundamental point that Australians remain, even now, hostile to eclectic coalitions and representatives not aligned with major political parties. On the question of whether Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese would be a suitable leader, let alone prime minister, no enlightenment was offered, only a blanket of ignorant obscurity, sometimes praised with comments that “he could be a decent guy” who hated conservatives. and liked his beer.

The major parties still command blocks of automatic votes: the Labor voter who could never imagine voting for the party of the corporate boss; the liberal, entrepreneurial voter who cannot conceive of an alternative that could mean more taxes or a raid on the family trust. This state of affairs has produced a particularly mercenary approach to politics, with political apparatchiks ignorant of campaigning in safe seats while obsessing over swinging “marginals”. Don Aitkin, quite rightly, also observed that Australian political parties had little need for mass membership in such a system. parties, he Remarks“have become career structures for political assets.”

The history of compulsory voting in Australia is fascinating. Those who protect her do so with kamikaze fanaticism. Many who have questioned the system invite apostasy and ostracism. After the 2004 federal election, there were some whispers of dissent from some members of the Liberal Party, which is not surprising given the historic advantage that left-wing parties have had over conservatives. in the process.

This feeling, however, was going nowhere. The approach is rusty and opinion polls on Australian attitudes towards compulsory voting constantly showed that “never less than six out of 10 voters [support] compulsory vote”.

Arguments in favor of maintaining the status quo include, for example, a chance to stifle potential extremists. They are neutralized by the mass of the beige middle ground. The problem with this line of thinking is obvious. Such a process also discourages the voting of independent voices unattached to worn and factional party machines.

For its modest merits, no compulsory voting system creates a more informed voter. In Australia, the ritual is well established on polling day. Often held on weekends so as not to disrupt work. Sausage-sizzles. How to vote the cards distributed by the volunteers. Party paraphernalia just outside the voting booths. Lots of downed trees in the business.

None of this guarantees a more informed and informed choice. Sadly, people who turn 18 can be asked if they even know the bicameral nature of the Australian Commonwealth, only to be met with blank stares. How puzzled these looks are when asked to fill in the boxes of Senate candidates at the voting booth, who have always had ballots so long they would provide gift wrapping on numerous occasions. To date, teaching in schools to remedy this problem has shown no evidence of correcting this. But again, teachers can ignore it themselves.

Some authorities on the nature of electoral choice, such as Keith Jakee and Guang-Zhen Sun, argue that coercion for those not interested in first place in the process can lead to an increase in the proportion of random votes. Ironically, the least popular candidates may find themselves elected.

There have been a few clever arguments against the compulsory voting model, particularly in the context of the peculiarities of the Australian political system. Unfortunately, these have not made much headway except in the dry, narrow channels of academia and the occasional policy paper.

The first is that such a system violates the implied freedom of political communication recognized by the Australian High Court since 1992. Another goes back to the fundamental understanding of a right to vote, recognized by the same judicial body as that inherent in the Constitution . The right to vote implies the freedom not to vote. By getting Australians to vote, the right becomes an obligation or, as the propagandists of this cause claim, a duty.

There are some things that would not be resolved if voting became voluntary. The Australian voter has had an enormous capacity to tolerate illegal wars, incursions into foreign territory without parliamentary approval, torture, degrading and permanent detention of refugees and pandemic policies tinged with a police frown . Overall issues, at least since the 1990s, have been treated with withering suspicion.

Voters will remain buyers and customers, with political parties peddling products and opportunities to attract interested choices. Discussions will continue on interest rates, the crushing mortgage, the housing market and finance. The chatter about climate change finally reached pubs and public halls, but it’s been a painfully slow thing in a country where digging up the earth and exporting ready-made resources is a dandy thing to do. We can only hope, during the next federal election, that voters will resolve to make their elected officials work. And there is no greater motivation than a hung parliament to achieve this goal.

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