Compulsory Voting

[Guest article by Brian Smith, Australia]

The fiasco that passes for an election in the United States of America would not, I think, be tolerated by the people of Australia. It resembles a shambles which seems to have one purpose in mind and that is to disenfranchise, disillusion and discourage the American voter. And the strange thing is the American voter seems to accept it with equanimity, or is it perhaps lethargy. It’s hard to distinguish from this distance.

There seems little if any rhyme or reason in the way an election is carried out. Each state seemingly goes it’s own way in the conduct of elections.

The fiasco that passes for an election
in the United States of America would not, I think,
be tolerated by the people of Australia.

Obviously, something to be heavily guarded and probably termed “States Rights” or some other such nonsense comes into play. States Rights are all well and good when voting for state-only issues but when it comes to a vote that concerns and affects the whole of the  country then they become irrelevant.

Something as important as voting is a right that has been fought for and won and therefore it becomes an obligation on all eligible people to vote.

Australia has what is called “Preferential Elections” which I won’t go into as it’s very involved and would probably bore you to death. We also have compulsory voting; ALL citizens and permanent residents in this country MUST at the age of 18 years enroll on the National Electoral Roll.

ALL Australians MUST at the age of 18 years
enroll on the National Electoral Roll,
which also establishes the boundaries of each electorate.
There is no chance of a gerrymander
.

The ‘Rolls’ are kept by the Australian Electoral Commission, an independent authority, which is responsible for and runs all elections in this country: State, Federal, Local Government et al.

They are also responsible for setting the boundaries of every electorate in the country, much to the chagrin of many politicians some of whom would no doubt prefer that they did not have this responsibility. There is no chance of a gerrymander in this country now.

When an election is held you can go into ‘Polling Stations’ from Broome to Brisbane, Penrith to Perth, anyplace in the country, and what you see in one station is replicated in every station throughout the nation. And that’s how it should be. We are all equal when it comes to voting.

I imagine a loud scream went up when I said ‘compulsory voting’; I must admit that when I first came to Australia in 1951 I too screamed “Freedom of choice”. It took me a while, but I came to realize that it is absolutely the right way to go.

I imagine a loud scream went up
when I said ‘compulsory voting’.

By and large it is enormously successful. We have of course a great turnout on voting days, there’s no need for urging, cajoling or dare I say bribing people to register and to vote. We have to go and do our duty. It makes people aware and in the most part take an interest in who is to govern them.

When you get to a “Polling Station” you don’t have to cast a vote; you must have your name struck from the register as having attended the poll, you can leave your ballot unmarked, you can donkey vote, or write something on the paper to the effect that you don’t approve of any of the candidates. But when the great majority do get to the station they perform their right and obligation with great care and consideration.

Why the problem with compulsion?

When you think about it we are compelled to do many things and we accept them without question.

Does any responsible person drive their car, truck motorcycle or what have you without having a driving licence? Would any of these exercise their right to drive without making sure that their vehicle is insured and registered.

When accepting a job, you’re told what hours you are required to work and what breaks you’re entitled to and the rules of the employers.

What is this if it’s not compulsory? Everybody accepts these things and many more as a fact of life; why then, I ask, can they not accept that compulsory voting is no different.

The right to vote has been fought for and won and it is incumbent on everybody to exercise that right, and to have their vote count.

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