Compulsory Voting – An Australian Case Study
The recent European Union Referendum saw a turnout of 72%, this was considered high. However it can be a very different picture. The Police and Crime Commissioners and some by-elections for Westminster do not even reach a 20% turnout.
Many countries, including the UK, are trying to increase voluntary turnout, Australia, on the other hand, has had compulsory voting for over a hundred years.
History of compulsory voting in Australia
- Compulsory enrolment for federal elections was introduced in 1912
- Compulsory voting for state elections was introduced in Queensland in 1915
- Compulsory voting at federal elections was introduced in 1924.
Arguments used in favour of compulsory voting:
- Voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform e.g. taxation, compulsory education, jury duty
- Teaches the benefits of political participation
- Parliament reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate"
- Governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management
- Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll
- The voter isn't actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by secret ballot.
Arguments used against compulsory voting:
- It is undemocratic to force people to vote – an infringement of liberty
- The ill informed and those with little interest in politics are forced to the polls
- It may increase the number of "donkey votes"
- It may increase the number of informal votes
- It increases the number of safe, single-member electorates – political parties then concentrate on the more marginal electorates
- Resources must be allocated to determine whether those who failed to vote have "valid and sufficient" reasons.
The 1911 Electoral Act requires Australian citizens aged 18 years and over to enrol.
Subsection 245(1) of the Electoral Act provides that: ‘it shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election’. Similarly subsection 45(1) of the Referendum Act provides that: ‘it is the duty of every elector to vote at a referendum’.
What if you don’t vote?
If you did not vote you may receive a notice in the mail seeking an explanation of your apparent failure to vote.
Electors who fail to vote at a State election and do not provide a valid and sufficient reason for such failure, will be fined.
The penalty for first time offenders is $20, and this increases to $50 if you have previously paid a penalty or been convicted of this offence. If you do not have a valid excuse, you can pay the penalty and that will end the matter.
Electors who do not respond to notices or do not pay the prescribed penalty may have the matter referred to the Fines Enforcement Registry and could lose their driver's licence.
Local government elections
Voting in local government elections is not compulsory, but all electors are strongly encouraged to participate in voting for their local government representatives.