Steve Johnson writes:


I didn’t see the point of compulsory voting in Australia
until I moved to the UK for three years in the mid-90s. Many hours of exploring
the bars of the West End led me to the conclusion that many of my white collar
workmates held highly informed and articulate views on national and local
politics, and they especially loved a discussion on comparative political
systems.

What amazed me, though, was that virtually none of them
voted at national or local elections. “What is one vote worth?” was the general
response. From memory, elections in the UK are held mid-week, which doesn’t
help.

Having said that, back in Australia, many of my friends
and acquaintances consider themselves apolitical, however they do make an effort
at election time to read and discuss policies before heading off to perform
their mandatory civic duty. Many of these apparent apoliticos raise insightful
points upon which they base their voting intentions. For this simple reason, I
cannot see why we should remove compulsory voting. If elections were made
non-compulsory, these people would invariably choose not to participate at all,
and that situation would contribute greatly to the growing general apathy and
cynicism being detected among the general public.

Perhaps the system’s characteristics post-election is
the problem? We are, in reality, a democracy for only one day every three or so
years after all.

Cameron Bray writes:

Charles Richardson’s arguments against the cheer squad for compulsory
voting don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

His
view that the distinction between compulsory attendance and compulsory voting is
Jesuitical would be correct except that one of the frequent arguments in favour
of voluntary voting is that it allows an individual to express a ‘none of the
above’/’plague on both your houses’ viewpoint that compulsory voting allegedly does not allow for. However, if the
compulsion is on attendance rather than on ballot marking, this argument loses
its force.

His follow-on point that you can’t count compulsory voting as a
citizenship obligation, like paying tax or jury service, is gibberish. He argues
that paying tax and the like are ‘universally accepted’ obligations in
democracies (good) while compulsory voting is a local peculiarity
(bad).

This is nonsense. Democracies make decisions about what compulsions
should exist in their own polities and those compulsions vary. The fact they
don’t exist in others says nothing about their utility for that country –
national service like
Israel
anyone?

So-called “universal obligations across the developed world” are hedged about
with so many exemptions within and differences between countries that merely
stating ‘some compulsions are universal and those are the good ones’ is
meaningless – consider the million cat-skinning ways of running a tax system
(tax-free thresholds, flat income tax, property tax, state income tax,
exemptions, rebates, VAT etc. etc. etc.). In tax terms the only universality in
democracies is “have a tax system” – this hardly constitutes a “consensus” (to
use CR’s terms).

The
compulsions that exist in democracies should be the ones that work for each
individual society. And with 75% support and 90% turnouts compulsory voting works for
Australia.
We shouldn’t fall for his reverse burden of
proof – “opponents of optional voting do not seem to have come up with any new
arguments.” It is up to the voluntary
voting insurgents to make the case for change.

Jelly Bean Queen writes:

Hasn’t anyone else connected the compulsory voting debate with Latham?
By airing everyone’s dirty laundry, more so than turning voters away
from Labor, he’s more likely to turn voters away from voting. I expect
the general public considers these antics common to all political
circles. Why bother voting when they’re all a pack of clowns wasting
tax payer dollars?

Compulsory turnout vs compulsory voting is a valid distinction made
ONCE. Beyond that it’s pedantics over nomenclature. Of the nitpickers,
how
many who claim to be ‘working all day tomorrow’ actually say, more
correctly, ‘I’m attending my place of work all day tomorrow and working
for some of the day’? Compulsory voting is a right not a burden. If you
really object to compulsory attendance of the polling booth, then it’s
not hard to stay off the electoral roll as I did for years because
there was no-one worth voting for. That in itself is still a vote. If
you want to send signals to govt, keep voting compulsory and then
survey the no-shows to find out why they’re disenfranchised – complete a
survey to avoid a fine.

Compulsory taxes, despite being universal in developed, democratic
countries, are also a privilege that few Australians appreciate.
Although a wealthy few minimise their taxes, Australia has a very high
level of income equality (i.e. a low Gini coefficient) and a relatively
evenly distributed tax burden. Most people in the world don’t earn
enough income to pay taxes let alone meet their nutritional needs.
There are faulty aspects to our governance, which happily, Crikey helps
us to fight. However I wish more Australians would wake up to the fact
that we are still the lucky country and stop bl**dy bemoaning their
lot. Across 15 developing countries, the poorest 20% of the population
earn 5% of the total national income; the richest 20% earn 52% of the
income. I’d welcome compulsory ‘international service’ where you spend
12 months fending for yourself in a ‘developing’ nation with high
inequality. Then we wouldn’t need compulsory voting.

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