Sep 30, 2010

Greater compulsion isn’t the answer to voter disengagement

There are calls for automatic voter enrolment to address the alarming decline in voter participation in the 2010 election. But that doesn't address the real problem of disengagement.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The next debate on electoral reform may well be around automatic enrolment, in light of what was clearly a significant increase in the level of voter non-participation on August 21. Brian Costar and Peter Browne last week provided an excellent piece on the total number of eligible voters who did not cast a formal vote; Tim Colebatch also did a good piece looking at how the levels of informal voting differed across electorates and parties.


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3 thoughts on “Greater compulsion isn’t the answer to voter disengagement

  1. John Bennetts

    Is there not a bigger picture than simply voting?

    Do adult Australian citizens have a duty to enrtol and to update their particulars? Are recipients of Centrelink benefits required to be correctly enrolled and/or have an appropriate passport and permanent residency, or whatever? What other prposes than electoral do the electoral rolls serve?

    Are drivers’ licences and Medicare details linked to the rolls? Can you obtain either if you are not enrolled? If so, why so? Are tax records linked? Does the tax man check to see whether each tax file number declaration relates to a known person, ie an enrolled person or one with an appropriate visa? Are life insurance and banking identities checked against the rolls? If not, why not? Land and property owners? Registered owners of motor vehicles? Recipients of aged pensions? The list is endless.

    The answers to these questions may add fuel to the fire – perhaps even turning more voters away from registering to vote.

    I know not what the system is now, but in a former life when looking for debt-defaulters, a quick check of the electoral roll was essential and sometimes fruitful.

  2. Norman Hanscombe

    I’d suggest a far more important issue than forcing people onto the rolls, or forcing people to vote, is convincing more of them there’s a good reason for them actually wanting to do either of the first two?

  3. Malcolm Street

    “I’d suggest it’s just as likely that many young people actively wish not to enrol and have no interest in voting. They’re like the friends of a hairdresser at St Mary’s to whom I spoke while visiting the seat of Lindsay during the election campaign, who said she was the only one in her circle of friends who had bothered to enrol. No one she knew had the slightest interest in voting, she said.”

    That’s frightening, particularly given that they’re in the middle of the Western Sydney area that both parties particularly aimed their policies at. What does THAT bode for the future? I know you don’t like compulsory voting, but AFAIC voting isn’t just a right of citizenship, it’s a responsibility.

    Re. party funding – the current shortfall actually favours the Greens, as they, unlike the two major parties, actually have active grass-roots organisations that tie it to the community and have motivated voters.

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