Compulsory voting?

In another thread, TheLoadedDog mentioned that in Australia voting is compulsory! Really? How does that work? And how common is it?
How interesting.

Compulsory voting

I never knew such a thing existed until TLD mentioned it here (#10).
I instinctively rebel against most anything compulsory, but my first thought upon seeing this was “cool”. That’s gone, but I do need to think about it more.

Vote used to be compulsory in Venezuela. They would put a sticker in your ID card and you couldn’t exit or enter the country for six months after elections if you hadn’t voted.

It’s got pluses and minuses to it, ISTM.

The biggest one is that, for the most part, I do not see the current procedures for voting to be all that onerous. But a large portion of the population finds them sufficiently so that they regularly don’t vote. This is probably elitist, but I’d prefer to have people who are concerned enough about their franchise being the ones voting, since I can then delude myself into hoping that most of them have looked at the issues and the candidates and are voting from informed positions.

I suspect that with compulsory voting even more people will be voting based on less and less information and contemplation of the issues and people involved.

The counter-argument that comes to mind is, “How could that be any worse than what we have now?” I don’t know. I just question whether getting more uninformed voices would be an improvement.

Maybe compulsory for the election of the president and vice president only? Then we’d abolish the 12th ammendment and actually elect the president ourselves. :slight_smile:

Oddly enough I’m more annoyed that more people don’t care about local elections, than that only X percent of the registered population votes in the presidential elections. I believe that my state’s government is truly FUBAR, and until more people start paying attention and questioning whether incumbents really deserve to be returned to office, it’s never going to get fixed.

I wish election days were public holidays - and on Fridays. Then you’d get many more people voting.

The Australian Electoral Commission has or had a web page listing the for and against arguments (it was remarkably unbiased, too, as I remember). But I can’t seem to find it now. It was a great resource, but the Wiki page linked to upthread is also quite adequate to give you a sense of the arguments for and against.

Compulsory voting is something I’ve grown up with, and I’m used to it. On balance, I like it and I’m in favour of it, however I must say that my opinion probably is worthless in this regard simply because I like voting and would do so with a lifetime 100% attendance rate even if I lived in a country where voting was voluntary.

I allow half an hour of my time from leaving my front door to coming home again, if I have to go out to vote. If I’m already out and about shopping, etc, I’ve done it in under five minutes. Other civic duties such as jury duty can take months of your time. Military conscription in time of war can leave you somewhat dead. Five minutes at a polling place close to your house is an interesting diversion on a Saturday, and I don’t find it particularly onerous.

For ten years I voted in every election I could, local, UK and European. I’ve not voted in the most recent local one, and may well not do so in the next general election. It’s a concious, reasoned and deliberate decision - don’t assume otherwise, nor is it wise to automatically disregard my stance as a minority of miniscule proportions.

Are there any jurisdictions inside the US that have or have considered having their elections be compulsory?


This is an interesting point.

Most Australians will tell you that voting itself isn’t compulsory, but attending a polling place is. You can simply leave your ballot blank, scrawl obscenities on it, or otherwise “vote informal” once in the privacy of the booth. However, this is false. In practice you can do these things, but the (unenforceable) law says you must actually vote. You are obliged to attempt to indicate an actual prefererence on the paper.

So, with this in mind, there are periodic calls for ballot papers to have a “None of the above” option on them. Personally, I’m against this, but I can see the reasoning. The plus side is that Australians tend to view informal voters as stupid, drunk, wilfully ignorant, etc, and this would be a way of registering a “Hey, I really DO care and I’m NOT stupid. I have considered the options, but none of the bozos running for office are worth my vote.” But then, there’s nothing stopping the people who ARE uncaring and stupid from just ticking that same box.

A significant “informal” vote is also considered to be more of a wake up call to the candidates than having a whole bunch of people just staying home. If they’ve already gone to the trouble of getting their arses down to the polling place, and still didn’t indicate a preference, then that might actually be worth more as a message…

My understanding is that in New Zealand voting is compulsory for all residents, not just citizens. When I lived there in the 1980s, I voted in elections, even though I was a US citizen.

How much is it truly enforced in Australia? According to Wikipedia you can be hit with a relatively small fine and if you don’t pay that, you can be taken to court. What would happen then? Is it at all common for people not to vote?

The fine, as I remember it, is in the order of about US$50. It’s like a parking ticket. Yes, they will go after you to get the money, and no, it’s probably not worth going to court to fight it (a lot of time wasted and a potentially greater cost). Some people do, but I don’t think it’s common. Easier just to go and vote.

I guess an analogy for the US would be the parking ticket one:

You are visiting friends. Your car is outside on a one hour parking limit, and that hour is about to expire. Also, there is a parking officer walking down the street, so a fine is a 100% probability. If you get the fine, then you have the option of paying or going to court. Or, you could go and spend five or ten minutes looking for a park in another street, killing the problem.

I’d estimate the human behaviour in both that example and the Australian voting one would be very similar.

I presume there’s a bureaucratic burden for, to give the example I first thought of, families or carers of people with dementia? They somehow have to be deliberately registered as unable to vote?

Anyway, I really find the idea of an ‘informal’ vote distasteful. Part of a democracy, and of individual freedom, is to allow others to believe in some nutty spiritualism, neo-Marxist dreams of overthrowing the government with nothing more than the Anarchist Cookbook, or to be at home and too busy to work, or even just to be too lazy.

The argument for a ‘none of the above’ option is separate, and should not be conflated - if both this and the option of abstention were both available, the ‘none of the above’ votes would give a meaningful representation of those wanting to participate in the election but who, for whatever reason, felt unable to choose one of the candidates on offer. (I’ve had local elections where I’ve had nothing to choose from apart from Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem - what if I were I card-carrying Green Party activist?)

Yes, freedom to me means freedom to NOT vote if you don’t want to. Plus, as others have mentioned, I don’t want uninformed, uninterested people voting. Things are bad enough as it is!

Hmmm… yeah naah kinda. The problem, as I see it in this example, is that wanting to vote Green but being unable to, and therefore staying home, the Greens might then say, “Oh, that’s just the background level of couldn’t-be-arsedness”, whereas by having a bunch of people like yourself get down to the booth and still not indicate a preference, the Greens might think, “Hey, we mighta fucked up here. We’d better look at fielding a candidate in that seat next time.” So, it’s sending a message not just to the candidates but also to the potential ones.

I couldn’t agree more. Part and parcel of the right to vote is the concomitant right not to. Why should a citizen be legally obligated to cast a vote if he considers the candidates on offer to be a bunch of untrustworthy rascals? (And that’s often the case). Forcing people to vote smacks of Stalinism; free countries should have no truck with it.