Compulsory voting in elections

We have state and federal elections coming up on the same day in October this year, so elections, politicians and politics are unfortunately dominating the media at the moment. Everyone will be glad when it is all over. Most Australians have little interest in politics and only vote because the law makes it compulsory.

In Australia it is compulsory by law to vote in elections. But the truth is that the law can never be enforced, since the ballot is secret. 

According to the law, on election day, all voters must attend a polling place, have their names crossed off the list of voters, fill out the ballot form and drop it into a sealed box through a slot in the top.
That is what the law requires, but in actual fact, no-one can know what the individual voter puts on the ballot form, or even if anything at all is put on it. There is nothing, apart from the thought of breaking the law, to stop a voter putting a blank ballot form into the box.

Despite it being legally a crime, there are many people who do not properly fill out the ballot form, or write (sometimes rude or obscene) comments on it because they don’t want to bothered with doing it properly or don’t care about politics, or for whatever reasons of their own. There are also many ballot forms that are accidentally filled out incorrectly, perhaps by not numbering the choices properly or missing out a number. All these are, of course, counted as invalid votes and are discarded. The fact there are so many invalidly filled out ballot forms at every election should tell the lawmakers that most Australians don’t want to vote and are only putting in an appearance because the law compels them to. Given their democratic right to choose to vote or not, most of them would never turn up at a polling place. Of course, since the ballot is secret, these people can never be convicted of breaking the law. The law simply cannot be enforced.

The officials are unable to check whether a ballot form is filled out correctly, or even at all, since what the voter puts on the ballot form is secret and no-one’s business but his/her own. The law specifically states that it is a secret ballot, so no official is allowed to see and examine the form before it goes into the box. Once the ballot form goes into the box the identity of the person cannot be determined since their name does not appear on it nor is there any other identifying mark. Since the officials cannot check the ballot forms, there is no way that the law can be enforced and a person arrested for not voting.

The only way to identify a non-voter is if their name is not crossed off the voters’ list because they didn’t go to the polling place and have it done. In that case a person is liable to a fine of A$20. Refusing to pay the fine of A$20 may result in a court case where a fine of up to A$180, plus costs, may be imposed. Being convicted in court also means the imposition of a criminal record.

It is almost worth not voting and paying the A$20 fine. One wouldn’t need to put oneself to the bother of going to the polling place and queuing up to get one’s name crossed off. Also it would be a good way to protest against compulsory voting, which takes away a person’s democratic right to choose. It would also be a protest against all politicians and politics. 

The drop in the number of people who voted if it were made not compulsory would indicate to the politicians what ordinary people think of them and their policies. They would have to make their policies of interest and usefulness to the voters to get them to vote. That’s what the politicians are afraid of, that they would have to put the voters’ interests before their own. They wouldn’t like that. Not at all!

They would rather take away people’s right to choose whether or not to vote by having a law that can’t be enforced.

Having a law that makes voting compulsory makes many people into criminals just because they won’t, or can’t, fill out a form properly, even though will never be caught and convicted in a court of law. Is this democracy?

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