Thursday, May 27, 2004

Compulsory Voting

Had a very interesting IM conversation with my friend Jeff in Australia last night, during which he mentioned compulsory voting in Australia. After my "say what?!", we had a bit of back and forth over the concept. Being a Democrat in a state widely seen as firmly in the Bush camp and one in which continued partisan/legal wrangling over redistricting means that if we have a primary at all it won't be 'til, like, October or something, I'm feeling pretty damned marginalized. I keep reading about all the money that the campaigns are throwing into media buys already - well I haven't seen a Kerry or Bush ad in months (which should probably make it clear that any serious discussion of John Edwards as a potential veep candidate is ludicrous - they've written off NC). So the idea of compulsory voting is very interesting. Did some quick looking early this morning and found this:
History of Compulsory Voting in Australia:
o advocated by Alfred Deakin at the turn of the century
o compulsory enrolment introduced in 1911
o compulsory voting first adopted in Queensland in 1915. Federally it was introduced in 1924 on the basis of a Private Members Bill
o compulsory voting has become a distinctive feature of the Australian political culture.


Arguments used in favour of compulsory voting:
o voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform eg taxation, compulsory education, jury duty
o the educative benefits of political participation
o parliament reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate"
o governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management
o candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll
o the voter isn’t actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by secret ballot.

I haven't really given much thought yet to how I think such a system might change the political landscape in the States (fodder for a follow-up post) but I absolutely agree with the idea of voting as a duty. It seems to me that when voting was restricted to a very small minority of the people, it was seen as a duty by those people (and yes, often a means of retaining power) and a privilege by those who had no vote. Now it seems by many to be a burden or hardly worth the bother. But what if you had to?

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