An Analysis of Compulsory Voting in Australia

Categories: Compulsory Voting

Compulsory voting was introduced in Australia in 1924 after the voter turnout of those registered to vote in Australia was as low as 47%. Since voting was made compulsory by the Federal Government, voter turnout has remained around 94-96%. Over twenty countries have some form of compulsory voting which requires citizens to register to vote and to go to their polling place or vote on election day. “Nearly seven-in-ten Australian electors (67%) believe voting in Australia should be compulsory, while 31% say it should be voluntary and 2% are undecided.

” 89% of voters said they would vote at the next Federal election even if voting were voluntary. Only 9% said they would not vote while 2% were undecided, according to the 1997 Roy Morgan poll.

Today, the right to vote, or universal suffrage, is considered a given element of democratic rule. However, there is the issue of universal participation. In order to guarantee this goal, must the right to vote be supplemented with the application of a legal duty? Few countries have elevated compulsory voting to a legal citizen duty.

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For new democracies, it is always an option worth considering in order to assure a high level of voting which is likely to enhance the legitimacy of representative institutions and of the political system in general. Whilst a high turnout level actually can be found under voluntary voting, it is quite clear that compulsory voting laws are very effective in raising participation levels in the countries that have them.

When comparing the differences in turnout it is evident in the increase and decrease of turnout using Australia as an example, since compulsory voting was introduced.

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Nevertheless, as we use a secret ballot it is quite impossible to prove who has or has not voted so can this process be more accurately known as compulsory turnout? The requirement of Australian voters is to show up at their polling place on election day and cast a vote. The downfall of this is that it may force people to cast “donkey” votes that only serve to hinder the democratic process. Supporters of compulsory voting may say that it encourages awareness of political issues and their local candidates.

The Australian law states that voting is compulsory. All eligible Australians are required under this law to attend a polling place, have their name crossed off in the electoral roll, take the ballot papers and fill them in in the privacy of a booth. Under this system there is absolutely no requirement to actually vote however. Due to the secret ballot no-one can actually be penaslised for not voting, or casting an informal vote. There is an opinion which feels that “donkey votes” should be counted as informal. A “donkey vote” is one in which the boxes are numbered sequentially downward, or from left to right. This is recognised as a form of indifferent protest.

The most common objection to compulsory voting is that citizens ought to have the right NOT to vote just as much as the right to vote. Many people believe that to force a citizen to vote for someone with whom he does not agree is an infringement upon one’s individual liberty. Some citizens boycott the election on principle arguing that compulsory voting imposes upon this basic freedom, while many people’s failure to vote is a lack of interest. In Australia it has been duly noted that compulsory voting frees political parties from their responsibilities to campaign, excite and encourage voters to turn up. This therefore favours the established parties over the minor parties and independents whose supporters are more likely to be motivated. When the state assumes responsibility for citizens turning up at the polling stations, parties and candidate can focus on promoting their programs and on swaying voters, rather than concentrating on getting the voters to the polls. Apparently this was the reason why the introduction of compulsory voting in Australia in 1914 was rather noncontroversial.

The arguments for compulsory voting are, in essence, that it imposes a civic duty upon the citizens of a democracy, and that it serves to educate them by bringing them regularly to perform that civic duty. There are fundamental reasons for objecting to compulsory voting. Essentially the civil liberties argument is a main one. One of the worst features of oppressive or totalitarianism regimes is that it is necessary to take an interest in politics under them. Should it be a fundamental human right to be left alone, to be allowed to live one’s own life within the law but otherwise left alone, and to take no interest in politics unless by choice?

Arguments for include:

It is both the right and the duty of Australian citizens to help decide how the country is governed.

The government is not completely representative of the people if only a portion of citizens vote.

Rather than spending time and money persuading electors to vote, parties can concentrate on more important issues and policies. However in Australia there seems to be only one issue: Labor vs Liberal. Voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties that citizens perform such as jusry duty, education and taxation. Parliament reflects more accurately the will of the electorate. The total electorate must be considered by the government in policy formulation and management.

The Argument Against

Compulsory voting is a gross infringement of civil liberties. Citizens are forced to vote regardless their interst and understanding of political issues. Compulsory voting increases the difficulties for small parties or independents against established parties, such as Labor and the Coalition.

Ignorant citizens, or those with a lack of interest in politics are forced to vote. It may increase the number of donkey votes and informal votes. People feel that if they don’t like the candidates standing for election, they should not be obliged to vote for any of them, as a simple expression of political freedom. It increases the number of safe, single-member electorates – political parties then concentrate on the more marginal electorates

Cite this page

An Analysis of Compulsory Voting in Australia. (2022, Feb 15). Retrieved from

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