Voting for all levels of government - federal, state and municipal - is compulsory. There has been much debate over making it voluntary, but so far things have not changed.
The Australian Electoral Commission has published arguments for and against compulsory voting (https://www.aec.gov.au/About_AEC/Publications/voting/index.htm):
- Voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform e.g. taxation, compulsory education, jury duty
- Teaches the benefits of political participation
- Parliament reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate"
- Governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management
- Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll
- The voter isn't actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by secret ballot.
- It is undemocratic to force people to vote – an infringement of liberty
- The ill informed and those with little interest in politics are forced to the polls
- It may increase the number of "donkey votes"
- It may increase the number of informal votes
- It increases the number of safe, single-member electorates – political parties then concentrate on the more marginal electorates
- Resources must be allocated to determine whether those who failed to vote have "valid and sufficient" reasons.
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This is an unfair system.
Even though this was a federal election – i.e. all of Australia – I cannot vote for a member of parliament of Australia outside my limited electorate. The members in the House of Representatives, represent all of Australia. Why can’t I vote for someone I think has more merit for Australia, than the local yokel.
As an extra slap in the face for voters – voting is compulsory.
The only things you can’t do is harm, injury or cause the death of others, as these are crimes.
To a lessor extent, maintain the peace, do not cause loss, damage, theft or fraud.
I ultimately have the right to decide for myself. To choose to do or not do a thing. Forcing people is beyond the spirit of the country.
Just as our rights are not expressed in the constitutions of Federal & State, not are mandatory or compulsory powers.
If you are in protest of the whole system that exists, the most peaceful protest is to not vote.
Donkey votes can be overcome with Robson Rotation so that the donkey votes cancel each other out on average. However, Robson Rotation makes it virtually impossible for Parties to issue How-To-Vote cards which makes it harder for voters to figure out where each party or candidate stands and so harder for voters to use various party HTVs to decide their own preferences. For example, many years ago as new-comer to an electorate and voting at a small polling place with almost no party workers handing out HTV cards, and knowing little about candidates or parties, I used a party HTV, of a party I disliked, to work out which were the candidates I wanted to vote for.
As advocated elsewhere, I think we should allow SPLIT Optional Preferential Voting where a voter can preference their first couple of preferences and their last couple of preferences and leave the other don’t-care/don’t-know preferences blank. This can be counted absolutely fairly with my DCAP vote counting system which is very compatible with Block-Chain Voting. It is also best done with paper ballot papers scanned at the polling place where electronic voting is available at the same voting-machine-scanner and the machine offers the complete vote with the don’t-care/don’t-know preferences filled in with the exact equivalent equal don’t-know/don’t care value for the voter’s approval. This makes the system high secure in that a voter-fraudster can’t get away with adding an extra-1 to make the vote informal. And using block-chain, the vote is open and transparent.
This system also allows voters to opt out because they can simply vote all 1s or all 9s for each of 9 candidates in every box and the machine asks the voter to approve “All equal 5, OK?” or if there are 10 candidates “All equal 5.5, OK?”
And of course the system will collect info on how many voters do opt out this way.
All things considered, I think Robson-Rotation results in more voter ignorance because parties simply can’t publish HTVs. Now it is probably feasible to allow Parties to register HTV in 1 to N preference order and for a voting machine to translate that to the ballot paper order for whatever Robson Rotation is offered to that voter, but that simply is equivalent to the evil of Vote-1 above the line and undoes the alleged benefits of Robson Rotation. Hence I think RR is net negative because it keeps voters ignorant.
The best way to counter voter ignorance is probably to ban Robson Rotation and allow parties to print HTVs but with it mandatory that every HTV clearly identify the party affiliation of every candidate so that voters can better assess candidates.
There should also be a mandatory requirement for Senate voters to number EVERY Square Above-The-Line, which would effectively force parties to produce HTVs that corresponded to the old Group-Voting-Tickets used for the old Vote-1-Above-The-Line system that parties had little problem doing. This then is a marvellous resource to educate voters about what parties stand for. Plus, with my DCAP counting system using SPLIT Optional Preferential Voting, voters could be required to mark say a minimum of 8 Squares ATL, so they could mark their first few and their last few preferences or mark the lot.
It should also be mandatory for the AEC to educate voters on how to vote to best effect. It is absolutely scandalous that the AEC makes no effort to educate voters that it is quite easy to Vote-1-to-6 ATL in such a way that it is highly unlikely for you vote to influence the election of a single candidate – and also to ignore the common false and misleading claim made on some HTVs encouraging voters to include a major party as, say, #6 to “make sure your vote doesn’t exhaust”. All that does is to possible benefit the major party WITHOUT guaranteeing that your vote will not exhaust. Such a vote can easily exhaust and be totally useless. How? If the major party gets say 2.05 Quota of 1st preferences, it gets 2 Senators immediately and so it is very likely that their remaining candidates, #3-6, will be eliminated before the voter’s #1 to #5 preferences are eliminated. So when the voter’s first 5 preferences are eliminated, their vote has nowhere to go, so it exhausts having achieved absolutely nothing.
The federal state system would be very difficult to change because constitutional amendments rarely succeed. But, regardless of that, I favour retaining the State system with its intended stabilising role. So I favour believe compulsory voting: and, to make it more effective, we need electoral reform to ensure that we, collectively the voters, get what we actually voted for rather than the current system where about 1 in 12 Senators are elected more by the flaws in the voting system rather than by the collective preferences of the voters. But that is covered in the “A fair Voting System” page on this site.
Whether one big electorate is best for the lower house or not, I think we need to keep the Federal Senate because what’s best for the high-population-density capital city voters may be foolishness for sparsely populated States and ares.
In a proportional representation system, the seats are handed out in proportion to the number of votes counted. The seats are just seats in parliament – not geographic locations. There is no Honourable Member from the seat of Woop-Woop – there is just an Honourable Member who sits in parliament.
This system is much more transparent. This is the popular vote! The division of the seats is determined by proportion of the votes. There is only one electorate – the whole of Australia in a federal election, the whole of the state in a state election. Any vote is exactly equal to any other vote. This is by far a fairer system.
It makes no difference if voting is compulsory or not. In my humble opinion – it is our duty to vote, but we should also have the right not to vote – especially when my vote is not counted equally to everyone else’s.
In countries that use proportional representation, there is often a problem with the distribution of the very last seats. There are formulas to fix this and there is always room for negotiation. Countries using proportional representation often have multiple parties and are forced to form coalition governments. But this leads to a continuity of policies, achievable long-term projects, and not the build-up – tear-down pattern we have with each change of government in Australia.
On the Fair Voting page John, you rightly say that a Party can get the majority of votes but a minority of seats and not be able to govern despite winning the popular vote. Who would know that if voting was optional?
Compulsory voting at least gives the main opposition party facts to argue for their policies claiming a popular support, and also to argue that electoral boundaries need redistribution – or to argue for your proportional system.
Proportional systems have their problems also. If three parties tie with 33 1/3% each, and there are 4 seats, who gets the 4th seat? There is no solution to this issue: someone wins and someone loses. The problem is much less if there are a large number of seats per electorate, which is what your proportional system probably implies. Further, who wins the last seat in proportional electorate elections tends to be partly a lottery because of the flaws inherent in our vote counting system. These flaws are magnified and increasingly chaotic in Hare Clark style elections (e.g., as in Australian Senate and The Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania etc). Even in Lower house seats the counting-system flaws can elect a candidate despite preferences proving that an candidate who was eliminated would have won a 1-on-1 runoff election against the alleged winner. This effect is MUCH worse in proportional representative elections and gets worse as there are more representatives per electorate and as elections are closer. That problem can not be fixed unless we have real electoral reform and adopt the only fair methods of vote-counting. See the fair voting page for discussion on this.
Donkey votes can be countered by Robson Rotation whereby the order of voters on ballot papers are rotated such that each candidate gets to be at the top of the same number of blank ballot papers. However, that makes it extremely difficult to produce simple How To Vote recommendation cards. That could be overcome if the Electoral Commissions actually taught people how to get best value from their votes and if Parties actually published their recommendations re voting to number every box.