Compulsory voting

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):

  • For:
    • 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.
  • Against:
    • 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.

What do you think?  Have your say. Join the conversation below.

COMMENTS

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  • John de Wit
    commented 2022-06-09 17:54:38 +1000
    My vote is not equal to all other votes. My vote is discarded when I do not vote for the winner in my electorate.
    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.
  • JJSparrow
    commented 2022-05-23 08:55:45 +1000
    Australia is meant to be a country of Rights & Freedoms, not Complusion or Mandates.

    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.
  • Wendy Gaylord
    commented 2022-05-16 16:33:18 +1000
    My thing is that voting is not actually compulsory in federal elections. No one at the polls actually tracks what you do with the ballots once they’re handed to you. The only thing they track is whether or not you showed up to verify your voter registration details. If you don’t show up you get fined. I’m a huge advocate for voting, I just think the word compulsory is misleading and makes some of the Against arguments irrelevant.
  • Peter Newland
    commented 2022-04-18 12:00:07 +1000
    John de Wit compulsory voting at least has the advantage that people are confronted with the need to choose or else put up with what others decide for them.

    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.
  • John de Wit
    commented 2022-02-21 16:15:37 +1100
    If you are unsure about who to vote for, you should not vote at all. Choosing for some default, without thinking it through, is as worse as a donkey vote. As I am convinced that most voters have no conviction for one party or the other – and are only voting because they would otherwise be fined – we will always end up with donkey governments. We should have the right not to vote. The number of voters that have clearly not voted is a meaningful political statement that is currently immeasurable. So, absolutely NO to compulsory voting.
  • Peter Newland
    commented 2022-02-14 09:43:28 +1100
    If regional Australia, especially ‘the bush’ (more remote regions) feel, and are IMO, less represented now, then to reduce that representation will make it worse. Australia’s population density is very low, and so comparisons with Europe do not always apply. Our density (with literal pun-intended meaning) is such that we seem unreasonably slow to “populated or perish”.

    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.
  • John de Wit
    commented 2022-02-14 09:12:23 +1100
    You have a point about regional Australia. I agree that they will feel less represented. But that is already the case. The simple mathematical fairness and transparency of the popular vote beats geographical representation – in my opinion, and in my experience. I am a dual citizen and exercise my right to vote in Australia, in the Netherlands, and in the EU.
  • Peter Newland
    commented 2022-02-13 21:03:52 +1100
    While a single electorate for Australia may be the fairest way of getting proportional representation and honouring the popular vote, is that, alone, actually best for Australia? How exactly do citizens get an MP to represent their needs or grievances if our ‘Representatives’ represent no one in particular? It seems there’s no ideal system.

    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.
  • John de Wit
    commented 2022-02-13 18:39:56 +1100
    In answer to Peter.
    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.
  • Peter Newland
    commented 2022-02-13 16:04:51 +1100
    Why vote at all?
    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.
  • John de Wit
    commented 2022-02-13 10:56:44 +1100
    The seats determine government. If there is a clear winner in your seat, i.e. someone has more that 50% of the first preference votes, but you did not vote for this person, your vote becomes worthless. If you know your vote is going to be thrown away – because where you live the majority always goes to the same party – i.e. not yours – then why vote at all. This is because we have a geographic representation system instead of the fairer proportional representation system. As an extra insult to voters – voting is compulsory. We will never know who got elected by donkey votes. We cannot measure real engagement, i.e. how many voters voted compared to the total number of voters.

JOIN THE FIGHT

Add your name and let’s keep Australian elections free and fair.

  • commented on A fair voting system 2022-06-23 20:29:52 +1000
    John thanks for taking the time to read PLERS.

    With regards to computer entry, AEC always enters every vote on their computer system and that is what determines the result. Doing an election night manual count would give enough information from 1st and 2nd preferences to predict a PLERS result.

    The chapter I am currently writing uses PLERS Simplified for political elections, which simplifies the count process. For Reps elections 1st pref gets a 1.0, 2nd 0.9, 3rd 0.8, etc till the 11th and all subsequent getting zero (0.0). It’s a simple process, you just add up the vote value and rank the candidates.

    Senate is a little more complex but follows similar lines.

    Regards Erik

  • commented on A fair voting system 2022-06-23 15:53:21 +1000
    John, I have clearly documented how Preferential Voting (PV) can overcome the shortcomings of First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting – in BOTH single member electorates and in Proportional Representation systems such as you advocate. You correctly say that PR would make life easier for the voters, the AEC, and government, but then you say “as far as fairness is concerned – [PR] is unbeatable”. The fact is PR does not guarantee a fair count and I have proved this with examples, and proved that Preferential Voting beats PR in fairness.

    I have clearly demonstrated clear numerical examples how the PR system you advocate can get it WRONG, but that those problems can be reduced by adding Preferential Voting and, better still, even totally eliminated by counting the votes via DPAP. DCAP/DPAP totally eliminates the problems of electing Parties or Candidates contrary to voters’ collective preferences. Without PV PR totally ignore everything except first preferences and that risks unfair results.

    DPAP is the ONLY guaranteed fair vote counting method that allow you, John, to vote only for the party you want, while allowing others to use full or partial or split preferential voting as they see fit, and yet every vote still carries exactly the same value. The Borda Count comes close, but can’t handle partial preferential voting. PLERS comes closer, but it does NOT handle partial preferential voting fairly because it does not count partial preferential votes linearly – unless Erik has changed his system to overcome that fault since I pointed it out some months ago in this forum.

    DCAP facilitates high security against electoral fraud. It suits transparent block-chain security with a complete audit trail from paper ballot paper and/or electronic screen voting all the way from polling booth to final declaration. Being totally linear, the results from different polling places, as extremely small digital files, are easily and instantly aggregated as highly secure digital files that are very difficult to alter because they can be checked against the individual votes retained in the polling place machines. The fact that voting machine fraud is widespread in some countries simply highlights the need for legislation for machines and procedures to be rigidly controlled. As outlined in links given previously, individual voters can choose to receive anonymous receipts showing their actual vote as scanned and/or as approved on screen, that they can the check that their vote was actually correctly recorded and counted. Further, the online semi-real-time output summaries from individual polling stations can be made transparent to the media, public, candidates and parties. All this make voting fraud difficult and auditing easy.

    The fact is DCAP/DPAP can fix PR’s serious fault that it can give parties more seats than they deserve – as I have documented. So, your claim that: “(The Israeli system) is a fair system” is clearly not necessarily true. Also, while “Voters would be very reluctant to vote for a party that could form a coalition with a party they despise. (and) Pre-election promises about forming coalitions are usually widely known and adhered to,” there are plenty of Israeli and Kiwi voters, who despair over parties and candidates betraying their trust – plus Aussie voters betrayed where promised policies are ignored etc.
    While traditional Preferential Vote counting is a slow error-prone process because candidates are eliminated and preferences distributed (often more than 100 times in a mathematically chaotic process with numerous unpredictable tipping points) DPAP requires no time-wasting sifting through preferences. DPAP never distributes preferences – but all preferences are taken into account fairly. DPAP never “eliminates” any Candidate or Party in the count, all are accurately rated into a hierarchy. Everything is decided in a quick efficient linear manner.

    In summary, if you want to guarantee a fair and just level playing field, then Preferential Voting using DPAP’s fair counting system is required in a Proportional Representation system, even when voting for a large number of representatives. While voters wanting to ensure a fair and just result need to fill in more preferences, voters have the option to vote as little or much as they choose and all votes are counted equally.

  • commented on A fair voting system 2022-06-23 12:24:58 +1000
    Erik,
    Preferential voting for multiple seats in a single electorate using proportional representation (PR), would not achieve much at all. There would hardly be any difference in outcome compared to voting for a single candidate.
    I agree that PR is difficult to achieve. It would require a constitutional change in Australia. I do not agree that it is difficult to implement. It would make life easier for the voters, the AEC, and government. And as far as fairness is concerned – it is unbeatable.

    I do think your PLERS is a fairer system, compared to existing preferential voting and other alternatives. However, it requires a spreadsheet to process results. The existing system has a method that can be counted manually by stacking and eliminating votes in a process that is easily checked and monitored – by people. It is slow, but traceable.
    Your method (PLERS) requires data-entry into a spreadsheet – which I guarantee you is a much slower and error-prone process. Preferably this would be done on 3 spreadsheets simultaneously, so that the results can be compared. If they don’t match – start again. If you were to combine PLERS with voting for multiple seats in a single electorate using proportional representation, i.e. all of Australia in a federal election, you would also have to combine spreadsheets from regional counting centres in a country-wide spreadsheet. Another error-prone level of complexity. Mistakes are inevitable and voters would lose confidence. I foresee very long wait times before election results are confirmed.
    PLERS would be OK if we got the input for the spreadsheets directly from a voting machine. However voting machines are not allowed in Australia – and I agree with that. It is too easy to manipulate – as is the merging of spreadsheets.

    Forgive me for my opinion, but I still dislike any form of preferential voting – even PLERS, because it is simply too complex and achieves nothing in a PR system.

  • commented on A fair voting system 2022-06-23 12:22:42 +1000
    Peter,
    1. This is not my system. This is a system used in many countries, Israel among others, as you have stated. The Israeli system does create a complex of parties with – in our eyes – ‘unstable’ governments. The parties and their policies are a direct reflection of the diverse opinions of the citizens of Israel. It is a fair system. Sometimes this means failures to govern, and a re-election is required. But when it works – it works very well.

    2. I retract my ‘THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE’. It is possible, though extremely unlikely. Your example states a party with 30% of the vote may be considered by 51 to 70% of the voters to be the worst possible choice. Well then, the parties these ‘51 to 70%’ voted for can form a coalition. But realistically, the opinions of voters are reflected in the parties they vote for – otherwise why vote for them. No party would form a coalition with a party that has alienated itself from more than 50% of the voters. Voters would be very reluctant to vote for a party that could form a coalition with a party they despise. Pre-election promises about forming coalitions are usually widely known and adhered to. Theoretically it can happen – but in practice it hardly ever does, and when it happens the government does not last long – and a re-election is required – like in Israel.

    Preferential voting is simply not required in a proportional representation system when voting for a large group of representatives. We do not have to sift through preferences per regional seat to determine a winner per seat. We just vote for one candidate by ticking his name on a list. If party X has 30% of the vote – they get 30% of the seats – fair and transparent. And simple to count.