Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Compulsory Voting

Been very busy this week, getting organized in the office, retrieving books from the library, finishing up a couple of projects I couldn't complete before we left. Not much to post about.

One topic that has come up in more than 1 conversation: voting is compulsory for national elections here. If you don't show up at the polls, you can be fined as much as $50 plus court costs. You don't have to actually complete the ballot (lots of people cast blank or incomplete ballots, and some write nasty messages), but you do have to make an appearance, unless you have a reasonable excuse, such as being out of town, ill, or the like. Most Australians just accept it, although there are periodic calls to abolish the practice. Turnout was about 95% in the 2004 election.

A few years ago, the president of the American Political Science Association called for mandatory voting in the U.S., as a way of bolstering civic engagement. Here's a 2003 USC Law Review note making the same point.

This strikes me as a complete non-starter, though I can't quite articulate the reasons. There are other forms of compulsory participation in the U.S., such as jury duty, the draft, and completing the census form (bet you didn't know that was required by federal law). Still, it's hard to imagine that we'd put up with this. We have generally considered voting to be a right, not an obligation.

The enforcement problems would be huge as well. Australia has a voting age population of about 13 million, and about 600,000 people didn't vote in 2004. The U.S. VAP citizen population is about 200 million. If we had a 5% absetntion rate as the Australians did, that's 10 million people who would have to be chased down. If 15% didn't show up, you're now talking about fining the population of California.


Anonymous rharrison said...

How about this for a reason - it's a free country! Freedom includes the right not to do something as well as the right to do it. Requiring someone to vote is similar to requiring someone to have an opinion on the Iraq war. In a free country, you shouldn't have to have an opinion if you don't want to, and certainly should have to express it.

Plus, if you just have to show up and not actually vote, then you have just annoyed people for no reason. How does having 2 million people write "None" on their ballots make this a better country?

11:10 AM  

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