Voluntary voting

by on 29 March, 2010


Michael Crosby addresses the concerns of those opposed to voluntary voting.

In a recent blog post, Senator Cory Bernardi posed the question of whether voting should be voluntary.

While it isn’t Liberal Party policy, frankly I am constantly amazed at the fear Liberal Party members have of the concept. Among many members, there is a rationale of “we couldn’t possibly do that.”

I tend to ask, “Why not?” and a common response is: “Voters wouldn’t show up.”
To press the issue further generally sees concerns about voluntary voting fit into four general categories. I have listed them below and include some thoughts in response.

Without enforced voter turnout, voting booths will be stampeded with buses driven by union officials, filled to the brim with left wing voters, unleashing an avalanche of red that conservatives simply couldn’t counter

This of course neglects three important facts:

  1. Whereas union officials vote Labor, not all union members vote Labor. Most people in the shoppies or hospitality unions wouldn’t care what their union officials say.
  2. The Labor Party’s tendency to preselect union officials means candidates have but one source for canvassing voter turn out; the Liberal Party’s tendency to preselect anyone on merit across any profession or trade means candidates have many.
  3. Ordinary people (and I don’t include academics, unionists or Greens voters) who take time out of their own day to go and vote – even if they don’t have to – already demonstrate initiative and self reliance. Where would they be more likely to place the “1”?

The idea that the Labor Party has a head start in this the race must be rejected.

Is the Liberal Party in such a dire position that it feels it could not inspire people to rock up and vote without a legislated threat to be there? Are Liberals not normally aiming to win votes on merit? Why not simply admit defeat before the race has begun?

After all, in an increasing nanny state, what impact do we think that forcing people to vote has on the psyche that the government then owes them something?

A mandate to implement policy cannot be obtained by a government if 100% voter turnout is not enforced

A mandate can easily be claimed by a government in a voluntary voting system. Other democracies manage to do so. They operate on the simple premise that if you want to criticise the government, make sure you do it at the ballot box as well as every other day.

As anyone would know who has watched vox pops on the news, or handed out how-to-vote cards on a polling booth, many voters make their decision through one or several of the following methods:

a) eeny meeny miny mo

b) a donkey vote

c) whoever has the prettiest posters on the school fence

d) whoever had more ads on TV

e) whoever handed them the first HTV card

So I ask: is that helpful to a government’s claim to a mandate?

Is it not better to have only those who feel compelled of their own volition voting in elections? Only those who are lodging an informed vote? Only those who care enough about the state of the nation?

I do not say that voters who use the above method(s) should not vote. I merely pose the question: if they feel no reason to, why make them?

A mandate is, if anything, much stronger in the voluntary framework.

Elections are only held once every three/four years, so suck it up and turn up; you can just lodge blank ballots and be gone in five minutes – it’s not such a bad deal for being a citizen of Australia.

This argument would be stronger if it was only compulsory to attend the polling place for name check off and there was the option of refusing ballot papers.

However, the guidelines are very clear: you have to vote. Accordingly a ballot paper that is quite clearly a vote for no one candidate is not classified as such; it is called “informal”.

Of course most voters take their civic obligation at face value and the ballot box quickly becomes filled with what could best be described as “half-hearted” votes.

How does that counteract any feelings of political apathy in the community?

People would be disenfranchised if the threat of a fine showing up in the mail was not present

Let’s make this clear: registering to vote should be compulsory as it is now; the act of voting should be voluntary.

Australia’s system of electoral rolls is something to be proud of. One of the biggest problems with the US system is that voters must register at each and every election in order to vote. The Australian Electoral Commission and its state equivalents provide reasonable framework to ensure that voters are always able to lodge their vote.

With a system which provided voters the ability to lodge a vote if they so choose, Australia would have a system which disenfranchised no one but extended something more – the right not to vote.

It is simply not accurate to say anyone would be disenfranchised from voting if there is a universal right to show up and cast a vote.

It merely means that slimy spin campaigns which suck in voters who don’t have the time or the inclination to ascertain their underlying claims won’t have as much sway on the final outcome.


Ultimately, I suggest that what would settle the debate for many people is reliable research data figures which highlight how the major parties would fare in elections in the voluntary voting environment.

Without the data being present, at least I stand on the side of liberty. Where do you?

Michael Crosby is the VIce-President of the South Australian Young Liberals.

Leave a Reply