What is compulsory voting, and why does it matter?

We know at some point in the next year, Australia will have a federal election, and with an election comes compulsory voting for all Australian citizens. We are going to take you through the difference between compulsory and non-compulsory voting below. 

As we said, in Australia, it is compulsory for citizens to both enrol and vote in all relevant elections. If you were to hypothetically not vote in an Australian election, you would receive a fine, unless you had “valid or sufficient reason” for missing out. But did you know our allies like the U.K. and the U.S. do not have mandatory voting? Let’s do a comparison. 

Take the U.S. for example  

If U.S. citizens do not want to vote, they do not have to. In the U.S, voting is considered a right and privilege, but not a requirement. Of course with this comes a lower turnout in voters. In the 2016 Presidental election that Donald Trump won, nearly 56 percent of the U.S. voting-age population cast a ballot. In comparison, Australia in 2016 had a voter turnout of around 91 percent. In short, mandatory voting makes a big difference. Voting in the U.S. is on the rise, however. The 2020 Presidential election saw the highest voter turnout in over a century with 66.3 percent of voters casting ballots. 

Let’s take a look at the arguments on both sides

Arguments for compulsory voting include: 

  • Voting is a necessary part of being a citizen, similar to jury duty or paying taxes 
  • Considering all citizens need to vote, there is a higher likelihood of people becoming politically engaged and educated
  • It allows all people to be given the opportunity to be represented, not just those who are politically engaged 

Arguments against compulsory include: 

  • Forcing people to vote goes against the point of democracy, where people should be able to choose 
  • There might be a higher risk of “donkey votes” (where someone votes in the order in which candidates’ names appear on the ballot paper), rather than making an informed choice on who they want to vote for 
  • Not voting can be considered a political statement 

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