Why Australians Must Vote on Election Day

Following the 2016 federal election in Australia, a parliamentary committee insisted the country’s Election Commission to investigate the worryingly low voter turnout, saying the trend could point to problems for the health of its democracy.

The turnout in question: 91 percent.

In the US presidential election that same year, barely 60 percent of eligible Americans cast a vote.

Australia is one of several dozen countries, including Belgium, Brazil and Peru, whose citizens are required by law to vote. Those who fail to do so will be fined Australian dollars 20 – approximately $14 – which can be increased for repeated violations or if the fine remains unpaid.

Voters can be waived of their fines if they have a “valid and sufficient” reason not to vote.

The Australian Election Commission says compulsory voting is a “cornerstone” of its democratic system, as it encourages candidates to cater to everyone in the electorate, not just those more involved. Some in the United States have quoted it with admiration, including Barack Obama, who: noted in a speech in 2015 that those who vote less often are disproportionately young, have lower incomes, are immigrants or minorities.

“It would be a transformation if everyone voted,” he said. “That would work against money more than anything. If everyone voted, it would completely change the political map in this country.”

Surveys in Australia also indicate that turnout would be uneven without the mandate. Less than half of under-35s say they would definitely vote without the requirement, while 71 percent of over-55s say they would still go to the polls. according to the election integrity project.

The law, in effect since 1924, enjoys broad support, but is not without its opponents.

Some dissatisfied with the choices they are given cast what is known as a donkey vote, where they rank candidate preferences on the ballot in the order they happen to be listed. (The “upside-down donkey” is another protest voice, arranged from bottom to top.)

A politician in East Gippsland Shire, in southeastern Australia, Ben Buckley, said in local media reports that he had refused to vote — including in races in which he was a candidate — since 1996 because he believed it was an illegal government coercion.

“If you have the right to vote, you should also have the right not to vote,” said Mr Buckley, a bush pilot, told a Melbourne newspaper in 2015, he said he’d lost count of how many times he’d been dragged into court for not voting.

SOURCE – www.nytimes.com

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