Americans headed to the polls yesterday to re-elect Barack Obama as the President of the United States. Voting turnout in the US was lower than Obama’s first election victory in 2008, but he was still managed to make history yet again becoming the second Democrat to win a second four-year White House term since World War II.
The US election caused Australians to question our own political system – why is there so much interest in an election that we have no say in and so little interest in political debate within Australia?
One of the fundamental differences between our systems is compulsory voting. In the US voting is completely voluntary, and politicians need to woo voters; inspire them to leave their homes and exercise their right to vote.
In Australia, compulsory voting in federal elections was introduced in 1924 while compulsory enrolment for federal elections had been introduced in 1912.
Looking back at our history of voting, it seems compulsory voting was introduced to fight a growing apathy. Only 71 per cent of the population voted at the 1919 election, but this had dropped to less than 60 per cent by the 1922 election. And the impact was immediate. The turnout at the 1925 election was over 91 per cent.
Victoria introduced compulsory voting in 1926, NSW and Tasmania in 1928, WA in 1936 and SA in 1942. Qld had already introduced complusory voting in 1915.
Australia is among only 22 other countries with compulsory voting. And only 10 countries, including Australia, actively enforce it. And out of the 30 member states of the OECD, of which Australia is one, only 10 has forms of compulsory voting.
If voting were to become voluntary I believe there would be a definite shift in the way politicians operate during elections. Campaigns would become so much more consuming and overwhelming of the public as they fight for your vote.
Voting is a right, and a responsibility – one so many people take for granted. It is a shame that while people all over the world fight and campaign for the right, Australians readily dismiss it as a mere annoyance.
But while it is a right, and a responsbility to be taken seriously, we do live in a democratic nation and the question of voluntary voting is worthy of debate.
Should we as a nation change our compulsory laws and move in line with so many other countries? Would this encourage more active engagement with politics or increase levels of apathy to a point of non-involvement? Would you change your current voting habits if voting were to become voluntary in Australia? Let us know what you think via our comment section, on our Facebook page or on Twitter.