I must admit that one of the proudest days of my life was the last Federal Election, when Sue & I stood in line at the Port Elliott Memorial Hall with our two eldest daughters waiting to cast our lot. For S, the younger of the two, it was the first time that she had voted and she was visibly excited (isn't she always?). We had spent some time in the weeks leading up to the election discussing various issues and who one might vote for. I have no way of knowing who they did actually vote for, though I suspect they voted the right way!!
And here we are on the eve of the next election. There is already increasing foment in the community about not just which candidates/parties to vote for but the process of voting itself.
Compulsory voting - a misconception
It has always seemed to me a good and democratic thing that the right to vote is something that is required of everyone in Australia. And, although in some other democratic countries (the US and the UK for example) voluntary voting is the order of the day; a sound case, I suggest, can be made that it is a democratic citizen's responsibility to exercise the right to vote.
To this, some would say, choosing not to vote is also a choice and should be permitted. I agree with this, and we have that option.
In fact the misconception is that you do have to vote. That is not so. You only have to have your name ticked off. You are not compelled to write anything on the ballot paper...we actually have compulsory name ticking off not compulsory voting.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that in a democracy citizens actually have responsibilities, and a (if not the) key responsibility is to deliberate and vote (indeed democracy cannot work without that process).
So why does the Liberal party in particular seem to promote voluntary voting?
Why are we having a discussion about whether or not certain people in jail should be denied their right to vote?
Why do we have draconian regulations being suggested that would close the voting rolls on the day an election is announced....regulations which would effectively disenfranchise those who, perhaps given a fortnight or two, would do what they ought to have done more prudently weeks or months before? Recent figures suggest that 400,000 voters enrolled or amended their enrolments in the couple of weeks after the writs for the last election were issued...this would not be possible under the new regulations unless that were all done by 8 p.m. on the actual day the writs were issued.
On the grand scale of things one person not being able to vote here or there probably doesn't make all that much difference. But it is, I would suggest, incumbent upon our society..if we want to be hailed as democratic... appropriate that we encourage people to vote, not discourage them. That we promote the notion that you should engage with the process, even if you decide not to vote, but we should not just allow our fellow citizens to languish out of apathy or cynicism. And we should protect the rights, in particular, of those who are most likely to be easily disenfranchised.
While one or two votes may not actually make any difference, the fact that we deliberately disregard anyone's rights does affect the sort of society we actually live in.