If we must vote, can we do it 21st Century-style?
I’ve always thought compulsory voting was okay, because the government is going to raise money somehow and the fine for not voting is one of few revenue raising activities I know I can avoid.
I was surprised by the criticism of the Queensland Government’s discussion paper opening up the possibility of, amongst ten other possible reforms, voluntary voting. I had no idea how dearly so much of the Australian population treasured being forced to trundle down to the local school 3 times every 3-4 years to stuff a ballot box.
Granted, I had no hard statistical data to back my theory up. My hypothesis of the public’s opinion was merely a concoction of anecdotal evidence.
While volunteering at an election four years ago I was trying to assist voters by informing them the polling booth had moved to a different building. People were surprisingly agitated on reception of the news they had to walk an extra couple of buildings to cast their ballot.
One gentleman became visibly angry, turning to his wife and yelling “see, this is why I don’t vote!”.
Frustration with the voting process seems to be routinely taken out on the booth workers, with everything from voters throwing HTV’s (hack translation - “How to Vote” cards) back in volunteers faces and flat out abusing them with language that would make KRudd blush.
Queues are often long. The most common question I get from a waiting member of the public, allegedly craving to carry out their civic duty, would have to be “do you know how much the fine is for not voting?” Closely followed by “which election is this again?”
Actually, the only time I’ve seen enthusiasm at a polling booth is after people have voted and are heading for the sausage sizzle.
It’s not just my observations from the polling booth on election day that shaped my theory.
No one at the work lunch room or water cooler has ever struck up a conversation about how they’re looking forward to exercising their democratic right on the weekend.
You may suggest this is because they were abiding by the old adage that you don’t talk about religion or politics at work. If this were the case they probably wouldn’t have asked me if “I can just do something about those idiots in Canberra?” for the past three years.
One of my team mates at the footy club did proclaim his excitement at having voted last year, but he also said he voted for John Howard so I think he might have been having a lend.
In fact, the only people I’ve previously heard arguing against voluntary voting were political hacks. Normally, party members who viewed standing on a polling booth for 10 hours as a riveting social outing.
“This is a winner!” I thought to myself. The only people who oppose it are political hacks. All of the non-political (read normal) people are for it. Everyone has the right to vote, but your government won’t force you to. Freedom of choice - it seems almost democratic.
To get people out to vote, politicians would have to talk about policy issues which genuinely engage the public rather than just regurgitating talking points and repeating catch phrases, something we’re all tired of. Voluntary voting will be sensible and popular policy.
The Queensland government is taking submissions on the costs and benefits of voluntary voting.
Given my observations of voter complacency, it can be quite difficult to believe people have fought for the right to participate in the governance of their country. I mean, it would be difficult to believe if I didn’t also observe the alternative on the other side of the globe as other nations struggle with oppressive regimes.
The right to vote is integral to our democratic society and should never be undervalued. However the right to vote is very different from compelling individuals to exercise that right, or indeed other elements of the election process itself.
So if you’re thinking about putting in a submission to the Attorney General of Queensland forcing everyone to vote (and let’s face it – who isn’t? All the cool kids are doing it), how about considering some of the other 10 areas of electoral reform the Queensland government are looking at?
Proof of Identity, How to Vote Cards and Electronic Voting are examples of three of the other discussion points listed in the paper.
Why is it that the staff at the electoral booth have to thumb through A3 phone books looking for my name, and then wrestle an oversize ruler and squint at microscopic print to try and verify my personal details? Meanwhile the staff at Blockbuster can scan a key ring and tell me that I rented this same movie ten years ago.
Why is it that I have to push past those annoying people who stuff paper in my face and cover the school in plastic, which by the way only ends up blowing down the road into my garden by late afternoon?*
Actually, why do I have to line up at the local school to vote at all?! I’ve got an app on my phone to do the banking, the shopping, and get the cricket scores. I can claim on Medicare and lodge my tax return with the ATO online.
Somehow the best wisdom of the Electoral commission still deems the most efficient and reputable system is to scribble on 2.7 million pieces of scrap paper with keno pencils and dump ballots in cardboard boxes.
I guess what I’m saying is, if we do end up persisting with compulsory voting, can we at least make it less of a hassle? I’ve got to get down to the local school for a sausage sizzle. Now there’s something I don’t mind lining up for.
* The author may have been one of these “annoying people” in the past, however hopes that with reform those days will end.
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