It is an age-old question and always a contentious issue among Australians.
Compulsory voting was introduced when there was a major decline in voter turnout following World War I – by 1922, just 60 per cent of the population were voting, so compulsory voting legislation was introduced, which dramatically increased the voting rate to to 91 per cent.
But it didn’t take Aussies long to figure out the ‘informal vote’, with about 5 per cent of people effectively opting out of voting at recent elections, making it clear that there are a substantial number of people who just don’t want their say.
Those against compulsory voting argue that it makes people cast informal votes or vote without knowledge of the candidates, which either renders their participation useless or could sway the results in an unintended way.
Some people even say that the compulsory voting legislation is undemocratic because everyone should have a right to choose if they wished to vote.
Those who support compulsory voting, however, say that making the vote compulsory teaches citizens the importance of political participation and pushes governments to think about getting the votes of a whole population, rather than basing their policies toward certain voting groups.
Have your say on the big issues concerning all of us. We’ll be addressing one each day. This is an open space for discussion and debate about important topics. How do you feel? What do you think?
They point out that people in undemocratic countries have given their lives in campaigns for the privilege of voting, so we should be grateful for the opportunity to do so.
We can’t know exactly what would happen if we got rid of compulsory voting, but we can take a good guess by using figures collected on non-compulsory voting results – older Aussies would have a lot greater sway on election results.
A study conducted around the 1997 Constitutional Convention Election by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed some interesting figures.
When voting wasn’t compulsory, people aged 56 and above had the highest voter turnout, and the older you were, the more likely you were to vote. Voters aged 56-plus made up 35.9 per cent of the vote, while those aged 18-35 made up 25.6 per cent.
Pension increase all round, anyone?