Having just experienced the delights of voting for our new government, I was struck by the archaic way most of the system is operated.
I have no argument with the sort of government we are voting for in itself. We are fortunate that we live in a democracy, not a dictatorship, where we have free speech, good living conditions and the power to change those who would rule over us, if we are dissatisfied with their results.
I am aware that, once they are in, whoever they are, we are stuck with them for about three years, but I think that length of time, (and maybe even more), is necessary for a party to actually get things running the way they want it. Anyway, an occasional change of government is good for us all I believe, like changing the bed sheets every week!
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But the system we employ to get the rulers we want worries me. To start with there are arguments for and against compulsory voting. Certainly this method ensures a decent turn-out on polling day, whereas a free vote often results in the appearance of apathy on the part of the voting public, but having been dragged screaming to the polling station, how many people make their vote informal?
So does compulsory voting actually prove anything, or improve anything? I’m sure I don’t know but it would be interesting to find out!
Once inside the polling station, you are simply asked to give your name, address and date of birth, but no other proof of identity. Try pulling that trick when about to board a plane, or get on the Tasman ferry or open a bank account! I think increased security is very necessary, to give voters confidence that all is above board.
Now we move to the booth, and this is where it gets really wild! First, you are presented with a stub of pencil with which to mark your votes – why a pencil? Surely a ball-point pen would be more satisfactory, (again for security reasons if nothing else).
Sensibly, the ‘green’ sheet is easy enough to handle, if you accept in the first place that proportional representation is the way to go, (First past the post seems to work quite well in the UK!). The document is of human proportions, the number of candidates rarely exceeds twelve and if you are in doubt as to what you should do, there are always people outside the building prepared to give you a ‘how-to-vote’ card.
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The white sheet however, is an absolute farce! You either vote ‘above the line’ and have no control over who actually gets in, or you go ‘below the line’, where you become mesmerised by the vast number of names there, all of whom have to be listed, in numerical order. Surely there has to be a better way!
Why not, for instance, vote just for the candidates in your local Senatorial Electorate only, similar to the way we do it on the green sheet. That would cut down the number of names in each area to something between two and ten, much easier to handle. Or if this isn’t possible, the full list of names that we now see, should be sent to each household at least a week before election day, so that everyone has the opportunity, should they so desire, to scrutinise the list at their leisure, instead of in the slightly panic- ridden situation in a polling booth.
Then there are the other two methods that could be used to cast your vote. One, the whole thing goes electronic, in much the way that the Americans do it, accepting that even computers get it wrong sometimes; or two, we use postal voting, a system that has worked extremely well in several elections in Victoria and possibly elsewhere.
Similar to the Census, each voter would receive an enveloped ‘kit’, which in itself would help to cut down on cheating. The completed envelopes would go to a central point in each electorate where first, the name and address of the voter would be removed and tallied against the electoral role. Then the other, anonymous part of the envelope would be opened and the actual counting could begin.
These are just a few thoughts that struck me as I was grovelling over my ‘white sheet’ in the polling booth. I am interested in how you feel about this too?