Recently I wrote an article about Australia’s slide towards totalitarianism and how compulsory voting centralizes the major political parties at the totalitarian end of the political spectrum. The recent debate over electoral reform is an example of this.
On the right, the Liberals oppose automatic voter registration. They prefer to maintain a bureaucratic impediment to voting. They want it to be more difficult for people to vote.
On the left, the Labor party opposes voluntary voting. They prefer to force people against their will to the polling booth with fines enforceable with force.
In most democracies voting is democratic, which means people are free to choose whether they vote or not – their decision to vote is free from government coercion. In many nations voter registration is also automatic so 100% of the people have maximum freedom to cast a vote at the drop of a hat. This is how it should be – maximum freedom and maximum control in the hands of the people, with minimal interference from government.
This is where Australia is so far out of step. Here, both parties oppose electoral freedom. Both parties oppose the basic democratic right common throughout the developed world. One side wants to make it harder for people to vote and the other side wants to force people to vote. Neither side wants to empower the people.
Only nine other nations in the world enforce compulsory voting and while several countries have abolished it in recent decades, Australia is now making our system even less free.
Our political duopoly’s power struggle drives people away from the political process and creates political apathy. This is one of the reasons why many nations with voluntary voting have higher voter turnouts than we do. Under compulsory voting, political parties don’t need to motivate their base, or anyone, to vote. We’ve replaced good leadership with threats and fines.
Who needs good leadership when the people don’t have a choice, when our political parties don’t need to motivate support from the people? All they need to do is be slightly less repulsive than the other guys and compulsory voting does the rest.
And while our system becomes less free, the global trend is away from compulsory voting. Almost as many nations have abolished it in recent decades, as there are where it remains, and half of the ten regimes where it does remain are only decades out of military dictatorship.
In Chile, voter turnouts were in decline because young people were avoiding registering to vote in order to avoid fines for not voting. So Chile’s solution was to make voter registration automatic and voting voluntary. We should do the same.
We should fall into line with places like Canada, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and the multitude of other countries where voting is democratic. In these nations people often vote in great numbers because they are engaged and informed. This type of voluntary voter participation is hard to imagine in Australia where so many people file into the polling booth like donkeys to avoid a fine, without a clue who to vote for or why. We’ve abolished a key driver to voter participation.
The reason other countries have high voter participation, again, is because under voluntary voting leaders must inspire people to vote. They must educate, inform, motivate and empower the electorate using peaceful means. This flow of ideas, or this act of leadership, is absolutely crucial to democracy.
As our political discourse reaches new lows, consider what an improvement it would be if our leaders had to motivate their base. At least then we'd know what they really stand for.
You have to wonder why our leaders are scared of democracy.